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Thomas v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

October 16, 2014

AARON THOMAS, II, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ABDUL K. KALLON, District Judge.

Plaintiff Aaron Thomas, II brings this action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act ("the Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the adverse decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), which has become the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("SSA"). For the reasons stated below, the court finds that the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and that her decision is supported by substantial evidence. Therefore, the court affirms the decision denying benefits.

I. Procedural History

Thomas applied for Title XVI Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") on March 18, 2011, (R. 158), alleging a disability onset date of February 25, 2011, id. , due to mental illness, (R. 176). After the SSA denied his application on May 26, 2011, (R. 108-13), Thomas requested a hearing, (R. 117-19). At the time of the hearing on August 6, 2012, Thomas was twenty-one-years old, [1] (R.78), had a limited education, (R. 79), and had no past relevant work experience, (R. 103). Thomas has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date[2]. (R. 72).

The ALJ denied Thomas' claim on August 31, 2012, (R. 67-84), which became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council refused to grant review on August 5, 2013, (R. 50-53). Thomas then filed this action pursuant to section 1631 of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3). Doc. 1.

II. Standard of Review

The only issues before this court are whether the record contains substantial evidence to sustain the ALJ's decision, see 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Walden v. Schweiker , 672 F.2d 835, 838 (11th Cir. 1982), and whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards, see Lamb v. Bowen , 847 F.2d 698, 701 (11th Cir. 1988); Chester v. Bowen , 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986). Title 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c) mandate that the Commissioner's "factual findings are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence.'" Martin v. Sullivan , 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990). The district court may not reconsider the facts, reevaluate the evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner; instead, it must review the final decision as a whole and determine if the decision is "reasonable and supported by substantial evidence." See id . (citing Bloodsworth v. Heckler , 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983)).

Substantial evidence falls somewhere between a scintilla and a preponderance of evidence; "[i]t is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id . at 1529 (quoting Bloodsworth , 703 F.2d at 1239) (other citations omitted). If supported by substantial evidence, the court must affirm the Commissioner's factual findings even if the preponderance of the evidence is against the Commissioner's findings. Id . While the court acknowledges that judicial review of the ALJ's findings is limited in scope, it notes that the review "does not yield automatic affirmance." Lamb , 847 F.2d at 701.

III. Statutory and Regulatory Framework

To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must show "the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); 42 U.S.C. § 416(i)(I)(A). A physical or mental impairment is "an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrated by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(3).

Determination of disability under the Act requires a five step analysis. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)-(f). Specifically, the Commissioner must determine in sequence:

(1) whether the claimant is currently unemployed;
(2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment;
(3) whether the impairment meets or equals one listed by ...

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