United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA, District Judge.
Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1383(c), claimant Brenda Louise Thompson seeks judicial review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her claim for supplemental security income. After careful review, the Court affirms the Commissioner's decision.
STANDARD OF REVIEW:
The scope of review in this matter is limited. "When, as in this case, the ALJ denies benefits and the Appeals Council denies review, " the Court "review[s] the ALJ's factual findings with deference' and [his] legal conclusions with close scrutiny.'" Riggs v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 522 Fed.Appx. 509, 510-11 (11th Cir. 2013) (quoting Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001)).
The Court must determine whether there is substantial evidence in the record to support the ALJ's findings. "Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004). In making this evaluation, the Court may not "reweigh the evidence or decide the facts anew, " and the Court must "defer to the ALJ's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence even if the evidence may preponderate against it." Gaskin v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 533 Fed.Appx. 929, 930 (11th Cir. 2013) (quoting Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.2d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005)).
With respect to the ALJ's legal conclusions, the Court must determine whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards. If the Court finds an error in the ALJ's application of the law, or if the Court finds that the ALJ failed to provide sufficient reasoning to demonstrate that the ALJ conducted a proper legal analysis, then the Court must reverse the ALJ's decision. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).
PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND:
Ms. Thompson filed for supplemental security income on February 14, 2011. (Doc.7-6, pp. 2-8). She alleges that her disability began on October 10, 2008. (Doc. 7-6, p 2). Initially, the Commissioner denied Ms. Thompson's claim, and Ms. Thompson requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Doc. 7-5, p.3). The ALJ held a hearing on November 21, 2012. (Doc. 7-5, p.16-21). The ALJ denied Ms. Thompson's claim on December 18, 2012. (Doc. 7-3, p. 15-28). On November 22, 2013, the Appeals Council declined Ms. Thompson's request for review (Doc. 7-3, pp. 2-6), making the Commissioner's decision final and a proper subject of this Court's judicial review. See 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3).
Ms. Thompson was 50 years old at the time of the administrative hearing, and she had a high school education. (Doc. 7-3, p. 24). Ms. Thompson has no past relevant work experience. (Doc. 7-3, p. 24). She has not worked since 1990 "because of [her] conditions." (Doc. 7-7, p. 6).
At the administrative hearing, Ms. Thompson testified that her back and knee pain, high blood pressure, and diabetes prevent her from working. (Doc. 7-3, p. 43-49). She told the ALJ that she could only sit for about 30-45 minutes before she had to get up and move around due to her back issues. (Doc. 7-3, p. 47). She also testified that she could only walk about a block and a half before she would have to stop due to shortness of breath. (Doc. 7-3, p. 48). Ms. Thompson stated that her leg and knee pain made it difficult for her to walk or climb stairs and that she has to lie down several times a day due to her back and her low energy, which she believes is due to her diabetes. (Doc. 7-3, p. 49-51). Ms. Thompson rated her back pain between a six and a nine on a 10-point scale, but she admitted that she does not take pain medication other than Ibuprofen. (Doc. 7-3, pp. 52-53). Ms. Thompson also complained of arthritis in her left hand, but she has not followed a treatment regimen for arthritis because she could not pay for physical therapy co-pays twice a week, and she "could not make the trips" to the physical therapist. (Doc. 7-3, pp. 54, 59).
Ms. Thompson's live-in boyfriend helps her with cooking and other household chores. (Doc. 7-3, p. 57). Ms. Thompson acknowledged that she sweeps, mops, and prepares simple meals. (Doc. 7-3, pp. 56-58).
On December 18, 2012, the ALJ denied Ms. Thompson's claim for benefits. (Doc. 7-3, pp. 18-25). In reaching his decision, the ALJ considered the evidence in the record, including medical findings, medical opinions, and treatment history, and Ms. Thompson's subjective complaints. (Doc. 7-3, pp. 23-25). The ALJ found that Ms. Thompson suffers from the following severe impairments: disorders of the back,  degenerative joint disease, left ear conductive hearing loss, obesity, diabetes mellitus, and hypertension. (Doc. 7-3, p. 20). The ALJ determined that these impairments alone or in combination do not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Doc. 7-3, p. 20).
After careful consideration of the entire record, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Thompson has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work, "but she can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, and can only climb ramps and stairs occasionally." (Doc. 7-3, p. 20). In reaching this determination, the ALJ considered Ms. Thompson's allegations, her testimony at the hearing, and her medical treatment history. (Doc. 7-3, p. 21). Based upon Ms. Thompson's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ found that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Ms. Thompson can perform, including ticket taker, storage facility ...