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Garrard v. Colvin

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

December 9, 2014

KATHERINE GARRARD, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Katherine Garrard ("Garrard") brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act. She seeks review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner"), who denied her application for disability, Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI").[1] Garrard timely pursued and exhausted her administrative remedies available before the Commissioner. The case is thus ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).[2] The court has carefully considered the record and, for the reasons which follow, finds that the decision of the Commissioner is due to be AFFIRMED.

II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Garrard was fifty-three years old on her amended alleged onset date and fifty-four years old when the ALJ issued his decision. (Tr. 122). She has a high school education, at least two years of college, and past relevant work as a customer service technician, warehouse worker, food service manager, truck driver, waitress, baker, and secretary. (Tr. 65-66, 628). She claims disability due to bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), a vaginal hernia problem, MRSA, [3] leg and knee pain, narcolepsy, carpal tunnel syndrome, and breathing difficulty. (Tr. 51, 59).

Garrard filed protective applications for a period of disability, Disability Insurance Benefits, and Supplemental Security Income on June 9, 2010. (Tr. 23, 1122-32). Garrard alleged disability beginning February 27, 2010, but later amended her onset date to July 1, 2011. (Tr. 23, 51, 122, 124). Her applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 23, 76-82). She requested a hearing before an ALJ, which was held on March 8, 2012. (Tr. 23, 47-70, 86-87). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on April 27, 2012. (Tr. 23-32). The Appeals Council denied Garrard's request for review on August 6, 2013 (Tr. 1-6).

Garrard filed a Complaint with this court on October 7, 2013, seeking review of the Commissioner's determination. (Doc. 1). The Commissioner answered on February 3, 2014. (Doc. 9). Garrard filed a supporting brief (doc. 12) on April 28, 2014, and the Commissioner responded with her own (doc. 13) on June 4, 2014.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The court's review of the Commissioner's decision is narrowly circumscribed. The function of this court is to determine whether the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence and whether proper legal standards were applied. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971); Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002). This court must "scrutinize the record as a whole to determine if the decision reached is reasonable and supported by substantial evidence." Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. It is "more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance." Id.

This court must uphold factual findings that are supported by substantial evidence. However, it reviews the ALJ's legal conclusions de novo because no presumption of validity attaches to the ALJ's determination of the proper legal standards to be applied. Davis v. Shalala, 985 F.2d 528, 531 (11th Cir. 1993). If the court finds an error in the ALJ's application of the law, or if the ALJ fails to provide the court with sufficient reasoning for determining that the proper legal analysis has been conducted, it must reverse the ALJ's decision. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).

IV. STATUTORY AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK

To qualify for disability benefits and establish his or her entitlement for a period of disability, a claimant must be disabled as defined by the Social Security Act and the Regulations promulgated thereunder. The Regulations define "disabled" as "the inability to do 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 (12) months." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a). To establish an entitlement to disability benefits, a claimant must provide evidence about a "physical or mental impairment" which "must result from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which can be shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1508.

The Regulations provide a five-step process for determining whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i-v). The Commissioner must determine in sequence:

(1) whether the claimant is currently employed;
(2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment;
(3) whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals an impairment listed by the [Commissioner];
(4) whether the claimant can perform his or her past work; and
(5) whether the claimant is capable of performing any work in the national economy.

Pope v. Shalala, 998 F.2d 473, 477 (7th Cir. 1993) (citing to formerly applicable C.F.R. section), overruled on other grounds by Johnson v. Apfel, 189 F.3d 561, 562-63 (7th Cir. 1999); accord McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir. 1986). The sequential analysis goes as follows:

Once the claimant has satisfied steps One and Two, she will automatically be found disabled if she suffers from a listed impairment. If the claimant does not have a listed impairment but cannot perform her work, the burden shifts to the [Commissioner] to show that the claimant can perform some other job.

Pope, 998 F.2d at 477; accord Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1559 (11th Cir. 1995). The Commissioner must further show that such work exists in the national economy in significant numbers. Id.

V. ALJ FINDINGS

After consideration of the entire record, the ALJ made the following findings:

1. Garrard had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 29, 2010, the [initially] alleged onset date.
2. She had the following severe impairments: a history of asthma and posttraumatic stress disorder with associated depression and anxiety.
3. She did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 ...

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