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Burrell v. Colvin

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Northern Division

December 12, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


SONJA F. BIVINS, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Michael Burrell (hereinafter "Plaintiff") brings this action seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his claim for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq., and 1381, et seq. On December 4, 2014, the parties waived oral argument and consented to have the undersigned conduct any and all proceedings in this case. (Docs. 16, 17). Thus, the action was referred to the undersigned to conduct all proceedings and order the entry of judgment in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73. Upon careful consideration of the administrative record and the memoranda of the parties, it is hereby ORDERED that the decision of the Commissioner be AFFIRMED.

I. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income on July 29, 2011. (Tr. 111-24). Plaintiff alleged that he has been disabled since April 17, 2011, due to right knee problems, diabetes, high blood pressure, back pain, sleeping disorder, and vision problems. (Id. at 30, 168). Plaintiff's applications were denied, and upon timely request, he was granted an administrative hearing before Administrative Law Judge Carl B. Watson (hereinafter "ALJ") on August 23, 2012. (Id. at 28). Plaintiff attended the hearing with his counsel and provided testimony related to his claims. (Id. at 31). A vocational expert ("VE") also appeared at the hearing and provided testimony. (Id. at 47). On October 4, 2012, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding that Plaintiff is not disabled. (Id. at 23). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on December 12, 2013. (Id. at 1). Thus, the ALJ's decision dated October 4, 2012, became the final decision of the Commissioner.

Having exhausted his administrative remedies, Plaintiff timely filed the present civil action. (Doc. 1). The parties agree that this case is now ripe for judicial review and is properly before this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).

II. Issue on Appeal

Whether the ALJ erred in failing to give controlling weight to the opinions of Plaintiff's treating physician?

III. Factual Background

Plaintiff was born on February 11, 1980, and was thirty-two years of age at the time of his administrative hearing on August 23, 2012. (Tr. 28, 111). Plaintiff testified that he was first diagnosed with diabetes when he was thirteen years old and that he takes insulin daily.[1] (Id. at 32). In addition, he has problems with high blood pressure.[2] (Id. at 32-33). Plaintiff stated that he was hospitalized for three days in February 2012 and again in June 2012 because of high blood pressure and high blood sugar. (Id. at 32-34). According to Plaintiff, he has problems with numbness and pain in his feet, which he rated as a seven or eight on a ten-point pain scale. (Id. at 34). Plaintiff also has problems with his right knee and had surgery in November 2009 for a torn meniscus. (Id. at 36-37, 211). Plaintiff rated his knee pain as a seven on the pain scale. (Id. at 37). Plaintiff also has low back pain, which he rated as an eight on the pain scale. (Id. at 37-38). Plaintiff testified that he has kidney problems and may need dialysis in the future. (Id. at 38).

Plaintiff testified that he can stand or sit about fifteen to thirty minutes and that he can walk the length of a football field. (Id. at 34-35). Plaintiff also testified that he has to nap for approximately four hours during the day because his medications make him drowsy.[3] (Id. at 35).

At the hearing and in his Disability Report, Plaintiff stated that he completed two years of college and worked as a correctional officer for eight years from 2003 to 2011. (Id. at 39-41, 169). According to Plaintiff, he can no longer perform the correctional officer job because he cannot stand or walk well, nor can he climb into the tower or ride in a truck because of his back.[4] (Id. at 39-41). Prior to his job as a correctional officer, Plaintiff worked on an assembly line putting together dashboards for Mercedes Benz. He also has prior work as a cook in a pizza restaurant, a stocker in a grocery store, a machine operator/warehouse worker in a plastic container business, and as a member of a clean up crew in a fish factory. (Id. at 42, 45-46).

Plaintiff testified that he is a single father of two children, a seven-year-old son and a twelve-year-old daughter, and that his daughter lives with him. (Id. at 42-44). Plaintiff further testified that he drives and does laundry. (Id. at 38, 43, 160-63). In addition, in his Function Report, Plaintiff stated that he takes care of his children, including helping with school work; he performs household chores, including laundry, ironing, and some cooking; he cares for his personal needs; he drives and shops weekly; he handles his own financial affairs, including paying his bills and maintaining his bank accounts; and he fishes, attends football games, and spends time with others. (Id. at 160-63). Plaintiff stated that he has no problem paying attention, following instructions, or getting along with authority figures. (Id. at 164-65).

IV. Analysis

A. Standard of Review

In reviewing claims brought under the Act, this Court's role is a limited one. The Court's review is limited to determining 1) whether the decision of the Secretary is supported by substantial evidence and 2) whether the correct legal standards were applied.[5] Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990). A court may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Sewell v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 1065, 1067 (11th Cir. 1986). The Commissioner's findings of fact must be affirmed if they are based upon substantial evidence. Brown v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d 1233, 1235 (11th Cir. 1991); Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983) (holding substantial evidence is defined as "more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance" and consists of "such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion."). In determining whether substantial evidence exists, a court must view the record as a whole, taking into account evidence favorable, as well as unfavorable, to the Commissioner's decision. Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986); Short v. Apfel, 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10163, *4 (S.D. Ala. June 14, 1999).

B. Discussion

An individual who applies for Social Security disability benefits must prove his or her disability. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1512, 416.912. Disability is defined as 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 12 months." 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A); see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a), 416.905(a). The Social Security regulations ...

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