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Tilley v. Colvin

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

December 24, 2014

CANDICE OLIVIA TILLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN, COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

HARWELL G. DAVIS, III, Magistrate Judge.

This matter is before the undersigned U.S. Magistrate Judge based on the consent of the parties pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Rule 73, Fed.R.Civ.P. See Doc. 10. In this action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), plaintiff seeks judicial review of an adverse social security ruling which denied claims for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. (Doc. 1). Upon consideration of the administrative record and the memoranda of the parties, the Court finds that the decision of the Commissioner is due to be affirmed.

I. Proceedings Below

Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income (SSI) in October 2010, alleging that she became disabled on August 1, 2008. (Tr. 21, 147). The claim was initially denied on March 8, 2011. Plaintiff received a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ) on June 8, 2012. On July 12, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiff's application. (Tr. 18-29). The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on August 6, 2013. (Tr. 1-7). Plaintiff appeals the Commissioner's final decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § §§ 405(g) and 1383(c).

II. ALJ Decision

Disability under the Act is determined under a five-step test. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. First, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant is engaging in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). "Substantial work activity" is work that involves doing significant physical or mental activities. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1572(a). "Gainful work activity" is work that is done for pay or profit. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). Second, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has a medically determinable impairment or a combination of medical impairments that significantly limits the claimant's ability to perform basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). Absent such impairment, the claimant may not claim disability. Id. Third, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant's impairment meets or medically equals the criteria listed in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526. If such criteria are met, the claimant is declared disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii).

If the claimant does not fulfill the requirements necessary to be declared disabled under the third step, the ALJ may still find disability under the next two steps of the analysis. The ALJ first must determine the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC), which refers to the claimant's ability to work despite his impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). In the fourth step, the ALJ determines whether the claimant has the RFC to perform past relevant work, 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant is determined to be capable of performing past relevant work, then the claimant is deemed not disabled. Id. If the ALJ finds that the claimant is unable to perform past relevant work, then the analysis proceeds to the fifth and final step. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v). In the last part of the analysis, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant is able to perform any other work commensurate with his RFC, age, education and work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g). Here, the burden of proof shifts from the claimant to the ALJ to prove the existence in significant numbers of jobs in the national economy that the claimant can do given the RFC, age, education and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g) and 404.1560(c).

The ALJ followed these steps and found that plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 21, 2010. (Tr. 23). He further found that plaintiff had the severe impairments of status post wrist fracture and repair, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, rheumatoid arthritis, bipolar disorder, panic disorder, obesity and depressed arch syndrome. However, the ALJ found that plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. ( Id. ).

The ALJ determined that plaintiff has the RFC to perform sedentary work, except that she can occasionally push, pull, and operate foot controls with the right lower extremity, can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl and climb ramps and stairs, but can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. (Tr. 25). The ALJ further determined that plaintiff can perform frequent fine and gross manipulation and feeling with the right side. She should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold or heat, excessive vibrations, and all exposure to unprotected heights and hazardous moving machinery. She can perform simple unskilled work involving simple work-related decisions and few, if any, work-place changes that are gradual and well-explained. She can occasionally interact with the public and co-workers but cannot engage in tandem tasks. Supervision should also be occasional. ( Id. ).

Based on the testimony of a vocational expert (VE), the ALJ found that, considering plaintiff's age, education, work experience and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that she can perform. Therefore, the ALJ found that plaintiff was "not disabled" under the Social Security Act. (Tr. 28-29).

III. Standard of Review

The only issues before this court are whether the record reveals 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 correct legal standards were applied. See Lamb v. Bowen, 847 F.2d 698, 701 (11th Cir. 1988); Chester v. Brown, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986). Title 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) mandates that the Commissioner's 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, re-evaluate 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." Martin, 894 F.2d at 1529 (quoting Bloodsworth, 703 F.2d at 1239) (other citations omitted). If supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's factual findings must be affirmed even if the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's findings. See Martin, 894 F.2d at 1529. While the court acknowledges that judicial review of ...


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