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Hagan v. Colvin

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

December 30, 2014

ROBERT JOHN HAGAN, III Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ABDUL K. KALLON, District Judge.

Plaintiff Robert John Hagan, III ("Hagan") 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 final adverse decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("SSA"). This court finds that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") applied the correct legal standard and that his decision-which has become the decision of the Commissioner-is supported by substantial evidence. Therefore, the court AFFIRMS the decision denying benefits.

I. Procedural History

Hagan filed his application for Title II Disability Insurance Benefits and Title XVI Supplemental Security Income on April 11, 2011, R. 62, 127-140, alleging a disability onset date of April 1, 2011, R. 127, due to diabetes, neuropathy, anxiety, depression, and heart problems, R. 71. After the SSA denied his application on September 11, 2011, R. 62, Hagan requested a hearing, R. 64. At the time of the hearing on May 6, 2013, R. 17, Hagan was 59 years old, R. 127, with a college education and had past work experience as a pharmacist, yard worker, and telemarketer, R. 188-89, 226. Hagan worked until his myocardial infarction on June 11, 2011, over two months after his alleged onset of disability, and returned to his job as a telemarketer on a part time basis after his unemployment compensation benefits expired. R. 24, 38, 53-54, 175-180.

The ALJ denied Hagan's claim on May 30, 2013, R. 14-26, which became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council refused to grant review on December 18, 2013, R. 1-4. Hagan then filed this action pursuant to § 205(g) of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 205(g), on February 18, 2014. 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." Martin, 849 F.2d 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. See Martin, 894 F.2d at 1529. 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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