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Threatt v. Colvin

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

January 6, 2015

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


JOHN E. OTT, Chief Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Latoya Threatt brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act and for Supplemental Security Income Benefits ("SSI"). (R. 1).[1] This case has been assigned to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to this court's general order of reference. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of this court for the disposition of the matter. (Doc. 10). See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), FED. R. CIV. P. 73(a). Upon review of the record and the relevant law, the undersigned finds that the Commissioner's decision is due to be affirmed.

I. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed applications for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act and for SSI on July 29, 2010. (R. 20, 81). These applications were initially denied. ( Id. ) Afterwards, she requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), which was held on April 23, 2012. (R. 20, 40-73). The ALJ denied disability benefits to Plaintiff on November 12, 2012, concluding that Plaintiff is not disabled under the Social Security Act. (R. 34). The Appeals Council declined to grant review of the ALJ's decision on December 5, 2013. (R. 1). Plaintiff then field this action for judicial review pursuant to § 205(g) and § 1631(c)(3) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and § 1383(c)(3). (Doc. 1).

II. Standard of Review

In reviewing claims brought under the Social Security Act, this court's role is a narrow one. "Our review of the Commissioner's decision is limited to an inquiry into whether there is substantial evidence to support the findings of the Commissioner, and whether the correct legal standards were applied." Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002); see also Lamb v. Bowen, 847 F.2d 698, 701 (11th Cir. 1988). The plaintiff must demonstrate that the decision of the Commissioner is not supported by substantial evidence. See, e.g., Allen v. Schweiker, 642 F.2d 799 (5th Cir. 1981). "Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Winschel v. Commissioner of Social Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (internal quotations and citations omitted). The court gives deference to factual findings and reviews questions of law de novo. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145 (11th Cir. 1991). The court "may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the [Commissioner], rather [it] must scrutinize the record as a whole to determine if the decision reached is reasonable and supported by substantial evidence." Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990) (quoting Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1982))(internal quotations and other citations omitted). As noted above, conclusions of law made by the Commissioner are reviewed de novo. Cornelius, 936 F.2d at 1145. Accordingly, "[n]o... presumption of validity attaches to the [Commissioner's] conclusions of law." Wiggins v. Schweiker, 679 F.2d 1387, 1389 (11th Cir. 1982).

III. Discussion

A. Facts

Plaintiff was 32 years old at the time of her hearing and her educational background includes some college course work. (R. 46, 180). At 32, Plaintiff is considered a "younger person" according to 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1563(c) and 416.963(c). Plaintiff's past relevant work experience is as a dental assistant, parking lot attendant, and teacher's assistant. ( Id. at 64, 180). Plaintiff contends she has been unable to engage in substantial gainful activity since August 1, 2007. ( Id. at 23). At her hearing before the ALJ, Plaintiff testified she is unable to work due to pain which travels throughout her body. ( Id. at 47). She stated that she experiences numbness and pain in her right hand "practically all the time, " and she requires an arm brace 24 hours a day. ( Id. ) Her pain causes her to have difficulty in gripping things and in bathing herself. She also has some pain and numbness in her left hand, but not to the extent experienced in her right hand. She further has pain in her lower back and legs. Because of her pain and depression, she finds it hard to get up and get started in the morning. ( Id. )

The ALJ found Plaintiff has severe impairments, including anxiety, depression, carpal tunnel syndrome, and fibromyalgia. ( Id. at 23). He also found, however, that she did not have any impairment or combination of impairments listed in, or medically equal to, one listed in the regulations. ( Id. ) He further found that her subjective complaints were not fully credible. ( Id. at 25-31). He then concluded that she had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform the physical exertion and non-exertion requirements of light work with limitations, including: only occasional bending or stooping; no climbing, work around unprotected heights, or driving or operation of hazardous machinery; and restricted to simple, repetitive, non-complex tasks primarily done with things as opposed to with the general public. ( Id. at 25). He noted that she is able to use her right hand for occasional gross and fine handling. ( Id. ) He also found she could not perform her past relevant work, but could do other work in the national economy such as mail room clerk. ( Id. at 34, 67-68). Whereupon, he determined Plaintiff was not disabled. ( Id. at 34).

B. Plaintiff's Claim

Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ did not properly evaluate the medical source opinion of Dr. Anthony A. Cibulski provided on a "Statement of Incapacitating Condition" form prepared for the State Food Stamp Office on January 20, 2011. (Doc. 12 at 6-7). Specifically, she contends that "the ALJ fails to even mention Dr. Cibulski's opinion, much less address the weight to be given that opinion." ( Id. at 7). She requests that this court reverse the decision of the Commissioner and award her benefits, or, in the alternative, that the court remand the case "for full and proper consideration of the medical evidence of record, including the opinion of... Dr. Cibulski." ( Id. at 10). The Commissioner responds that the decision should be affirmed because further consideration of Dr. Cibulski's statement would not change the administrative result. (Doc. 13 at 5).

To properly evaluate Plaintiff's argument, the statement must be placed in context with the totality of the evidence examined by the ALJ. The court will begin with the documentary evidence in the record, proceed to Plaintiff's testimony from the hearing, and then set out Dr. Cibulski's statements on ...

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