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Kirtland v. Colvin

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

January 20, 2015

PAUL CARL KIRTLAND, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Paul Carl Kirtland ("Kirtland") brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act. He seeks review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner"), who denied his application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI").[1] Kirtland timely pursued and exhausted his 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

Plaintiff was forty-five years old on his date last insured, December 31, 2011. (Tr. 180). He has a high school education (Tr. 187) and previously worked as a tractor trailer truck driver, gate guard, warehouse worker, and short order cook. (Tr. 56, 203). Kirtland alleged disability due to back pain, knee pain, feet neuropathy, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, pulmonary disease, depression, chronic pain, cardiac problems, arthritis, acid reflux, neuropathy, blurred vision, and memory loss (Tr. 186). He alleged that he became disabled on January 11, 2007. (Tr. 151, 153). However, the ALJ noted that he had a previous unfavorable decision on July 28, 2009 and found no reasons for reopening that decision. (Tr. 12, 65-77).[3] Accordingly, the ALJ's determination of disability concerned the period beginning July 29, 2009 and running through the date of the decision.[4]

Kirtland protectively filed applications for a period of DIB and SSI on May 28, 2010. (Tr. 12, 151, 153). The Social Security Administration denied these applications on September 20, 2010. (Tr. 90). Kirtland timely requested and appeared at a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). (Tr. 28, 100). The hearing was held on January 25, 2012, and the ALJ issued a decision, dated April 12, 2012, denying his application. (Tr. 26). The Appeals Council ("AC") denied Kirtland's request for review on September 30, 2013. (Tr. 1-4).

Kirtland filed a complaint with this court on December 2, 2013, seeking review of the Commissioner's determination. (Doc. 1). The Commissioner answered on March 13, 2014. (Doc. 8). Kirtland filed a supporting brief (Doc. 11) on April 24, 2014, and the Commissioner responded with her own (Doc. 12) on May 27, 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 ...


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