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Belk v. Colvin

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

January 29, 2015

MELISSA DIANNE BELK, 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). Plaintiff, Melissa Diane Belk, filed for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) on July 7, 2010, alleging she became disabled on October 1, 2009. (Tr. 117-30, 157). Her application was denied. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Following this hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on November 30, 2011, finding plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr.13-21). The Appeals Council denied review. (Tr. 1-5). Consequently, the Commissioner's decision is now ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).

I. 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 found that plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act and that she had not engaged in gainful activity since October 1, 2009, the alleged onset date. According to the ALJ, plaintiff suffers from the following severe impairments: peripheral artery disease and a history of bifemoral artery bypass surgery. He further found that these impairments do not meet or medically equal the severity of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.

The ALJ ultimately found, after consideration of the entire record, that plaintiff has the RFC to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). She can lift and/or carry 20 pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently. She can stand and/or walk with normal breaks six hours out of an eight-hour workday, but no more than a few minutes at a time. She can sit six hours out of an eight-hour workday. She has no upper extremity limitations with gross or fine handling of objects. She is limited to occasional use of foot controls, and she can occasionally climb stairs and ramps. She should avoid extremes of heat or cold and she cannot work around dangerous machinery or at unprotected heights. (Tr. 16).

II. Plaintiff's Argument for Reversal

Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ erred when he failed to give proper weight to the opinion of certified registered nurse practitioner (CRNP) Lou Ann Hubbard, whom plaintiff characterized as her "primary treating physician." (Doc. 13, Plaintiff's Brief, at 7-9).

III. Standard of Review

Judicial review is limited to 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 the ALJ's findings is limited in scope, the court also notes that review "does not yield automatic affirmance." Lamb, 847 F.2d at 701.

IV. Discussion

In his decision, the ALJ provided a detailed review of plaintiff's medical history from 2002 through 2011. (Tr. 17-19). In ...


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