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Carpenter v. Colvin

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

February 10, 2015

SHERICA EVONNE CARPENTER, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

SHARON LOVELACE BLACKBURN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Sherica Evonne Carpenter brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), [1] seeking review of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying her application for supplemental security income ["SSI"]. Upon review of the record and the relevant law, the court is of the opinion that the Commissioner's decision is due to be affirmed.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Ms. Carpenter initially filed an application for SSI on April 15, 2010. (Doc. 5-3 at R.35.)[2] Her claim was denied initially. (Id. ) Thereafter, she requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ["ALJ"], which was held on February 8, 2012, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Id. ) After the hearing, the ALJ found that Ms. Carpenter was capable of performing "other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy." (Id. at 50.) In light of this finding, the ALJ denied Ms. Carpenter's claim for SSI on May 22, 2012. (Id. at R.50-51.)

Ms. Carpenter then requested the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision. (Id. at 23.) On June 28, 2013, the Appeals Council "found no reason under [its] rules to review the Administrative Law Judge's decision. Therefore, [it] denied [Ms. Carpenter's] request for review, " and the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. (Id. at R.1.)

The present appeal was filed on August 27, 2013. (Doc. 1.) In her Complaint, Ms. Carpenter alleges, generally, "that the findings of the Commissioner are not based upon substantial evidence and that improper legal standards were applied." (Id. ¶ 5.) This court notified the plaintiff that, "[u]nless [she] is proceeding without counsel, " she was required to file a brief. (Doc. 6.) Nevertheless, plaintiff, who is represented by counsel, did not file a brief with this court.

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 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 Cor. 1990)(quoting Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir.1983))(internal quotations and other citation omitted). "The Commissioner's factual findings are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence." Wilson, 284 F.3d at 1221 (citing Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990); Allen v. Bowen, 816 F.2d 600, 602 (11th Cir. 1987)). "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)

Conclusions of law made by the Commissioner are reviewed de novo. Cornelius, 936 F.2d at 1145. "No... presumption of validity attaches to the [Commissioner's] conclusions of law." Wiggins v. Schweiker, 679 F.2d 1387, 1389 (11th Cir. 1982).

With Ms. Carpenter presenting neither argument nor citation to the Commissioner's record, the court reviews the decision of the ALJ only to determine whether it is supported by the evidence he has cited and whether he applied the correct legal standards.

III. DISCUSSION

A. THE FIVE-STEP EVALUATION

The regulations require the Commissioner to follow a five-step sequential evaluation to determine whether a claimant is eligible for SSI. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(1)-(2); Bowen v. City of New York, 476 U.S. 467, 470 (1986). "[A]n individual shall be considered to be disabled for purposes of [determining eligibility for SSI benefits] if [she] is unable 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 ...


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