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Green v. Colvin

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

February 24, 2015

MELINDA ANN GREEN, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

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

Green was forty-two years old on her alleged onset date of August 1, 2008.[3] (Tr. 24, 213). She has a limited education and past relevant work as a nurse assistant, a cashier, a cashier stocker, and a sales clerk. (Tr. 723, 765). Green alleged disability due to osteoporosis, deteriorating bones, arthritis, and disc problems. (Tr. 435).

Green applied for DIB on July 1, 2008. (Tr. 213). Upon initial review, her application was denied. (Tr. 213). Green then requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). Following that hearing, ALJ Jill Lolley Vincent issued a decision on September 22, 2010 ("September 22, 2010, ALJ Decision"), finding Green not disabled (Tr. 217-26). Green's request for review was denied by the Appeals Council on March 28, 2012. (Tr. 230). She then filed a complaint seeking review of that decision on May 25, 2012. (Doc. 1). The Commissioner filed a motion to remand the case for further administrative proceedings pursuant to sentence six of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), which was granted by the court on October 10, 2012. (Doc. 8).

Prior to the court's remand, Green filed a new application for DIB on October 25, 2010 and an application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) on April 3, 2012. (Tr. 252). A different ALJ (William Lawson) denied these new applications on September 20, 2012 ("September 20, 2012, ALJ Decision"). (Tr. 252-60). Following the Court's remand, ALJ Vincent held a new hearing on May 3, 2013. (Tr. 31-91). ALJ Vincent issued a new decision that also found Green not disabled. (Tr. 4-24). In this new decision, the ALJ considered all three of the above-referenced applications. (Tr. 4-24). This new decision is the Commissioner's final decision.

The Commissioner filed an answer to the complaint on March 31, 2014. (Doc. 9). Green filed a supporting brief (Doc. 12) on May 15, 2014, and the Commissioner responded with her own (Doc. 13) on June 16, 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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