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Pickett v. Colvin

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

February 24, 2015

JOHN H. PICKETT, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff John H. Pickett, Jr. ("Pickett") 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 a period of disability, disability insurance benefits ("DIB"), and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI").[1] Pickett 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

Pickett was 58 years old on the date of the administrative law judge's decision. (Tr. 17, 135). He had past work as a machine operator specialist, machine operator/furnace helper, and inspector machine operator. (Tr. 26, 138). Pickett initially alleged disability beginning July 22, 2008, [3] due to back conditions, high blood pressure, problems with his feet, prostate conditions, allergies and sinus conditions, acid reflux, and joint pain (Tr. 135, 148).

Pickett protectively filed applications for a period of disability, DIB, and SSI on October 27, 2010. (Tr. 39, 41, 110-22, 135). The claims were denied initially. Pickett then requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"), who issued a decision, dated September 27, 2012, finding him not disabled. (Tr. 9-17, 42-44, 49-50). The Appeals Council denied his request for review on October 18, 2013. (Tr. 2). Pickett then filed a complaint seeking judicial review of that decision on December 16, 2013. (Doc. 1). The Commissioner filed an answer to the complaint on May 5, 2014. (Doc. 8). Pickett filed a supporting brief (Doc. 11) on July 20, 2014, and the Commissioner responded with her own (Doc. 13) on August 18, 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 Commissioner must determine in sequence:

(1) whether the claimant is currently employed;
(2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment;
(3) whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals an impairment listed by the [Commissioner];
(4) whether the claimant can perform his or her past work; and
(5) whether the claimant is capable of performing any work in the ...

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