United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Eastern Division
JOHN E. OTT, Chief Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Katrina Ann Askew brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") finding that she is no longer disabled under the Social Security Act. (Doc. 1 & 10). The case has been assigned to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to this court's general order of reference dated January 14, 2013. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of this court for disposition of this matter. (Doc. 9). See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), FED. R. CIV. P. 73(a). Upon review of the record and the relevant law, the undersigned finds that the Commissioner's decision is due to be affirmed.
I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
The plaintiff was originally found to be disabled for Child's Disability Benefits ("CDB") under Title II of the Social Security Act, and Supplemental Security Income benefits under Title XVI of the Act on May 31, 2005. (R. 19, 49-50). Premised on a Continuing Disability Review on August 30, 2010, it was determined that she was no longer disabled as of August 1, 2010. ( Id. ) The determination was upheld on the plaintiff's request for reconsideration. (R. 19, 70-71). She then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (R. 92). The plaintiff, her counsel, and a vocational expert ("VE") attended the hearing on August 23, 2011. (R. 32-48).
The ALJ issued a decision on September 13, 2011, finding that the plaintiff's disability ended on August 1, 2010. (R. 19). Specifically, the ALJ found that the plaintiff's condition had improved, that she did not have an impairment or combination of impairments listed in the regulations, and that she possessed the residual function capacity ("RFC") to perform work-related activities at all levels of physical exertion, with limited mental restrictions. (R. 21-26).
The Appeals Council denied Askew's request for review on July 24, 2013. (R. 1-5). On that date, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. The plaintiff then filed this action for judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Doc. 1).
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
The court's review of the Commissioner's decision is narrowly circumscribed. The function of the 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, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1422 (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.
The 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).
III. STATUTORY AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK
Because this case involves the cessation of benefits, the review process involves an eight-step evaluation process concerning the CDB of Title II and a seven-step process for the Title XVI benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1594 & 416.994. The review includes (1) whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, (2) whether the claimant has an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the criteria of a listed impairment, (3) whether the claimant has medically improved, (4) whether any medical improvement relates to the ability to work, (5) whether any exception applies if medical improvement is noted, (6) whether the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments is severe, limiting her ability to perform basic work activities, (7) an assessment of the claimant's RFC, and (8) an analysis of what work is available for the claimant to perform. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1594(f) & 416.994(b)(5).
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 entitlement to disability benefits, a claimant must provide evidence of 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.
IV. FINDINGS OF THE ALJ
The plaintiff was 24 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision on September 13, 2011. (R. 36). She completed the twelfth grade and subsequently received her diploma by taking the "grad exam." ( Id. ) She has no past relevant work experience. (R. 21, 25, 37). Her most recent favorable medical decision, finding her disabled, was rendered on December 27, 2006. (R. 21). This date is known as the "comparison point decision" ("CPD"). ( Id. ) At the time of her CPD, the plaintiff had the medically determinable severe impairment of borderline intellectual functioning. ( Id. )
In her September 2011 decision, the ALJ found that the plaintiff had a severe impairment of borderline intellectual functioning and a non-severe impairment of obesity. ( Id. ) The ALJ also found that the plaintiff had the RFC to perform a full range of medium work with some limitations. (R. 23). Finally, the ALJ determined, premised on the testimony of the VE that a significant number of jobs were available to a person with the plaintiff's limitations. (R. 26). The ALJ ...