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Smitherman v. Colvin

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

March 6, 2015

DAVID KENNETH SMITHERMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION[1]

JOHN H. ENGLAND, III, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff David Kenneth Smitherman ("Smitherman") seeks review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 205(g) of the Social Security Act, of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner"), denying his applications for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). Smitherman timely pursued and exhausted his administrative remedies, and the decision of the Commissioner is ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). After careful consideration of the record, and for the reasons stated below, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

I. Factual and Procedural History

Smitherman was thirty-one years old, having been born June 1, 1981, at the time of his hearing before the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), on August 16, 2012. (Tr. 29, 47). Smitherman has approximately one year of college education (tr. 35-36), and previously worked as a forklift operator, automobile parts assembler, a landscape laborer, and as a cashier. (Tr. 32-33).

Smitherman applied for DIB on April 7, 2011, and SSI on April 15, 2011, alleging an initial onset date of March 7, 2011. (Tr. 45). Smitherman's applications were denied on June 21, 2011, (tr. 58-67), and Smitherman requested a hearing before an ALJ, (tr. 74). After a hearing, the ALJ denied Smitherman's claim on September 14, 2012. (Tr. 20-23). Smitherman sought review by the Appeals Council, but the Council denied his request on August 1, 2013. (Tr. 1-5). On that date, the ALJ's decision became the final decision on the Commissioner. Smitherman then initiated this action on October 4, 2013. (Doc. 1).

II. Standard of Review[2]

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 the proper legal standards were applied. See Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002). The 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) (citations omitted). This Court will determine the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence if it finds "such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. Substantial evidence is "more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance." Id. The court must uphold factual findings supported by substantial evidence. The ALJ's legal conclusions, however, are reviewed de novo, "because no presumption of validity attached 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 failed to provide the Court with sufficient reasoning for determining the proper legal analysis has been conducted, the ALJ's decision must be reversed. See Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).

III. Statutory and Regulatory Framework

To establish entitlement for a period of disability, DIB and SSI, a claimant must be disabled as defined by the Social Security Act and the Regulations promulgated thereunder.[3] 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 12 months." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505 (a); 416.905(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, 416.908.

The Regulations provide a five-step process for determining whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v); 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v). The Commissioner must determine in sequence:

(1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity;
(2) whether the claimant's alleged impairment (or combination of impairments) is "severe";
(3) whether the claimant's severe impairment satisfies or medically equals an impairment listed in 20 ...

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