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Seal v. Colvin

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

March 25, 2015

JULIA MICHELLE SEAL, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA, District Judge.

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and § 1383(c), Julia Michelle Seal seeks judicial review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, affirming the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") who denied Ms. Seal's claim for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income benefits. Because substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision, the Court affirms the Commissioner's ruling.

STANDARD OF REVIEW:

The scope of review in this matter is limited. "When, as in this case, the ALJ denies benefits and the Appeals Council denies review, " the Court "review[s] the ALJ's factual findings with deference' and [his] legal conclusions with close scrutiny.'" Riggs v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 522 Fed.Appx. 509, 510-11 (11th Cir. 2013) (quoting Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001)).

The Court must determine whether there is substantial evidence in the record to support the ALJ's findings. "Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004). In making this evaluation, the Court may not "reweigh the evidence or decide the facts anew, " and the Court must "defer to the ALJ's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence even if the evidence may preponderate against it." Gaskin v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 533 Fed.Appx. 929, 930 (11th Cir. 2013).

With respect to the ALJ's legal conclusions, the Court must determine whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards. If the Court finds an error in the ALJ's application of the law, or if the Court finds that the ALJ failed to provide sufficient reasoning to demonstrate that the ALJ conducted a proper legal analysis, then the Court must reverse the ALJ's decision. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).

PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND:

On January 14, 2011, Ms. Seal applied for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income benefits. (Doc. 8-7, pp. 2-15). The Social Security Administration denied Ms. Seal's application on February 24, 2011. (Doc. 8-5, pp. 2-3). At Ms. Seal's request, on February 29, 2012, an Administrative Law Judge conducted a hearing concerning Ms. Seal's application. (Doc.8-4, pp 30-67). Ms. Seal and an impartial vocational expert testified at the hearing. (Doc. 8-4, p. 31). At the time of his hearing, Ms. Seal was 38 years old.[1] (Doc. 8-4, p. 36). Ms. Seal completed her GED, and she had a cosmetology license.[2] (Doc. 8-4, p. 50). Her past relevant work experience is as a cosmetologist, a sewing machine operator, a bundler, a house cleaner, a cashier, a telemarketer, and a telephone service operator. (Doc. 8-4, pp. 50-51, 62).

In December 2010, Ms. Seal fell from a porch and injured both of her ankles. After surgery on both ankles, Ms. Seal gained more than 50 pounds. (Doc. 8-4, p. 36-37). Ms. Seal has eight screws and a plate in one ankle that she claims is "still broken." (Doc. 8-4, p. 37). She also suffers from depression and has a pinched nerve. (Doc. 8-4, p. 37). At the time of the hearing, Ms. Seal was seeing no physicians other than an orthopedic doctor who treated her ankle injuries. (Doc. 84-4, p. 42-44).

On April 6, 2012, the ALJ denied Ms. Seal's request for disability benefits.[3] (Doc. 8-4, pp. 14-25). In his decision, the ALJ found that Ms. Seal had not "engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 6, 2009, the alleged onset date." (Doc. 8-4, p. 16). In addition, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Seal "has the following severe impairments: bilateral ankle fractures []; obesity; major depressive disorder; adjustment disorder; and opioid dependence." (Doc. 8-4, p. 16). The ALJ found that "these impairments result in more than minimal limitation in [Ms. Seal]'s ability to perform work-related activities." (Doc. 8-4, p. 16). The ALJ also concluded that Ms. Seal suffers from the following non-severe impairments: otalgia, bronchitis, finger laceration, scalp laceration, back sprain, scabies, conjunctivitis, pharyngitis, and carpel tunnel syndrome. (Doc. 8-4, p. 17). The ALJ found that Ms. Seal's mental impairments "do not meet or medically equal the criteria of listings 12.04 and 12.06." (Doc. 8-4, p. 18).

Based on these factual findings, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Seal has the "residual functional capacity: [] to perform light work; [] never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, heat, wetness, and humidity; [] avoid all exposure to unprotected heights, dangerous machinery, uneven surfaces, large bodies of water, and commercial driving; [] perform unskilled, low stress work; and [] occasionally interact with members of the general public, supervisors, and coworkers." (Doc. 8-4, p. 19). The ALJ determined that Ms. Seal may perform her past relevant work as a sewing machine operator and bundler. (Doc. 8-4, p. 23). The ALJ concluded that based on Ms. Seal's age, education, work experience, and RFC, jobs exist in the national economy that Ms. Seal can perform including ticket marker, mail sorter, and packager. (Doc. 8-4, pp. 23-24). Consequently, the ALJ determined that Ms. Seal is not disabled as that term is defined in the Social Security Act. (Doc. 8-4, p. 24).

On October 22, 2013, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration when the Appeals Council refused to review the ALJ's decision. (Doc. 8-3, pp. 2-8). Having exhausted all administrative remedies, Ms. Seal filed this action for judicial review pursuant to §205(g) and §1631(c)(3) of the Social Security Act. See 42 U.S.C. §405(g) and §1383(c)(3).

ANALYSIS:

To be eligible for disability insurance benefits, a claimant must be disabled. Gaskin, 533 Fed.Appx. 929, 930 (11th Cir. 2013). "A claimant is disabled if he is unable to engage in substantial gainful activity by reason of a medically-determinable impairment that can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months." Id. (citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)). A claimant must prove that he is disabled. Id. (citing Ellison v. Barnhart, 355 F.3d 1272, 1276 (11th Cir. 2003). To ...


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