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Harrison v. Colvin

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

April 20, 2015

WANDA HARRISON, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JOHN E. OTT, Chief Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Wanda Harrison brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking review of the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") finding that she is not disabled under the Social Security Act. (Doc. 1).[1] 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 the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Doc. 18). 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

Harrison filed applications for disability insurance benefits on March 2, 2011. She alleged a disability onset date of August 5, 2009. (R. 23).[2] Her applications were initially denied by the State Agency. On August 8, 20111, the plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), which was held on October 18, 2012. The plaintiff, her counsel and a vocational expert were present during the video hearing. On December 19, 2012, the ALJ issued his decision finding that the plaintiff was not entitled to benefits.

Harrison filed a request for review with the Appeals Council and on January 30, 2014, the Appeals Council denied the plaintiff's request. 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). Counsel for the Commissioner filed her brief, to which the plaintiff responded. (Docs. 8 & 14). The court then required the Commissioner to reply to the plaintiff's brief, which she did. (Docs. 15 & 17).

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

To qualify for disability benefits and establish his or her entitlement period of disability, a claimant must be disabled as defined by the Social Security Act and Regulations promulgated thereunder.[3] The Regulations define being "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.

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

1. Is the claimant presently unemployed;
2. Is the claimant's impairment severe;
3. Does the claimant's impairment meet or equal one of the specific impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1 [the "Listings"];
4. Is the claimant unable to perform his or her former occupation;
5. Is the claimant unable to perform any other work within the economy?

Mcdaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir. 1986). An affirmative answer to any of the above questions leads either to the next question or, at steps three and five, to a finding of disability. A negative answer to any question, other than step three, leads to a ...


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