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Barnes v. Colvin

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

April 29, 2015

EVA BARNES, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JOHN E. OTT, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Eva Barnes 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") denying her application for Supplemental Security Income Benefits ("SSI"). (Doc. 1).[1] This case has been assigned to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to this court's general order of reference. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of this court for the disposition of the 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

Plaintiff filed her application for SSI benefits on April 1, 2011, alleging a disability beginning March 1, 1999.[2] (R. 19, 132-42).[3] She amended her claim, alleging a disability premised on a loss of a finger; right arm and back problems; diabetes; breathing difficulties; and seeing problems beginning April 1, 2011. (R. 19, 157). On November 2, 2012, following a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") denied Plaintiff her disability benefits, concluding that she is not disabled under the Social Security Act. (R. 29). The Appeals Council declined to grant review of the ALJ's decision on December 17, 2013. (R. 1). Plaintiff then field this action for judicial review pursuant to § 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Doc. 1).

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

In reviewing claims brought under the Social Security Act, this court's role is a narrow one. "Our review of the Commissioner's decision is limited to an inquiry into whether there is substantial evidence to support the findings of the Commissioner, and whether the correct legal standards were applied." Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002); see also Lamb v. Bowen, 847 F.2d 698, 701 (11th Cir. 1988). The plaintiff must demonstrate that the decision of the Commissioner is not supported by substantial evidence. See, e.g., Allen v. Schweiker, 642 F.2d 799 (5th Cir. 1981). "Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Winschel v. Commissioner of Social Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (internal quotations and citations omitted). The court gives deference to factual findings and reviews questions of law de novo. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145 (11th Cir. 1991). The court "may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the [Commissioner], rather [it] must scrutinize the record as a whole to determine if the decision reached is reasonable and supported by substantial evidence." Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990) (quoting Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1982))(internal quotations and other citations omitted). As noted above, conclusions of law made by the Commissioner are reviewed de novo. Cornelius, 936 F.2d at 1145. Accordingly, "[n]o... presumption of validity attaches to the [Commissioner's] conclusions of law." Wiggins v. Schweiker, 679 F.2d 1387, 1389 (11th Cir. 1982).

III. STATUTORY AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK

To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must show "the inability to engage in 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 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); 42 U.S.C. § 416(i). A physical or mental impairment is "an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrated by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(3).

Determination of disability under the Act requires a five step analysis. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)-(f). Specifically, the Commissioner must determine in sequence:

(1) whether the claimant is currently unemployed;
(2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment;
(3) whether the impairment meets or equals one listed by the Secretary;
(4) whether the claimant is unable to perform his or her past work; and
(5) whether the claimant is unable to perform any work in the ...

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