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Brown v. Colvin

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

May 19, 2015

PETER BROWN, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Peter Brown ("Brown") brings this action under 42 U.S.C.§ 405(g), Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act. He seeks review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner"), who denied his application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI").[1] Brown timely pursued and exhausted his administrative remedies available before the Commissioner. The case is thus ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).[2] The court has carefully considered the record and, for the reasons which follow, finds that the decision of the Commissioner is due to be AFFIRMED.

II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff was forty-nine years old on the date of his hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (Tr. 28). He completed the ninth grade and obtained his G.E.D. (Tr. 39-40). For purposes of Social Security insurance benefits, Brown had no past relevant work.[3] (Tr. 53). He alleged disability due to vascular necrosis in his hips, with a left hip replacement. (Tr. 196, 205). He alleged that he became disabled on November 1, 2009. (Tr. 192).

Brown protectively filed his application for SSI on September 20, 2010. (Tr. 68). The Social Security Administration denied this application on April 19, 2011. (Tr. 69). Brown timely requested and appeared at a hearing before an ALJ. (Tr. 24, 73). The hearing was held on March 21, 2013, and the ALJ issued a decision, dated June 4, 2013, denying his application. (Tr. 17, 24). The Appeals Council ("AC") denied Brown's request for review on August 8, 2014. (Tr. 1-3). Brown filed a complaint with this court on October 9, 2014, seeking review of the Commissioner's determination. (Doc. 1). The Commissioner answered on January 20, 2015. (Doc. 10). Brown filed a brief in support of his complaint (Doc. 12), on March 4, 2015, and the Commissioner responded with a brief in support of her decision (Doc. 13) on April 6, 2015. Brown thereafter filed a reply on April 16, 2015. (Doc. 15).

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

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 proper legal standards were applied. Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002), citing Lamb v. Bowen, 847 F.2d 698 (11th Cir. 1988). 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) (internal citations omitted). 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.

This 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).

IV. STATUTORY AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK

To qualify for disability benefits and establish 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. § 416.905(a). To establish an entitlement to disability benefits, a claimant must provide evidence about 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. § 416.908.

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

(1) whether the claimant is currently employed;
(2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment;
(3) whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals an impairment listed by the [Commissioner];
(4) whether the claimant can perform his or her past work; and
(5) whether the claimant is capable of performing any work in the ...

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