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McHoward v. Colvin

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

June 15, 2015

LORETTA JEAN McHOWARD, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c), plaintiff Loretta Jean McHoward seeks judicial review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. After careful review, the Court affirms the Commissioner’s decision.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Ms. McHoward applied for supplemental security income on March 22, 2011.[1] (Doc. 7-6, p. 2). Ms. McHoward alleges that her disability began on July 1, 2010. (Doc. 7-6, p. 2). The Commissioner denied Ms. McHoward’s claim on June 15, 2011, and Ms. McHoward requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). (Doc. 7-3, pp. 21-29). Like the Commissioner, the ALJ denied Ms. McHoward’s application for benefits. (Doc. 7-3, pp. 21-29). Afterwards, the Appeals Council declined Ms. McHoward’s request for review. (Doc. 7-3, pp. 2-4). Consequently, the Commissioner’s decision became final. (Doc. 7-3, pp. 2-4). That decision is a proper candidate for this Court’s judicial review. See 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c).

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 [her] ‘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 “decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, ” or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Winschel v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation and citation omitted). If the ALJ’s decision is supported by substantial evidence, the Court “must affirm even if the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner’s findings.” Costigan v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., ___Fed. Appx. ___, 2015 WL 795089, at *2 (11th Cir. Feb. 26, 2015) (citing Crawford, 363 F.3d at 1158).

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).

SUMMARY OF THE ALJ’S DECISION

To determine whether a claimant has proven that she is disabled, an ALJ follows a five-step sequential evaluation process:

(1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment or combination of impairments; (3) whether the impairment meets or equals the severity of the specified impairments in the Listing of Impairments; (4) based on a residual functional capacity (“RFC”) assessment, whether the claimant can perform any of his or her past relevant work despite the impairment; and (5) whether there are significant numbers of jobs in the national economy that the claimant can perform given the claimant’s RFC, age, education, and work experience.

Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178.

In this case, the ALJ found that Ms. McHoward has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 15, 2011. (Doc. 7-3, p. 23). The ALJ determined that Ms. McHoward suffers from the following severe impairments: panic disorder without agoraphobia, fibromyalgia, hypertension, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), obesity, diabetes mellitus, major depressive disorder, and osteoarthritis. (Doc. 7-3, p. 23). Nevertheless, the ALJ concluded that Ms. McHoward does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that ...


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