United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
JOHN E. OTT, Chief Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Ladye Garrett Hogsed brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") finding that she is not disabled under the Social Security Act. (Doc. 1). The 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 disposition of this matter. (Doc. 5). 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 for disability insurance benefits on September 29, 2010. (R. 77, 134-35). The application was initially denied by the State Agency. (R. 87-89). Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (R. 95-96). Plaintiff, her counsel and a vocational expert ("VE") attended the hearing on May 15, 2012. (R. 42-76). The ALJ issued a decision on August 13, 2012, finding that Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits. (R. 21-41). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on February 27, 2014. (R. 1-7). On that date, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff then filed this action for judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Doc. 1).
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, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (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 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 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. 20 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 determination of "not disabled." Id .; see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 and 416.920.
IV. FINDINGS OF THE ALJ
Plaintiff was 54 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. (R. 36). She has past relevant work experience as a pharmacy technician. (R. 36, 70). Plaintiff alleges she has been unable to work since February 2, 2009, due to severe and chronic neck pain which radiates into her right arm and hand, causing numbness, tingling, and weakness; back pain, resulting in numbness and tingling in her right foot; fatigue; daily headaches; hot flashes; depression; and anxiety. (R 28).
Following a hearing, the ALJ determined Plaintiff was "not disabled." (R. 37). The ALJ found that Plaintiff had severe impairments of osteoporosis; degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine; depressive disorder; anxiety disorder; and adjustment disorder. (R. 26). The ALJ also found that Plaintiff's mental impairments, whether considered singly or in combination, did not meet one of the impairments listed in 20 CFR Part 404. (R. 27). The ALJ further found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work with limitations. (R. 28). Finally, the ALJ determined, premised on the testimony of the VE), that Plaintiff could perform her past work as a pharmacy technician. (R. 36).
Plaintiff claims the decision of the ALJ is due to be reversed and benefits awarded to her or the decision remanded for "further proper consideration" because the ALJ "failed to properly evaluate the opinion [evidence] from Plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. [Chad] Bradford." (Doc. 8 at 9). The Commissioner argues that this contention is without merit and that the ALJ's ...