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Wessler-Herron v. Colvin

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

July 20, 2015

SUSAN L. WESSLER-HERRON, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

SHARON LOVELACE BLACKBURN, Senior District Judge.

Plaintiff Susan L. Wessler-Herron brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying her application for supplemental security income ["SSI"]. After review of the record, the parties' submissions, and the relevant law, the court is of the opinion that the Commissioner's decision is due to be affirmed.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff filed an application for SSI on October 12, 2010 and later amended her alleged onset date to October 1, 2010. (R. 35, 107.)[1] Plaintiff's application was denied by the Social Security Administration ["SSA"] on March 24, 2011. (R. 64.) Thereafter, plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ["ALJ"], which was held on June 14, 2012. (R. 31.) After the hearing, the ALJ found that plaintiff was capable of making a vocational adjustment to other occupations, such as bench/assembler, sorter, and bakery line attendant. (R. 20.) In light of these findings, the ALJ denied plaintiff's request for SSI on September 18, 2012. (Id. )

On September 26, 2012, plaintiff petitioned the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision, (R. 5), and on March 21, 2014, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review, thereby rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, (R. 1). Following denial of review by the Appeals Council, plaintiff filed an appeal in this court on May 5, 2014. (Doc. 1.)

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

In reviewing claims brought under the Social Security Act, this court "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 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 the court 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. 1983)) (internal quotations and other citation omitted). "The Commissioner's factual findings are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence." Wilson, 284 F.3d at 1221 (citing Martin, 894 F.2d at 1529; Allen v. Bowen, 816 F.2d 600, 602 (11th Cir. 1987)). "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. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (internal quotations and citations omitted).

Conclusions of law made by the Commissioner are reviewed de novo. Cornelius, 936 F.2d at 1145. "[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. DISCUSSION

A. THE FIVE-STEP EVALUATION

The regulations require the Commissioner to follow a five-step sequential evaluation to determine whether a claimant is eligible for supplemental security income. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(1)-(2); see also Bowen v. City of New York, 476 U.S. 467, 470 (1986). "The term disability' means - (A) [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 12 months...." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); see also 42 U.S.C. § 416(i)(1). The specific steps in the evaluation process are as follows:

1. Substantial Gainful Employment

First, the Commissioner must determine whether the claimant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity." Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 137 (1987). The regulations define "substantial gainful activity" as "work activity that is both substantial and gainful."[2] 20 C.F.R. § 416.972. If the claimant is working and that work is substantial gainful activity, the Commissioner will find that the claimant is not disabled, regardless of the claimant's medical condition or her age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(b). "Under the first step, the claimant has the burden to show that she is not currently engaged in substantial gainful activity." Reynolds-Buckley v. Commissioner of Social Sec., 457 F.Appx. 862, 863 (11th Cir. 2012).[3]

The ALJ determined that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset ...


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