Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Smith v. Commissioner, Social Security Administration

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

January 17, 2017

SARA BROOKE SMITH, Plaintiff
v.
COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HARWELL G. DAVIS, III UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff protectively filed an application for Supplemental Security Income on February 27, 2012, alleging that she became disabled on September 12, 2008. (Tr. 85, 130-35). A hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on October 23, 2013. Plaintiff was represented by counsel, and an impartial vocational expert (VE) also testified. (Tr. 42-70). On January 16, 2014, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. (Tr. 17-31). The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. 1-5). The case is now ripe for review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).

         I. ALJ Decision

         Disability under the Social Security Act is determined under a five-step test. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. First, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant is engaging in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(I). “Substantial work activity” is work that involves doing significant physical or mental activities. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1572(a). “Gainful work activity” is work that is done for pay or profit. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). Second, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has a medically determinable impairment or a combination of medical impairments that significantly limits the claimant's ability to perform basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). Absent such impairment, the claimant may not claim disability. Id. Third, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant's impairment meets or medically equals the criteria listed in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526. If such criteria are met, the claimant is declared disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii).

         If the claimant does not fulfill the requirements necessary to be declared disabled under the third step, the ALJ may still find disability under the next two steps of the analysis. The ALJ first must determine the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC), which refers to the claimant's ability to work despite his impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). In the fourth step, the ALJ determines whether the claimant has the RFC to perform past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant is determined to be capable of performing past relevant work, then the claimant is deemed not disabled. Id. If the ALJ finds that the claimant is unable to perform past relevant work, then the analysis proceeds to the fifth and final step. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v). In the last part of the analysis, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant is able to perform any other work commensurate with her RFC, age, education and work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g). Here, the burden of proof shifts from the claimant to the ALJ to prove the existence in significant numbers of jobs in the national economy that the claimant can do given the RFC, age, education and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g) and 404.1560(c).

         Following this five-step procedure, the ALJ found that plaintiff has the following severe impairments: bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, and polysubstance abuse. (Tr. 22). The ALJ also found that plaintiff's condition did not meet or medically equal the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926. (Tr 22-24). The ALJ further found, based on the entire record, that plaintiff has the RFC to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels with the following non-exertional limitations:

[Plaintiff] must avoid hazardous machinery and unprotected heights. She is able to understand, remember, and carry out simple tasks for two hours at a time with normal breaks. She must work in an environment that does not require excessive workloads, quick decision-making, rapid changes, and multiple demands. She is able to adapt to occasional, well-explained changes. While all competitive employment has production requirements, [Plaintiff] must work in an environment that does not have stringent production or speed requirements and thus may not perform faced-paced assembly line work, quota-based work, or piece rate work. [Plaintiff] may have no contact with the public and no more than superficial, occasional contact with co-workers and supervisors. She will be off task 10 percent of the day.

(Tr. 24).

         The ALJ concluded that plaintiff was unable to perform her past relevant work. (Tr. 30). However, based on the testimony of the VE, the ALJ found that there were other jobs available in significant numbers in the economy that plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 30-31). As a result, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act. (Tr. 31).

         II. Plaintiff's Argument for Reversal

         Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ erred in denying benefits asserting that the ALJ's findings regarding plaintiff's RFC are not based in substantial evidence. (Doc. 12, Plaintiff's Brief, at 1).

         III. Standard of Review

         Judicial review is limited to whether the record reveals substantial evidence to sustain the ALJ's decision, see 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Walden v. Schweiker, 672 F.2d 835, 838 (11th Cir. 1982), and whether the correct legal standards were applied. See Lamb v. Bowen, 847 F.2d 698, 701 (11th Cir. 1988); Chester v. Brown, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986); Tieniber v. Heckler, 720 F.2d 1251, 1253 (11th Cir. 1983). Title 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) mandates that the Commissioner's findings are conclusive if supported by “substantial evidence.” Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990). The district court may not reconsider the facts, re-evaluate the evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner; instead, it must review the final decision as a whole and determine if the decision is reasonable and supported by substantial evidence. See Id. (citing Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983)).

         Substantial evidence falls somewhere between a scintilla and a preponderance of evidence; “[i]t is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Martin, 894 F.2d at 1529 (quoting Bloodsworth, 703 F.2d at 1239) (other citations omitted). If supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's factual findings must be affirmed even if the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's findings. See Martin, 894 F.2d at 1529. While the court acknowledges that judicial review of the ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.