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Carroll v. Colvin

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

January 19, 2017

BARBARA SUE CARROLL, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1]Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          CHARLES S. COODY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         I. Introduction

         The plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq., and for supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 et seq., alleging that she was unable to work because of a disability. Her application was denied at the initial administrative level. The plaintiff then requested and received a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). Following the hearing, the ALJ concluded that the plaintiff was not under a “disability” as defined in the Social Security Act, and denied the plaintiff's claim for benefits. The Appeals Council rejected a subsequent request for review. The ALJ's decision consequently became the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”).[2] See Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986). The case is now before the court for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties have consented to entry of final judgment by the United States Magistrate Judge. Based on the court's review of the record in this case and the briefs of the parties, the court concludes that the decision of the Commissioner should be affirmed.

         II. Standard of Review

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A), a person is entitled to disability benefits when the person is unable 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 . . .

         To make this determination, [3] the Commissioner employs a five-step, sequential evaluation process. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.

(1) Is the person presently unemployed?
(2) Is the person's impairment severe?
(3) Does the person's impairment meet or equal one of the specific impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1?
(4) Is the person unable to perform his or her former occupation?
(5) Is the person unable to perform any other work within the economy? An affirmative answer to any of the above questions leads either to the next question, or, on 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.”

McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir. 1986).[4]

         The standard of review of the Commissioner's decision is a limited one. This court must find the Commissioner's decision conclusive if it is supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Graham v. Apfel, 129 F.3d 1420, 1422 (11th Cir. 1997). “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance. It is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). A reviewing court may not look only to those parts of the record which supports the decision of the ALJ but instead must view the record in its entirety and take account of evidence which detracts from the evidence relied on by the ALJ. Hillsman v. Bowen, 804 F.2d 1179 (11th Cir. 1986).

[The court must] . . . scrutinize the record in its entirety to determine the reasonableness of the [Commissioner's] . . . factual findings . . . No similar presumption of validity attaches to the [Commissioner's] . . . legal conclusions, including determination of the proper standards to be applied in evaluating claims.

Walker v. Bowen, 826 F.2d 996, 999 (11th Cir. 1987).

         III. The Issues

         A. Introduction. The plaintiff was 52 years old at the time of the hearing before the ALJ and had completed the eighth grade. (R. 24, 39). Following the hearing, the ALJ concluded that the plaintiff has severe impairments of “chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), status post arthroscopic surgery of bilateral knees, osteoarthritis of knees, bilateral knee edema no (sic) otherwise specified, morbid obesity, and dysthymic disorder versus major depressive disorder.” (R. 13). Her prior work experience includes work as a cashier. (R. 24). The ALJ concluded that Carroll could perform her past relevant work, and thus, she was not disabled. (Id.). In the alternative, relying on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ concluded that there were jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that Carroll could perform. (R. 24-25). Consequently, the ALJ concluded that she was not disabled. (R. 25-26).

         B. Plaintiff's Claims. Carroll presents three issues for the court's review. As stated by the plaintiff, the issues are as follows:

1. The Commissioner failed to fully and fairly develop the medical evidence.
2. The Commissioner failed to sufficiently assess Ms. Cameron's (sic) credibility.
3. The Commissioner improperly determined the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC).

         (Doc. # ...


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