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Allen v. Colvin

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

February 10, 2017

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Social Security Commissioner Defendant.



         In this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) Plaintiff, Latia Zarita Allen (“Allen” or “Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of an adverse social security ruling denying claims for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) (Docs. 1, 12). With the consent of the parties, the Court has designated the undersigned Magistrate Judge to conduct all proceedings and order the entry of judgment in this civil action, in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73, and S.D. Ala. GenLR 73. (See Docs. 15, 17). Oral argument was heard on February 2, 2017. After considering the administrative record and the memoranda of the parties, it is ORDERED that the decision of the Commissioner be AFFIRMED and that this action be DISMISSED.


         Plaintiff protectively applied for SSI on February 24, 2005, asserting a disability onset date of October 1, 2001. (Tr. at 69, 176-78). Plaintiff was awarded benefits as a child, but when she reached eighteen, her benefits had to be redetermined as an adult. (TR. at 27). On October 14, 2013, it was determined that Plaintiff was no longer disabled as of October 1, 2013. (TR. at 88-89). Plaintiff filed a Request for Reconsideration on October 11, 2013, and attended a disability hearing on October 8, 2014. (TR. at 92, 99-110). The hearing officer upheld the termination of Plaintiff's benefits in a decision dated March 10, 2014. (TR. at 115-18). Plaintiff appealed the hearing officer's decision and attended two hearings before an ALJ on June 16, 2014 and August 19, 2014. (TR. 42-68).

         At the time of the administrative hearing, Plaintiff was nineteen years old, was in the ninth grade, and had no previous work experience. (Doc. 12; Fact Sheet). Plaintiff alleges she is disabled due to intellectual disability and anxiety. (Id.). On October 24, 2014, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) denied benefits after determining that Plaintiff did not meet disability listing requirements of 12.05. (Tr. at 24-41). Plaintiff requested review of the hearing decision, but the Appeals Council denied the request. (Tr. 1-7).

         Plaintiff claims that the ALJ committed reversible error in (1) failing to find that Plaintiff met the listing requirement of 12.05C and (2) failing to fully develop the record. (Doc. 12 at 2). Defendant has responded to-and denies-these claims. (Doc. 13).


         “In Social Security appeals, [the Court] must determine whether the Commissioner's decision is ‘ “supported by substantial evidence and based on proper legal standards. 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) (quoting Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004) (per curiam) (internal citation omitted) (quoting Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1439 (11th Cir. 1997))). However, the Court “ ‘may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute our judgment for that of the [Commissioner].' ” Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178 (quoting Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1240 n.8 (11th Cir. 2004) (alteration in original) (quoting Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983))). “ ‘Even if the evidence preponderates against the [Commissioner]'s factual findings, we must affirm if the decision reached is supported by substantial evidence.' ” Ingram, 496 F.3d at 1260 (quoting Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990)).

         “Yet, within this narrowly circumscribed role, [courts] do not act as automatons. [The court] must scrutinize the record as a whole to determine if the decision reached is reasonable and supported by substantial evidence[.]” Bloodsworth, 703 F.2d at 1239 (citations and quotation omitted). See also Owens v. Heckler, 748 F.2d 1511, 1516 (11th Cir. 1984) (per curiam) (“We are neither to conduct a de novo proceeding, nor to rubber stamp the administrative decisions that come before us. Rather, our function is to ensure that the decision was based on a reasonable and consistently applied standard, and was carefully considered in light of all the relevant facts.”). “In determining whether substantial evidence exists, [a court] must…tak[e] into account evidence favorable as well as unfavorable to the [Commissioner's] decision.” Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986).

         Although the “claimant bears the burden of demonstrating the inability to return to [his or] her past relevant work, the Commissioner of Social Security has an obligation to develop a full and fair record.” Shnorr v. Bowen, 816 F.2d 578, 581 (11th Cir. 1987). See also Ellison v. Barnhart, 355 F.3d 1272, 1276 (11th Cir. 2003) (per curiam) (“It is well-established that the ALJ has a basic duty to develop a full and fair record. Nevertheless, the claimant bears the burden of proving that he is disabled, and, consequently, he is responsible for producing evidence in support of his claim.” (citations omitted)). “This is an onerous task, as the ALJ must scrupulously and conscientiously probe into, inquire of, and explore for all relevant facts. In determining whether a claimant is disabled, the ALJ must consider the evidence as a whole.” Henry v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 802 F.3d 1264, 1267 (11th Cir. 2015) (per curiam) (citation and quotation omitted).

         Where, as here, the ALJ denied benefits and the Appeals Council denied review of that decision, the Court “review[s] the ALJ's decision as the Commissioner's final decision.” Doughty, 245 F.3d at 1278. “[W]hen the [Appeals Council] has denied review, [the Court] will look only to the evidence actually presented to the ALJ in determining whether the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence.” Falge v. Apfel, 150 F.3d 1320, 1323 (11th Cir. 1998).


         Allen takes issue with the fact that the ALJ did not find that she met the listing requirements of 12.05C. More specifically, Plaintiff contends that her anxiety should have satisfied the second prong of 12.05C which requires “a physical or other mental impairment imposing an additional and significant work related limitation of function”. (Doc. 12 at 2). Plaintiff additionally claims that the ALJ failed to fully develop the record by not obtaining updated records. Id. Because Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's error relating to the listing requirement of 12.05C is ...

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