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Thrasher v. Colvin

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

March 17, 2017

RALPH HENRY THRASHER, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVTN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ABDUL K. KALLON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Ralph Henry Thrasher brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking (1) a remand pursuant to Sentence Six, doc. 8, and (2) a review of the final adverse decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("SSA"), doc. 1. This court finds that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") is supported by substantial evidence. Therefore, the court AFFIRMS the decision denying benefits.

         I. Procedural History

         Thrasher filed his application for Title XVI and Title XIX Supplemental Security Income, and for Supplemental Security Benefits on July 2, 2013, (R. 139-152), alleging a disability onset date of May 16, 2013, (R 139). After the SSA denied his application, (R. 84), Thrasher requested a hearing, (R. 96). At the time of the hearing, Thrasher was 38 years old, (R. 42, 43-44), had completed high school through the tenth grade and later obtained his GED, (R. 44), and had past work experience hauling gas as a truck driver. (R. 44-45). Thrasher has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his onset date of May 16, 2013. (R. 44).

         The ALJ denied Thrasher's claim on August 5, 2014, (R. 28-35), which became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council refused to grant review. (R. 1-3). Thrasher then filed this action for review, doc. 1, and a subsequent motion of remand pursuant to Sentence Six, doc. 8, both pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         II. Standard of Review

         The issues before this court are whether the record contains 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 ALJ applied the correct legal standards, see Lamb v. Bowen, 847 F.2d 698, 701 (11th Cir. 1988); Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986). Title 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c) mandate that the Commissioner's "factual 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, reevaluate 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 (llthCir. 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, 849 F.2d at 1529 (quoting Bloodsworth, 703 F.2d at 1239) (other citations omitted). If supported by substantial evidence, the court must affirm the Commissioner's factual findings even if the preponderance of the evidence is against the Commissioner's findings. See Martin, 894 F.2d at 1529. While the court acknowledges that judicial review of the ALJ's findings is limited in scope, it notes that the review "does not yield automatic affirmance." Lamb, 847 F.2d at 701.

         III. Statutory and Regulatory Framework

         To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must show "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 twelve months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); 42 U.S.C. § 416(i)(I)(A). A physical or mental impairment is "an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrated by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(3).

         Determination of disability under the Act requires a five step analysis. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)-(f). Specifically, the Commissioner must determine in sequence:

(1) whether the claimant is currently unemployed;
(2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment;
(3) whether the impairment meets or equals one listed by the Secretary;
(4) whether the claimant is unable to perform his or her past work; and
(5) whether the claimant is unable to perform any work in the national 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, 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.'" Id. at 1030 (citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)-(f)). "Once a finding is made that a claimant cannot return to prior work the burden shifts to the Secretary to show other work the claimant can do." Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1559 (11th Cir. 1995) (citation omitted).

         IV. The ALJ's Decision

         In performing the Five Step sequential analysis, the ALJ initially determined that Thrasher had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his onset date of May 16, 2013, (R. 44), and therefore met Step One. (R. 30). Next, the ALJ acknowledged that Thrasher's severe impairments of hypertension, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and vasodepressor syndrome met Step Two. (R. 30). The ALJ then proceeded to the next step and found that Thrasher did not satisfy Step Three since he "[did] not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1." (R. 32) (internal citations ...


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