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Owens v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

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

March 21, 2017

VICKI OWENS, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION [1]

          JOHN H. ENGLAND, III UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Vicki Owens (“Owens”) seeks review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), § 205(g) of the Social Security Act, of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”), denying her application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). (Doc. 1). Owens timely pursued and exhausted her administrative remedies. This case is therefore ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). The undersigned has carefully considered the record and, for the reasons stated below, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

         I. Factual and Procedural History

         Owens filed her application for DIB on July 23, 2012, which the Agency initially denied. (Tr. 40-46, 389-97). Owens alleges she is disabled due to diabetes (feet swelling), high blood pressure, leg pain, thyroid disease, degenerative disc disease (back pain), numbness in her left leg, and anemia. (Tr. 130). Owens requested a hearing, and the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing on December 12, 2013, issuing an unfavorable decision on February 28, 2014. (Tr. 6-20, 24-39). Owens was fifty-eight years old when the ALJ rendered his decision. (Tr. 20, 28-29, 86, 131). Owens has a twelfth grade education, and past work history as a sewing machine operator, receptionist, packer, cashier, assembler of motor vehicle parts, and file clerk. (Tr. 20, 28-29, 37, 86, 118, 131-32, 155-62).

         Owens sought review by the Appeals Council, but it declined her request on July 24, 2015. (Tr. 1-3). On that date, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. On September 9, 2015, Owens initiated this action. (See doc. 1).

         II. Standard of Review[2]

         The court's review of the Commissioner's decision is narrowly circumscribed. The function of this Court is to determine whether the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence and whether proper legal standards were applied. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971); Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002). This Court must “scrutinize the record as a whole to determine if the decision reached is reasonable and supported by substantial evidence.” Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. It is “more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Id.

         This Court must uphold factual findings supported by substantial evidence. However, it reviews the ALJ's legal conclusions de novo because no presumption of validity attaches to the ALJ's determination of the proper legal standards to be applied. Davis v. Shalala, 985 F.2d 528, 531 (11th Cir. 1993). If the court finds an error in the ALJ's application of the law, or if the ALJ fails to provide the court with sufficient reasoning for determining the proper legal analysis has been conducted, it must reverse the ALJ's decision. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).

         III. Statutory and Regulatory Framework

         To qualify for disability benefits and establish his or her entitlement for a period of disability, a claimant must be disabled as defined by the Social Security Act and the Regulations promulgated thereunder.[3] The Regulations define “disabled” as “the inability to do 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 (12) months.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a). To establish entitlement to disability benefits, a claimant must provide evidence of a “physical or mental impairment” which “must result from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which can be shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1508.

         The Regulations provide a five-step process for determining whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i-v). The Commissioner must determine in sequence:

(1) whether the claimant is currently employed;
(2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment;
(3) whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals an impairment listed by ...

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