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Peterson v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

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

March 27, 2017

AMELLIA PETERSON, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION [1]

          JOHN H ENGLAND, III, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Amellia Peterson (“Peterson”) 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). Peterson 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

         Peterson filed her application for a period of disability and DIB on November 22, 2010, alleging she became unable to work beginning November 12, 2010. (Tr. 32, 168). The Agency initially denied Peterson's application, and Peterson requested a hearing where she appeared on June 15, 2012. (Tr. 96, 50-93). After the hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) denied Peterson's claim on September 25, 2012. (Tr. 29-44). Peterson sought review by the Appeals Council, but it declined her request on June 23, 2014. (Tr. 17-22). On that date, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. After requesting and receiving more time to file a civil action, (tr. 1-4), on January 18, 2016, Peterson initiated this action. (See doc. 1).

         Peterson was a forty-year-old when the ALJ issued his decision. She held an associate's degree in computer technology, a bachelor's degree in software engineering, and a master's degree in liberal arts. (Tr. 44, 55, 58, 172). Peterson is also a licensed practical nurse (“LPN”). (Tr. 59). She had previously worked as a poultry de-boner, licensed practical nurse, office nurse, tire builder, teacher, and software specialist. (Tr. 82-83, 183). Peterson alleges her disability began on November 12, 2010, due to dilated nonischemic cardiomyopathy and severe mitral insufficiency with ejection fraction of ten percent. (Tr. 172).

         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); Wi lson 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. “Substantial evidence may even exist contrary to the findings of the ALJ, and [the reviewing court] may have taken a different view of it as a factfinder. Yet, if there is substantially supportive evidence, the findings cannot be overturned.” Barron v. Sullivan, 924 F.2d 227, 230 (11th Cir. 1991). However, the Court 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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