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Corbin v. Berryhill

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

March 30, 2017

EARNEST L. CORBIN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1]Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER [2]

          Susan Russ Walker, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Earnest L. Corbin commenced this action on October 21, 2015, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner denying his application for disability insurance benefits and Supplemental Security Income. (Doc. 1, 12). Plaintiff alleged disability as of March 15, 2013 due to pinched nerves, shoulder pain, back pain, neck pain, headaches, high blood pressure, chronic cough, dizziness, and numbness in the arms, hands, hips and legs. (Doc. 13 at 2-3, 14-2 at 12). On May 27, 2015, Administrative Law Judge John B. Langland (“the ALJ”) issued an adverse decision.[3] (Doc. 14-2 at 12-23). The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review, and the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. (Id. at 2-8).

         In the instant appeal, the plaintiff requests that the court remand this cause to the Commissioner under sentence four of § 405(g). (Doc. 12). This case is ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). The parties have consented to entry of final judgment by the Magistrate Judge. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Doc. 9, 10). For the reasons stated herein, and based upon its review of the record, the court finds that the Commissioner's decision is due to be affirmed. Plaintiff also moves for an award of reasonable attorney's fees pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 241(d) and for an extension of time to file an application for 42 U.S.C. § 406(b) attorney's fees. (Doc. 12 at 14). Because the Commissioner's decision is affirmed, the motions will be denied.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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. A reviewing court “may not decide facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its] decision for that of the [Commissioner].” Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005). In other words, this court is prohibited from reviewing the Commissioner's findings of fact de novo, even where a preponderance of the evidence supports alternative conclusions.

         While the court must uphold factual findings that are supported by substantial evidence, 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 that 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).

         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. 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 an entitlement to disability benefits, a claimant must provide evidence about a “physical or mental impairment” that “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 the Commissioner;
(4) whether the claimant can perform his or her past work; and
(5) whether the claimant is capable of performing any work in the national economy.

Pope v. Shalala, 998 F.2d 473, 477 (7th Cir. 1993) (citing to a formerly applicable C.F.R. section), overruled on other grounds by Johnson v. Apfel, 189 F.3d 561, 562-63 (7th Cir. 1999); accord McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir. 1986). The sequential analysis goes as follows:

Once the claimant has satisfied steps One and Two, she will automatically be found disabled if she suffers from a listed impairment. If the claimant does not have a listed impairment but cannot perform her work, the burden shifts to the [Commissioner] to show that the claimant can perform some other job.

Pope, 998 F.2d at 477; accord Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1559 (11th Cir. 1995). The Commissioner must further show that such work exists in the national economy in significant numbers. Id.

         DISCUSSION

         The ALJ concluded that the plaintiff suffers from the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease, degenerative changes of the cervical spine, and a history of shoulder arthropathies, and that the plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or medically equal a listed impairment. (Doc. 14-2 at 14-15).

         The ALJ made the following RFC determination:

[T]he claimant has the [RFC] to perform a range of “medium work, ” as that term is otherwise defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c). Specifically, the claimant can lift and carry up to 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently. He can push and pull within those same exertional limits. He can stand or walk about 6 hours and can sit for at least 6 hours out of an 8-hour workday. He can perform tasks not involving the climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolding. He can reach overhead on only an occasional basis. He can perform work in a controlled environment not involving exposure to temperature or humidity extremes or unprotected heights. He can perform tasks not involving operation of vibrating tools or equipment.

(Id. at 15). At step four, the ALJ found that the plaintiff can perform his past relevant work as a Cylinder Batcher / Warehouse Worker; Quality Control Tester; Cloth Bleacher; Dye Tub Operator; Cloth Shrinker; and Napper Tender. (Id. at 20). The ALJ made alternative findings as step five, based in part on the testimony of a vocational expert, that the plaintiff can perform other jobs that exist in sufficient numbers in the national economy. (Id. at 21-22). ...


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