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Gray v. Berryhill

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

March 31, 2017

DELLA L. GRAY, Plaintiff,
NANCY BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Della L. Gray (hereinafter “Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her claim for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 216(i) and 223(d). On October 28, 2016, the parties consented to have the undersigned conduct any and all proceedings in this case. (Doc. 17). Thus, the action was referred to the undersigned to conduct all proceedings and order the entry of judgment in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73. Upon careful consideration of the administrative record and the memoranda of the parties, it is hereby ORDERED that the decision of the Commissioner be REVERSED and REMANDED for further proceedings not inconsistent with this decision.

         I. Procedural History[2]

         Plaintiff filed her application for benefits on November 12, 2012, alleging disability beginning May 24, 2012, based on fibromyalgia, anxiety, depression, obesity, back injuries, and arthritis in the arms, upper and lower back, neck, hands and fingers. (Tr. 132, 166). Plaintiff's application was denied and upon timely request, she was granted an administrative hearing before Administrative Law Judge Renee Blackmon Hagler (hereinafter “ALJ”) on February 3, 2014. (Id. at 30). Plaintiff attended the hearing with her counsel and provided testimony related to her claims. (Id. at 31-49). A vocational expert (“VE”) also appeared at the hearing and provided testimony. (Id. at 49-51). On April 21, 2014, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding that Plaintiff is not disabled. (Id. at 12-24). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on September 24, 2015. (Id. at 4-7). Therefore, the ALJ's decision dated April 21, 2014, became the final decision of the Commissioner.

         Having exhausted her administrative remedies, Plaintiff timely filed the present civil action. (Doc. 1). The parties waived oral argument on October 28, 2016 (Doc. 16) and agree that this case is now ripe for judicial review and is properly before this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).

         II. Issues on Appeal

1. Whether the ALJ erred in rendering a physical residual functional capacity (“RFC”) assessment that is inconsistent with the medical evidence of record, and lacks an articulated linkage between it and the evidentiary record?
2. Whether the ALJ erred in failing to properly assess the credibility of Plaintiff?
3. Whether the ALJ erred in failing to order a consultative orthopedic examination to better determine Plaintiff's physical capabilities?

         III. Factual Background

         Plaintiff was born on February 17, 1968, and was forty-five years of age at the time of her administrative hearing on February 3, 2014. (Tr. 33). Plaintiff reported that she is stands 5 ‘5 and weighs 308 pounds. (Id. at 34). Plaintiff graduated from Phoenix University with an Associate's Degree in Healthcare Administration. (Id.).

         Plaintiff last worked in 2012 as a certified nursing assistant.[3] (Id. at 182). Her past work also includes being a housekeeper. (Id. at 36). At the hearing, Plaintiff testified that she has not worked since May 17, 2012 due to back problems which makes it difficult for her to sit or stand for extended periods of time. (Id. at 37). According to Plaintiff, she feels best when she is lying down. (Id.) Plaintiff also testified that although she had two back surgeries in 2012, she still experiences back pain, and that while her pain medicine helps, it has not eliminated her back pain. (Id. at 37-40). Plaintiff also testified that she suffers from fibromyalgia, arthritis in her shoulder and depression. (Id.)

         IV. Standard of Review

         In reviewing claims brought under the Act, this Court's role is a limited one. The Court's review is limited to determining 1) whether the decision of the Secretary is supported by substantial evidence and 2) whether the correct legal standards were applied.[4]Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990). A court may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Sewell v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 1065, 1067 (11th Cir. 1986). The Commissioner's findings of fact must be affirmed if they are based upon substantial evidence. Brown v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d 1233, 1235 (11th Cir. 1991); Bloodsworth v. Heckler,703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983) (holding substantial evidence is defined as “more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance” and consists of “such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”). In determining whether substantial evidence exists, a court must ...

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