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Sneed v. Berryhill

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

March 31, 2017

SHANNON MARTIN SNEED, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION [2]

          Susan Russ Walker United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Shannon Martin Sneed commenced this action on August 13, 2015 pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner denying her application for disability insurance benefits. (Doc. 1, Doc. 14). Plaintiff alleged a period of disability beginning on December 1, 2010. (Doc. 14 at 4; Doc. 17-2 at 13). Administrative Law Judge Sheldon P. Zisook ("ALJ") found, inter alia, that the plaintiff has the following medically determinable impairments: bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, depression, and obesity.[3] (Doc. 17-2 at 15).

         The ALJ determined that the plaintiff "does not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments." (Id.). On February 13, 2014, the ALJ issued an adverse decision.[4] (Id. at 13-20). Because the ALJ determined that plaintiff has no severe impairments, he did not proceed beyond step two of the Commissioner's five-part disability analysis, discussed infra, and he concluded that the plaintiff is not disabled because she does not have a severe impairment. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i-v). The Appeals Council denied plaintiffs request for review on June 19, 2015, and the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. (Id. at 2-5). 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. 11, 12). 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 remanded for additional proceedings.

         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 (1 lth 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 proceeds 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 ...


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