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Strange v. Berryhill

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

April 4, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant


          John E. Ott, Chief United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff John William Strange brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”)[1] denying his applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. (Doc. 1).[2] The case has been assigned to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to this court's general order of reference. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of this court for disposition of the matter. (Doc. 14). Upon review of the record and the relevant law, the undersigned finds that the Commissioner's decision is due to be reversed and remanded.


         On July 16, 2012, Plaintiff filed applications for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits (“DIB”), and supplemental security income (“SSI”), alleging disability beginning February 22, 2005. (R. 35).[3] Plaintiff later amended his alleged disability onset date to July 16, 2012. (R. 35). His claims were denied initially on September 12, 2012. (R. 35). Thereafter, he requested a hearing by an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on October 2, 2012. (R. 35). A hearing was held on May 14, 2013, in Florence, Alabama. (R. 35). The ALJ denied Plaintiff's request for DIB and SSI on September 24, 2013. (R. 35-43). Review by the Appeals Council was requested twice by Plaintiff, and denied in both instances. (R. 1-3, 15-17). Plaintiff filed this action on February 5, 2016. (Doc. 1 at 1). This matter is properly before the court for review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).


         The court's review of the Commissioner's decision is narrowly circumscribed. The function of the court is to determine whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence and whether proper legal standards were applied. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1422 (1971); Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002). The 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.

         The court must uphold factual findings that are 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 that the proper legal analysis has been conducted, it must reverse the ALJ's decision. See Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).


         To qualify for DIB and SSI under the Social Security Act, a claimant must show the inability to engage in “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 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); 42 U.S.C. § 1382(a)(3) A) A physical or mental impairment is “an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(3); 42 U.S.C. § 1382(a)(3)(D).

         Determination of disability under the Social Security Act requires a five step analysis. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4). Specifically, the Commissioner must determine in sequence:

whether the claimant: (1) is unable to engage in substantial gainful activity; (2) has a sever medically determinable physical or mental impairment; (3) has such an impairment that meets or equals a Listing and meets the duration requirements; (4) can perform his past relevant work, in light of his residual functional capacity; and (5) can make an adjustment to other work, in light of his residual functional capacity, age, education, and work experience.

Evans v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 551 F.App'x 521, 524 (11th Cir. 2014)[4] (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)). Plaintiff bears the burden of proving that he was disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211 (11th Cir. 2005). The applicable “regulations place a very heavy burden on the claimant to demonstrate both a qualifying disability and an inability to perform past relevant work.” Id.

         IV. FACTS

         Plaintiff was 43 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. (R. 43, 79). He possesses a 12th grade education, including special education classes through graduation. (R. 37, 42). He has worked as a groundskeeper and a fast food worker. (R.72, 184). He has been unemployed since 2006. (R. 40). As noted above, his original alleged onset of disability date was February 22, 2015, which was later amended to July 16, 2012. (R. 37, 79). Plaintiff's alleged disability was due to a status post fracture of the distal right tibia and fibula, chronic pain with toeing out of ...

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