Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Branch v. Berryhill

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

April 25, 2017

ANGELA M. BRANCH Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL[1], Social Security Commissioner Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          KATHERINE P. NELSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         In this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) Plaintiff, Angela Branch (“Branch” or “Plaintiff) seeks judicial review of an adverse social security ruling denying supplemental security income. (Docs. 1, 13). With the consent of the parties, the Court has designated the undersigned Magistrate Judge to conduct all proceedings and order the entry of judgment in this civil action, in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73, and S.D. Ala. GenLR 73. (See Docs. 16, 18). Oral argument was heard on April 13, 2017. After considering the administrative record and the memoranda of the parties, it is ORDERED that the decision of the Commissioner be AFFIRMED and that this action be DISMISSED.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff protectively applied for a supplemental security income on January 23, 2013, asserting a disability onset date of February 14, 2001. (Tr. at 17, 124-131). Plaintiff attended a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ”) on April 8, 2015, and the ALJ rendered an unfavorable decision on April 24, 2015. (TR. at 14-28, 34-70).

         At the time of the administrative hearing, Plaintiff was forty-seven years old, had completed the eighth grade and had no previous work history. (Doc. 13; Fact Sheet). Plaintiff alleges she is disabled due to borderline intellectual functioning and diabetes mellitus. (Id.) On April 24, 2015, an ALJ denied benefits after determining that Plaintiff was not disabled and had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels with some nonexertional limitations. (TR. at 22, 25). Plaintiff requested review of the hearing decision, but the Appeals Council denied the request on August 12, 2016. (TR. at 1-6).

         Plaintiff claims that the ALJ committed reversible error in failing to find that Plaintiff met the listing requirement of 12.05C and in failing to find that Plaintiff suffers from a severe impairment of diabetes mellitus. (Doc. 13, generally). Defendant has responded to-and denies-these claims. (Doc. 14).

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         “In Social Security appeals, [the Court] must determine whether the Commissioner's decision is ‘ “supported by substantial evidence and based on proper legal standards. Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” ' ” Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (quoting Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004) (per curiam) (internal citation omitted) (quoting Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1439 (11th Cir. 1997))). However, the Court “ ‘may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute our judgment for that of the [Commissioner].' ” Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178 (quoting Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1240 n.8 (11th Cir. 2004) (alteration in original) (quoting Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983))). “ ‘Even if the evidence preponderates against the [Commissioner]'s factual findings, we must affirm if the decision reached is supported by substantial evidence.' ” Ingram, 496 F.3d at 1260 (quoting Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990)).

         “Yet, within this narrowly circumscribed role, [courts] do not act as automatons. [The court] must scrutinize the record as a whole to determine if the decision reached is reasonable and supported by substantial evidence[.]” Bloodsworth, 703 F.2d at 1239 (citations and quotation omitted). See also Owens v. Heckler, 748 F.2d 1511, 1516 (11th Cir. 1984) (per curiam) (“We are neither to conduct a de novo proceeding, nor to rubber stamp the administrative decisions that come before us. Rather, our function is to ensure that the decision was based on a reasonable and consistently applied standard, and was carefully considered in light of all the relevant facts.”). “In determining whether substantial evidence exists, [a court] must…tak[e] into account evidence favorable as well as unfavorable to the [Commissioner's] decision.” Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986).

         Although the “claimant bears the burden of demonstrating the inability to return to [his or] her past relevant work, the Commissioner of Social Security has an obligation to develop a full and fair record.” Shnorr v. Bowen, 816 F.2d 578, 581 (11th Cir. 1987). See also Ellison v. Barnhart, 355 F.3d 1272, 1276 (11th Cir. 2003) (per curiam) (“It is well-established that the ALJ has a basic duty to develop a full and fair record. Nevertheless, the claimant bears the burden of proving that he is disabled, and, consequently, he is responsible for producing evidence in support of his claim.” (citations omitted)). “This is an onerous task, as the ALJ must scrupulously and conscientiously probe into, inquire of, and explore for all relevant facts. In determining whether a claimant is disabled, the ALJ must consider the evidence as a whole.” Henry v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 802 F.3d 1264, 1267 (11th Cir. 2015) (per curiam) (citation and quotation omitted).

         Where, as here, the ALJ denied benefits and the Appeals Council denied review of that decision, the Court “review[s] the ALJ's decision as the Commissioner's final decision.” Doughty, 245 F.3d at 1278. “[W]hen the [Appeals Council] has denied review, [the Court] will look only to the evidence actually presented to the ALJ in determining whether the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence.” Falge v. Apfel, 150 F.3d 1320, 1323 (11th Cir. 1998).

         DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ erred by (1) “failing to properly consider, at step three of the sequential evaluation process, whether Plaintiff's impairment or combination of impairments is of a severity to meet or medically equal the criteria of listing 12.05(c)” and (2) “failing to find that Plaintiff suffers severe impairment of diabetes mellitus.” (Doc. 13 at 1-2). Because an analysis of the relevant listing requirement is partially reliant upon a determination of whether the ALJ erred in not finding Plaintiff's diabetes as severe, the undersigned will address Plaintiff's second assignment of error first.

         A. ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.