United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division
ANGELA M. BRANCH Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Social Security Commissioner Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
KATHERINE P. NELSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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.
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).
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).
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.
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)).
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).
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
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).
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.