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Lowery v. Berryhill

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

April 26, 2017

JAMES LOWERY, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ABDUL K. KALLON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         James Lowery brings this action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the final adverse decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”). This court finds that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) applied the correct legal standards and that her decision - which has become the decision of the Commissioner - is supported by substantial evidence. Therefore, the court AFFIRMS the decision denying benefits.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Lowery filed his application for Title II Disability Insurance Benefits and Title XVI Supplemental Security Income on May 8, 2013, alleging a disability onset date of April 26, 2013 due to diabetes, “bulging disks [sic] in [his] lower back, ” neuropathy in his feet and legs, “hbp [high blood pressure], ” high cholesterol, nerve pain, and depression. (R. 180, 219). After the SSA denied his application initially and upon reconsideration, (R. 122-31), Lowery requested a hearing before an ALJ, (R. 138-40). The ALJ subsequently denied Lowery's claim, (R. 52-69), and the Appeals Council denied review, (R. 1-4), rendering the ALJ's opinion the final decision of the Commissioner. Lowery then filed this action pursuant to § 405(g). Doc. 1.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The only issues before this court are whether the record contains substantial evidence to sustain the ALJ's decision, see § 405(g); Walden v. Schweiker, 672 F.2d 835, 838 (11th Cir. 1982), and whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards, see Lamb v. Bowen, 847 F.2d 698, 791 (11th Cir. 1988); Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986). 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c) mandate that the Commissioner's “factual findings are conclusive if supported by ‘substantial evidence.'” Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990). The district court may not reconsider the facts, reevaluate the evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner; instead, it must review the final decision as a whole and determine if the decision is “reasonable and supported by substantial evidence.” See Id. (citing Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983)).

         Substantial evidence falls somewhere between a scintilla and a preponderance of evidence; “[i]t is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Martin, 894 F.2d at 1529 (quoting Bloodsworth, 703 F.2d at 1239) (other citations omitted). If supported by substantial evidence, the court must affirm the Commissioner's factual findings even if the preponderance of the evidence is against the Commissioner's findings. See Martin, 894 F.2d at 1529. While the court acknowledges that judicial review of the ALJ's findings is limited in scope, it notes that the review “does not yield automatic affirmance.” Lamb, 847 F.2d at 701.

         III. STATUTORY AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK

         To qualify for disability benefits, 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 twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 416(i)(1)(A). A physical or mental impairment is “an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrated by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(3).

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

(1) whether the claimant is currently unemployed;
(2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment;
(3) whether the impairment meets or equals one listed by the Secretary;
(4) whether the claimant is unable to perform his or her past ...

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