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Jordan v. Berryhill

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

May 9, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL[1], Social Security Commissioner Defendant.



         In this action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) Plaintiff, Grady Jordan (“Jordan” or “Plaintiff) seeks judicial review of an adverse social security ruling denying claims for disability insurance benefits (DIB) (Docs. 1, 14). 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. 23, 25). Oral argument was waived in this action (Doc. 22). 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.


         Plaintiff protectively applied for disability insurance benefits on December 10, 2010. (TR. at 256-59). The application was initially denied on January 11, 2011, after which Plaintiff requested a hearing. (Doc. 14 at 1). A hearing was held before an ALJ on February 19, 2013, and the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on April 8, 2013. (Id.) Plaintiff appealed the decision to the Appeals Council and on June 22, 2014, the case was remanded for further consideration, including the consideration of Dr. Dismukes' opinions. (TR. at 192-93, 92-96). A second hearing in front of an ALJ was held on December 18, 2014, and the ALJ rendered a second unfavorable decision on December 23, 2014. (Id. at 33-48, 66-74). Plaintiff again appealed the decision of the ALJ and the Appeals Council denied review on May 6, 2016. (Id. at 32, 374-377, 1-7).

         At the time of the second administrative hearing, Plaintiff was fifty-two years old, had completed high school, and had previous work experience as a construction worker and welder. (Doc. 13; Fact Sheet). Plaintiff alleges disability due to post traumatic arthritis due to left calcaneal fracture, history of cervical fusion, and loss of pituitary gland function. (Id.). An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) denied benefits after determining that Jordan did not meet disability listing requirements; the ALJ further found that Plaintiff was capable of performing a limited range of light work. (TR. at 39).

         Plaintiff claims that the ALJ committed reversible error in rejecting the opinion of one of Plaintiff's treating physicians, Keith Dismukes, M.D. and “in doing so she performed an inadequate, cursory review of the evidence.” (Doc. 14 at 1). Defendant has responded to-and denies-these claims. (Doc. 20).


         “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).


         Plaintiff asserts that the weight assigned to the opinions of Dr. Dismukes was in error based on the ALJ's incomplete and/or improper consideration of Dr. Dismukes' treatment records of Plaintiff. (Doc. 14 at 5). Defendant asserts the ALJ's assignment of weight was based on substantial evidence and was not in error. (Doc. 20, generally).

         At step two of the sequential evaluation process the ALJ found that Plaintiff had a severe impairment of “post traumatic arthritis due to left calcaneal fracture and history of cervical fusion.” (TR. at 38). At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have “an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairment of 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR Part 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526).” (Id. at 39). The ALJ then determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work “except that he required a sit-stand option allowing him to alternate sitting or standing position at 60 minute intervals throughout the day, no operation of foot controls with the left lower extremity, ...

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