United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division
JOYCE A. H. SMITH, 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, Joyce Smith.
(“Smith” or “Plaintiff) seeks judicial
review of an adverse social security ruling denying a period
of disability, disability insurance benefits, and
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. 18, 19). Oral argument was
heard on Thursday, May 11, 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 period of disability and
disability insurance benefits on December 5, 2013. (Doc. 1 at
2; Doc. 13 at 1; Tr. at 16, 272-73). Plaintiff also
protectively filed an application for supplemental security
income on July 3, 2014, which Plaintiff states was escalated.
(Doc. 13 at 1; Tr. 279-85). In both applications, Plaintiff
asserted a disability onset date of July 7, 2012. (Doc. 13 at
1; Tr. at 272-73, 279-85). Plaintiffs claims were denied on
March 6, 2014. (Doc. 13 at 1; Tr. at 184-89). Plaintiff
attended a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) on May 14, 2015, and the ALJ rendered an
unfavorable decision on June 22, 2015. (Doc. 13 at 1; Tr. at
time of the administrative hearing, Plaintiff was sixty one
years old with a high school diploma, and previous work history
as a phlebotomist and caregiver. (Doc. 13; Fact Sheet).
Plaintiff alleges she is disabled due to depression.
(Id.) On June 22, 2015, an ALJ denied benefits after
determining that Plaintiff did not have a medically
determinable impairment. (Tr. at 17). Plaintiff requested
review of the hearing decision, but the Appeals Council
denied the request on September 28, 2016. (Tr. at 1-7).
claims that the ALJ committed reversible error in failing to
find that Plaintiff suffers from severe impairment of
depression. (Doc. 13, generally). Defendant has responded
to-and denies-these claims. (Doc. 15, generally).
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 not finding her impairment of
depression to be severe. (Doc. 13). Defendant contends the
ALJ's findings were based on substantial evidence and
were not erroneous. (Doc. 15, generally).
determining that Plaintiff had not been gainfully employed
during the relevant time period, the ALJ found that
“[t]here are no medical signs or laboratory findings to
substantiate the existence of a medically determinable
impairment.” (Tr. at 18) (citations omitted). In
support of her argument that the ALJ erred in reaching his
finding, Plaintiff points to multiple treatment notes for,
among other things, depression from 2012 to ...