United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
E. Ott Chief United States Magistrate Judge
Sandra Kay Guin brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g), seeking review of the final decision of the
Acting Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying her application for
disability insurance benefits. (Doc. 1). The case has been
assigned to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge
pursuant to this court's general order of reference. The
parties have consented to the jurisdiction of this court for
disposition of the matter. (Doc. 14). Upon review of the
record and the relevant law, the undersigned finds that the
Commissioner's decision is due to be affirmed.
October 29, 2012, Guin filed an application for a period of
disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging
disability beginning December 21, 2010. (R.51, 157-58). Her
application was denied initially and on reconsideration. (R.
51-52). Guin then requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (R. 61-62). The
hearing was held on June 17, 2014. (R. 23-40). Guin, her
counsel, and a vocational expert attended the hearing. (R.
23). The ALJ issued a decision on July 7, 2014, finding that
Guin was not entitled to benefits. (R. 12-18). The Appeals
Council denied Guin's request for review on September 11,
2015. (R. 1-4). Guin then filed this action for judicial
review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
court's review of the Commissioner's decision is
narrowly circumscribed. The function of the court is to
determine whether the decision of the Commissioner is
supported by substantial evidence and whether proper legal
standards were applied. Richardson v. Perales, 402
U.S. 389, 390, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1422 (1971); Wilson v.
Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002). The
court must “scrutinize the record as a whole to
determine if the decision reached is reasonable and supported
by substantial evidence.” Bloodsworth v.
Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983).
Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a
reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Id. It is “more than a
scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Id.
court must uphold factual findings that are supported by
substantial evidence. However, it reviews the ALJ's legal
conclusions de novo because no presumption of
validity attaches to the ALJ's determination of the
proper legal standards to be applied. Davis v.
Shalala, 985 F.2d 528, 531 (11th Cir. 1993). If the
court finds an error in the ALJ's application of the law,
or if the ALJ fails to provide the court with sufficient
reasoning for determining that the proper legal analysis has
been conducted, it must reverse the ALJ's decision.
Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th
STATUTORY AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK
qualify for disability insurance benefits under the Social
Security Act, 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
12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); 42 U.S.C.
§ 416(i). A physical or mental impairment is “an
impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or
psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by
medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic
techniques.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(3). To be eligible
for disability insurance benefits, a claimant must
demonstrate disability on or before the last date she was
insured. See Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211
(11th Cir. 2005) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1)(A)).
of disability under the Social Security Act requires a five
step analysis. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). Specifically,
the Commissioner must determine in sequence:
whether the claimant: (1) is unable to engage in substantial
gainful activity; (2) has a severe medically determinable
physical or mental impairment; (3) has such an impairment
that meets or equals a Listing and meets the duration
requirements; (4) can perform [her] past relevant work, in
light of [her] residual functional capacity; and (5) can make
an adjustment to other work, in light of [her] residual
functional capacity, age, education, and work experience.
Evans v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 551 F. App'x
521, 524 (11th Cir. 2014) (citing 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)). The claimant bears the burden of proving
that she was disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act. Moore, 405 F.3d at 1211.
applicable “regulations place a very heavy burden on
the claimant to demonstrate both a qualifying disability and
an inability to perform past relevant work.”
The Medical Evidence
was 60 years old at the time of her hearing before the ALJ.
(R. 27). She has an associate's degree in nursing and has
past work experience as a Registered Nurse. (R. 27, 29). She
alleges that she became disabled on December 21, 2010, due to
symptoms related to obstructive hypertrophic cardio myopathy
and mitral valve prolapse, as well as arthritis in her neck.
(R. 30). For disability purposes, her date last insured was
December 31, 2011. (R. 12). The relevant period, therefore,
is just over one year long, from December 21, 2010, through
December 31, 2011.
December 13, 2010, shortly before her alleged onset date,
Guin was examined by Dr. William Cox at Huntsville
Cardiovascular Clinic. (R. 256-258). Guin complained of
intermittent chest discomfort and intermittent palpitations,
but denied any shortness of breath. (R. 257). Dr. Cox noted
that Guin had “a harsh systolic murmur at the lower
left sternal border which sound[ed] more consistent with a
VSD [ventricular septal defect].” (R. 258).
referred Guin to Dr. James Kirklin at the Kirklin Clinic. (R.
359-60). Dr. Kirklin examined ...