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Eaise v. Berryhill

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

May 31, 2017

STEVEN EAISE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff Steven Eaise seeks judicial review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. The Commissioner denied Mr. Eaise's claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. After careful review, the Court remands this matter for additional administrative proceedings.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Mr. Eaise applied for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on July 10, 2013. (Doc. 7-6, p. 2). Mr. Eaise alleges that his disability began in February 2011. (Doc. 7-6, p. 2). The Commissioner initially denied Mr. Eaise's claim on August 15, 2013. (Doc. 7-5, p. 2). Mr. Eaise requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Doc. 7-5, p. 10). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on December 11, 2014. (Doc. 7-3, p. 15). On July 23, 2015, the Appeals Council declined Mr. Eaise's request for review (Doc. 7-3, p. 2), making the Commissioner's decision final and a proper candidate for this Court's judicial review. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The scope of review in this matter is limited. “When, as in this case, the ALJ denies benefits and the Appeals Council denies review, ” the Court “review[s] the ALJ's ‘factual findings with deference' and [his] ‘legal conclusions with close scrutiny.'” Riggs v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 522 Fed.Appx. 509, 510-11 (11th Cir. 2013) (quoting Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001)).

         The Court must determine whether there is substantial evidence in the record to support the ALJ's factual findings. “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004). In evaluating the administrative record, the Court may not “decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, ” or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (internal quotations and citation omitted). If substantial evidence supports the ALJ's factual findings, then the Court “must affirm even if the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's findings.” Costigan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 603 Fed.Appx. 783, 786 (11th Cir. 2015) (citing Crawford, 363 F.3d at 1158).

         With respect to the ALJ's legal conclusions, the Court must determine whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards. If the Court finds an error in the ALJ's application of the law, or if the Court finds that the ALJ failed to provide sufficient reasoning to demonstrate that the ALJ conducted a proper legal analysis, then the Court must reverse the ALJ's decision. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).

         III. SUMMARY OF THE ALJ'S DECISION

         To determine whether a claimant has proven that he is disabled, an ALJ follows a five-step sequential evaluation process. The ALJ considers:

(1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment or combination of impairments; (3) whether the impairment meets or equals the severity of the specified impairments in the Listing of Impairments; (4) based on a residual functional capacity (“RFC”) assessment, whether the claimant can perform any of his or her past relevant work despite the impairment; and (5) whether there are significant numbers of jobs in the national economy that the claimant can perform given the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience.

Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178.

         In this case, the ALJ found that Mr. Eaise has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 18, 2011, the alleged onset date. (Doc. 7-3, p. 20). The ALJ determined that Mr. Eaise suffers from the following severe impairments: psoriatic arthritis, neuropathy, and major depressive disorder. (Doc. 7-3, p. 20). The ALJ also found that Mr. Eaise suffers from gastroesophageal reflux disease, but the impairment is not severe. (Doc. 7-3, p. 22). Based on a review of the medical evidence, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Eaise does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of any of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Doc. 7-3, p. 23).

         Next, the ALJ evaluated Mr. Eaise's residual functional capacity in light of his impairments. The ALJ determined ...


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