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Collins v. Berryhill

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

July 25, 2017

JAHALA COLLINS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Jahala Collins (“Ms. Collins”) brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act. She seeks review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”), [1] who denied her application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). Ms. Collins filed an application for DIB on November 10, 2013. Thereafter, she pursued and exhausted the administrative remedies available before the Commissioner. Accordingly, this case is now ripe for judicial review pursuant to the provisions of section 205(g) of the Social Security Act (the “Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         The sole function of this court is to determine whether the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence and whether proper legal standards were applied. Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983). To that end this court “must scrutinize the record as a whole to determine if the decision reached is reasonable and supported by substantial evidence.”Id. Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. The court has carefully reviewed the entire record in this case and is of the opinion that the Commissioner failed to apply the correct legal standard. Accordingly, the decision of the Commissioner is due to be remanded.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On October 23, 2013, Ms. Collins filed a Title II application for a period of disability and DIB, alleging disability beginning September 30, 2012. (Tr. 86). Her claim was denied initially on March 10, 2014. (Tr. 101). Ms. Collins made a request for a hearing that was completed on March 13, 2014. (Tr. 107). On October 19, 2015, Ms. Collins appeared and testified at a hearing before an ALJ. (Tr. 32).

         On February 12, 2016, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision declaring that Ms. Collins was not disabled and denying her DIB claim. (Tr. 11-26). Ms. Collins timely requested further review by the Appeals Council (Tr. 7), which was denied on May 12, 2016. (Tr. 1).

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The court's review of the Commissioner's decision is narrowly circumscribed. The function of this 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 (1971); Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002). This 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. This court will determine that the ALJ's opinion is supported by substantial evidence if it finds “such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. Substantial evidence is “more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Id. Factual findings that are supported by substantial evidence must be upheld by the court. The ALJ's legal conclusions, however, are reviewed 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, the ALJ's decision must be reversed. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).

         STATUTORY AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK

         To qualify for disability benefits and establish his or her entitlement for a period of disability, a claimant must be disabled as defined by the Social Security Act and the Regulations promulgated thereunder.[2] The Regulations define “disabled” as “the inability to do 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 (12) months.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a). To establish an entitlement to disability benefits, a claimant must provide evidence about a “physical or mental impairment” that “must result from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which can be shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1508.

         The Regulations provide a five step process for determining whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i-v). The Commissioner must determine in sequence:

(1) whether the claimant is currently employed;
(2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment;
(3) whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals an impairment listed by ...

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