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Gindle v. Berryhill

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

July 31, 2017

JOHN GINDLE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          GRAY M. BORDEN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         On December 25, 2012, Plaintiff John Gindle applied for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, alleging a disability onset date of October 31, 2012. Doc. 13-2. Gindle's claims were denied at the initial administrative level. Doc. 13-2. Gindle then requested and received a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), who denied Gindle's claims on June 23, 2014. Doc. 13-2. Gindle requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council, but that request was denied on November 30, 2015. Doc. 13-2. As a result, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) as of November 30, 2015. Doc. 13-2. Gindle filed his complaint in this court on January 12, 2016. Doc. 1.

         The case is before the court for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1) and Rule 73.1 of the Local Rules for the United States District Court Middle District of Alabama, the parties have consented for the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge to conduct all proceedings in this case and enter a final judgment. Docs. 6 & 7. Based on the court's review of the record and the applicable case law, the court finds that the decision of the Commissioner is due to be AFFIRMED, as set forth below.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The court reviews a social security case to determine whether the Commissioner's decision “is supported by substantial evidence and based upon proper legal standards.” Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1439 (11th Cir. 1997) (citing Walker v. Bowen, 826 F.2d 996, 999 (11th Cir. 1987)). The court “may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner, ” but rather “must defer to the Commissioner's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence.” Miles v. Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1997) (internal quotation marks omitted). Indeed, the court must affirm the Commissioner's decision “if it is supported by substantial evidence and the correct legal standards were applied.” Kelly v. Apfel, 185 F.3d 1211, 1213 (11th Cir. 1999) (citing Graham v. Apfel, 129 F.3d 1420, 1422 (11th Cir. 1997)).

         “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla-i.e., the evidence must do more than merely create a suspicion of the existence of a fact, and must include such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support the conclusion.” Jones ex rel. T.J.J. v. Astrue, 2011 WL 1706465, at *1 (M.D. Ala. May 5, 2011) (citing Lewis, 125 F.3d at 1440). The court must scrutinize the entire record to determine the reasonableness of the decision reached. Hale v. Bowen, 831 F.2d 1007, 1010 (11th Cir. 1987). “If the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, the district court will affirm, even if the court would have reached a contrary result as a finder of fact, and even if the court finds that the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's decision.” Jones, 2011 WL 1706465, at *2 (citing Edwards v. Sullivan, 937 F.2d 580, 584 n.3 (11th Cir. 1991)). The court will reverse the Commissioner's decision on plenary review if the decision applies incorrect law or if the decision fails to provide the court with sufficient reasoning to determine that the Commissioner's conclusions of law are valid. Id. (citing Keeton v. Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 21 F.3d 1064, 1066 (11th Cir. 1994)). There is no presumption that the Commissioner's conclusions of law are valid. Id.

         II. STATUTORY AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK

         To qualify for disability benefits, 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 demonstrated by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(3). Gindle bears the burden of proving that he is disabled, and he is responsible for producing evidence to support his claim. Ellison v. Barnhart, 355 F.3d 1272, 1276 (11th Cir. 2003).

         Determination 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:

(1) Is the claimant presently unemployed?
(2) Is the claimant's impairment severe?
(3) Does the claimant's impairment meet or equal one of the specific impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404. Subpt. P, App. 1?
(4) Is the claimant unable to perform his or her former occupation?
(5) Is the claimant unable to perform any other work within ...

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