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Arth v. Berryhill

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

August 7, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          John E. Ott Chief United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Rachel Danielle Arth brings this action seeking judicial review of a final adverse decision of the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”)[1] denying her applications for supplemental security income, a period of disability, and disability insurance benefits. (Doc. 1).[2]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 exercise of final jurisdiction by the magistrate judge under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Doc. 13). Upon review of the record and the relevant law, the undersigned finds that the Commissioner's decision is due to be affirmed.


         On June 25, 2012, Arth filed an application for supplemental security income. (R. 69).[3] On July 20, 2012, she filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. (Doc. 70). In both applications, Arth alleged disability beginning January 1, 2004. (R. 69-70). Following the initial denial of her applications, Arth requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (R. 68). The hearing was held on July 31, 2014. (R. 23-56). Arth, her counsel, and a vocational expert attended the hearing. (R. 23). The ALJ issued a decision on August 29, 2014, finding that Arth was not entitled to benefits. (R. 10-18). The Appeals Council denied Herndon's request for review. (R. 1-5) Arth then filed this action for judicial review under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).


         The 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.

         The 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 Cir. 1991).


         To qualify for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income 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. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). 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); 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(D).

         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:

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)[4] (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)). The claimant bears the burden of proving that she is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211 (11th Cir. 2005). The regulations “place a very heavy burden on the claimant to demonstrate both a qualifying disability and an inability to perform past relevant work.” Id.


         Arth was 30 years old at the time of her hearing before the ALJ. (R. 29). She has a high school education and past work as a server and cashier. (R. 31, 50). She alleged in her disability report that she had been unable to work since January 1, 2004, due to bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and “Perthes disease” of the legs and hips. (R. 186, 191, 213). She was last insured for Social Security disability insurance benefits through June 30, 2004. (R. 213).

         The ALJ found that Arth has the following severe impairments: bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), insomnia, and polysubstance drug abuse in remission.[5] (R. 12). The ALJ further found that Arth's impairments, individually and in combination, did not meet or medically equal any listed impairment. (R. 13). Considering all of Arth's symptoms, the ALJ found that Arth retained the residual functional capacity[6] (“RFC”) to perform medium work with the following restrictions: she can never climb ladders and scaffolds; she should never be exposed to unprotected heights, dangerous tools, dangerous machinery, or hazardous processes; she should never operate commercial vehicles; she can be exposed to occasional vibrations and moderate noise levels in the workplace; she should be limited to simple, repetitive tasks; she cannot maintain a production rate pace that would be expected of assembly line work, but can perform other goal-oriented work; she should be limited to simple, work-related decisions; she can tolerate occasional exposure to supervisors and co-workers, but should not have interaction with the general public; she can accept constructive, non-confrontational criticism; she can work in small group settings; she can accept changes in the workplace if introduced gradually and infrequently; and she would be off-task approximately five percent of the regular eight-hour workday (non-consecutive minutes). (R. 14).

         Based on the testimony of the vocational expert, the ALJ found that Arth is unable to perform her past relevant work. (R. 16, 52). He further found, however, that Arth is capable of performing other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, including night cleaner, merchandise price marker, and salvage laborer. (R. 17, 53-54). The ALJ ...

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