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Gordon v. Berryhill

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

August 31, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c), plaintiff Leticia Gordon seeks judicial review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. The Commissioner denied Ms. Gordon's claim for supplemental security income. After careful review, the Court affirms the Commissioner's decision.[1]


         Ms. Gordon applied for supplemental security income on February 19, 2013. (Doc. 6-6, p. 2). Ms. Gordon alleges that her disability began on November 1, 2011. (Doc. 6-6, p. 2). The Commissioner initially denied Ms. Gordon's claim on June 12, 2013. (Doc. 6-5, p. 3). Ms. Gordon requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Doc. 6-5, p. 10). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on March 19, 2015. (Doc. 6-3, pp. 17-34). On July 11, 2016, the Appeals Council declined Ms. Gordon's request for review (Doc. 6-3, p. 2), making the Commissioner's decision final and a proper candidate for this Court's judicial review. See 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c).


         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 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 making this evaluation, 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 the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence, then the Court “must affirm even if the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's findings.” Costigan v. Comm'r, 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).


         To determine whether a claimant has proven that she 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 Ms. Gordon has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 7, 2013, the application date. (Doc. 6-3, p. 23).[2]The ALJ determined that Ms. Gordon suffers from the following severe impairments: aortic aneurysm, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD, obesity, depression, anxiety, migraines, and a superior labral tear from anterior to posterior left shoulder. (Doc. 6-3, p. 23). Based on a review of the medical evidence, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Gordon does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Doc. 6-3, p. 27).

         Next, the ALJ examined Ms. Gordon's residual functional capacity in light of her impairments. The ALJ determined that Ms. Gordon has the RFC to perform:

light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b), which allows for occasional stooping or crouching; no climbing; no unprotected heights; no left upper extremity pushing/pulling or overhead reaching; no concentrated exposure to pulmonary irritants, dusts, fumes, and gases. [Ms. Gordon] is also limited to simple, non-complex tasks.

(Doc. 6-3, p. 28). Based on this RFC, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Gordon is unable to perform her past relevant work as a sewing machine operator, cashier, and fast food or pizza worker. (Doc. 6-3, p. 32). Relying on testimony from a vocational expert, the ALJ found that jobs exist in the national economy that Ms. Gordon can perform, including inspector, assembler, and ticket seller or ticket taker. (Doc. 6-3, pp. 32-33). Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Ms. Gordon has not been under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (Doc. 6-3, pp. 33-34).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         Ms. Gordon argues that she is entitled to relief from the ALJ's decision because the ALJ erred in finding that Ms. Gordon does not meet or equal Listing 4.10.[3] If a claimant establishes that an impairment meets or equals a listed impairment, then the claimant demonstrates that she is disabled. See Wilbon v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 181 Fed.Appx. 826, 827 (11th Cir. 2006). “To meet a Listing, a claimant must have a diagnosis included in the Listings and must provide medical reports documenting that the conditions meet the specific criteria of the Listings and the duration requirement.” Davenport v. Astrue, 403 Fed.Appx. 352, 353 (11th Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). “To ‘equal' a Listing, the medical findings must be at least equal in severity and duration to the listed findings.” Davenport, 403 Fed.Appx. at 353 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). “If a claimant has more than one impairment, and none meets or equals a ...

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