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Brant v. Berryhill

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

September 11, 2017

STEVEN R. BRANT, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL,[1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          SONJA F. BIVINS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Steven R. Brant (hereinafter “Plaintiff”), seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq. On May 2, 2017, the parties consented to have the undersigned conduct any and all proceedings in this case. (Doc. 14). Thus, the action was referred to the undersigned to conduct all proceedings and order the entry of judgment in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73. Upon careful consideration of the administrative record and the memoranda of the parties, it is hereby ORDERED that the decision of the Commissioner be AFFIRMED.

         I. Procedural History

         Plaintiff protectively filed his application for benefits on April 14, 2015, alleging disability beginning February 23, 2015, based on “PTSD, TBI, memory loss/short term, [and] severe headaches.” (Tr. 135, 153, 157). Plaintiff's application was denied and upon timely request, he was granted an administrative hearing before Administrative Law Judge Vickie Evans on January 7, 2016. (Tr. at 37). Plaintiff attended the hearing with his counsel and provided testimony related to his claims. (Id.). A vocational expert (“VE”) also appeared at the hearing and provided testimony. (Tr. 59). On February 3, 2016, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding that Plaintiff is not disabled. (Tr. 32). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on April 15, 2016. (Tr. 1). Therefore, the ALJ's decision dated February 3, 2016, became the final decision of the Commissioner.

         Having exhausted his administrative remedies, Plaintiff timely filed the present civil action. (Doc. 1). Oral argument was conducted on May 31, 2017 (Doc. 17), and the parties agree that this case is now ripe for judicial review and is properly before this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).

         II. Issues on Appeal

         1. Whether the ALJ erred in failing to assign significant weight to the opinions of evaluating psychologist, Dr. Joseph G. Law, examining psychologist, Dr. Jennifer Jackson, Psy.D., and therapist, Ms. Elizabeth Wharton, MS, LMPT, while assigning great weight to the opinions of consultative psychologist, Dr. Thomas Bennett, Ph.D., and State Agency psychologist, Dr. Donald Hinton, Ph.D.?

         2. Whether substantial evidence supports the RFC for a range of work at all exertional levels with the stated non-exertional limitations?

         III. Factual Background

         Plaintiff was born on October 7, 1982, and was thirty-three years of age at the time of his administrative hearing on January 7, 2016. (Tr. 37, 45). Plaintiff graduated from high school and completed an associates degree in college in applied science. (Tr. 45).

         Plaintiff was a Sergeant in the military (Army National Guard) from 2001 to 2004 serving in the military police. (Tr. 45-46). He received an honorable discharge and currently receives VA disability benefits with a rating of 70% for post traumatic stress disorder. (Tr. 47, 372).

         Plaintiff worked as a physical therapist assistant from 2009 to February 2015. (Tr. 49, 164). He stopped working when he received his increased VA disability rating. (Tr. 51-52).

         At the administrative hearing, Plaintiff testified that he cannot work due to memory problems, anxiety problems, problems maintaining a schedule, anger, and flashbacks. (Tr. 55-56, 58). He receives therapy at the VA. (Tr. 56). His only medication is Ambien to help him sleep at night. (Tr. 57, 59).

         IV. Standard of Review

         In reviewing claims brought under the Act, this Court's role is a limited one. The Court's review is limited to determining 1) whether the decision of the Secretary is supported by substantial evidence and 2) whether the correct legal standards were applied.[2] Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990). A court may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Sewell v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 1065, 1067 (11th Cir. 1986). The Commissioner's findings of fact must be affirmed if they are based upon substantial evidence. Brown v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d 1233, 1235 (11th Cir. 1991); Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983) (holding substantial evidence is defined as “more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance” and consists of “such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”). In determining whether substantial evidence exists, a court must view the record as a whole, taking into account evidence favorable, as well as unfavorable, to the Commissioner's decision. Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986); Short v. Apfel, 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10163, *4 (S.D. Ala. June 14, 1999).

         V. Statutory And ...


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