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Ervin v. Berryhill

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

September 18, 2017

THERESE SIMS ERVTN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and § 1383(c), plaintiff Therese Sims Ervin seeks judicial review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. The Commissioner denied her claims for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income. For the reasons stated below, the Court affirms the Commissioner's decision.[1]

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Ms. Ervin applied for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income on July 29, 2010. (Doc. 7-6, pp. 10-20). Ms. Ervin alleges that her disability began on July 20, 2010. (Doc. 7-5, p. 18).[2] The Commissioner initially denied Ms. Ervin's claims on November 8, 2010. (Doc. 7-5, pp. 2-11). Ms. Ervin requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Doc. 7-5, p. 14). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on August 31, 2012. (Doc. 7-4, pp. 16-33). Ms. Ervin asked the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision. (See Doc. 7-4, p. 39). On September 26, 2013, the Appeals Council completed its review and remanded the matter to the ALJ. (Doc. 7-4, pp. 39-41).

         The ALJ conducted a new hearing and issued a new decision on September 8, 2014, once again finding that Ms. Ervin is not disabled. (Doc. 7-3, pp. 19-44). Ms. Ervin asked the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's new opinion. (Doc. 7-3, p. 17). On October 6, 2015, the Appeals Council declined her request (Doc. 7-3, pp. 2-5), making the Commissioner's decision final and a proper candidate for this Court's judicial review. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and § 1383(c).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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 the record contains substantial evidence that supports 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 substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision, 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).

         III. SUMMARY OF THE AL J'S DECISION

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 his September 8, 2014 decision, the ALJ found that Ms. Ervin has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 20, 2010, the alleged onset date. (Doc. 7-3, p. 24).[3] The ALJ determined that Ms. Ervin suffers from the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disorder with facet arthrosis; polyneuropathy; chronic pain syndrome; bilateral foot impairments; diabetes mellitus; thyroid impairment; obesity; affective mood disorder; pain disorder; borderline personality disorder; and an opioid dependence with a remote history of polysubstance abuse. (Doc. 7-3, p. 25). The ALJ also found that Ms. Ervin has the following non-severe impairments: obstructive sleep apnea; mild respiratory disease; hypertension; migraines; knee strain; prolapsed uterus; fibromyalgia; allergies; dermatitis; and irritable bowel syndrome. (Doc. 7-3, pp. 25-26). Based on a review of the medical ...


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