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Spivey v. Berryhill

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

September 21, 2017

MARY S. SPIVEY Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          CHARLES S. COODY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         I. Introduction

         The plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq. and for supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1381 et seq., alleging that she was unable to work because of a disability. Her application was denied at the initial administrative level. The plaintiff then requested and received a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). Following the hearing, the ALJ also denied the claim. The Appeals Council rejected a subsequent request for review. The ALJ's decision consequently became the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner).[1] See Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986). The case is now before the court for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405 (g) and 1383(c)(3).[2] Based on the court's review of the record in this case and the briefs of the parties, the court concludes that the decision of the Commissioner should be affirmed.

         II. Standard of Review

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A), a person is entitled to disability benefits when the person is unable 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...

         To make this determination[3] the Commissioner employs a five step, sequential evaluation process. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.

(1) Is the person presently unemployed?
(2) Is the person's impairment severe?
(3) Does the person'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 person unable to perform his or her former occupation?
(5) Is the person unable to perform any other work within the economy?
An affirmative answer to any of the above questions leads either to the next question, or, on steps three and five, to a finding of disability. A negative answer to any question, other than step three, leads to a determination of "not disabled."

McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir. 1986).[4]

         The standard of review of the Commissioner's decision is a limited one. This court must find the Commissioner's decision conclusive if it is supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Ingram v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 496 F.3d 1253, 1260 (11th Cir. 2007). "Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance. It is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158-59 (11th Cir. 2004). A reviewing court may not look only to those parts of the record which supports the decision of the ALJ but instead must view the record in its entirety and take account of evidence which detracts from the evidence relied on by the ALJ. Hillsman v. Bowen, 804 F.2d 1179, 1180 (11th Cir. 1986). The court "may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute . . . [its] judgment for that of the [Commissioner]." Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1240 n. 8 (11th Cir. 2004) (alteration in original) (quotation marks omitted).

[The court must, however, ] . . . scrutinize the record in its entirety to determine the reasonableness of the [Commissioner's] . . . factual findings . . . No similar presumption of validity attaches to the [Commissioner's] . . . legal conclusions, including determination of the proper standards to be applied in evaluating claims.

Walker v. Bowen, 826 F.2d 996, 999 (11th Cir. 1987).

         III. The Issues

         A. Introduction.

         The plaintiff was 45 years old at the time of the hearing before the ALJ and has a 12th grade education. (R. at 40-41) The plaintiff's prior work experience includes work as a bookkeeper, receptionist and order clerk. (R. at 28) Following the administrative hearing, the ALJ concluded that the plaintiff has impairments of degenerative disc disease, degenerative joint disease (right knee and right shoulder), peptic ulcer, obesity, hypertension, and migraines. (R. at 21) Nonetheless, the ALJ concluded at Step 4 of the sequential evaluation process that the plaintiff was not disabled because she has the residual functional capacity to perform her prior sedentary work. (R. at 28)

         B. The Plaintiff's Claims.

         As stated by the plaintiff, she present four claims for the court's review:

1. The Commissioner's decision should be reversed because the ALJ erred by failing to properly reject Ms. Spivey's testimony prior to issuing his unfavorable decision.
2. The Commissioner's decision should be reversed because the ALJ failed to properly evaluate Ms. Spivey's Chronic Pain Syndrome in accordance with Social Security Ruling 03-02p.
3. The Commissioner's decision should be reversed because the ALJ failed to properly consider the side effects of Ms. Spivey's prescribed ...

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