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Harris v. Berryhill

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

September 22, 2017

LUCILLE HARRIS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting 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 Lucille Harris seeks judicial review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. The Commissioner denied Ms. Harris's claim for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income. After careful review, the Court remands the Commissioner's decision.[1]

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Ms. Harris applied for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income on March 24, 2014. (Doc. 6-6, pp. 2-14). Ms. Harris alleges that her disability began on February 1, 2014. (Doc. 6-6, pp. 2, 9). The Commissioner initially denied Ms. Harris's claims on May 30, 2014. (Doc. 6-5, pp. 4, 9). Ms. Harris requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Doc. 6-5, pp. 16-18). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on December 28, 2015. (Doc. 6-3, pp. 14-26). On April 28, 2016, the Appeals Council declined Ms. Harris'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. § 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 there is substantial evidence in the record to support the ALJ's factual 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 evaluating the administrative record, 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 factual findings, 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 ALJ'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 this case, the ALJ found that Ms. Harris has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 1, 2014, the alleged onset date. (Doc. 6-3, p. 19). The ALJ determined that Ms. Harris suffers from the following severe impairments: asthma, pain in the shoulders, and diverticulitis. (Doc. 6-3, p. 19). Based on a review of the medical evidence, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Harris does not have an impairment or a combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of any of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Doc. 6-3, p. 19).

         In light of Ms. Harris's impairments, the ALJ evaluated Ms. Harris's residual functional capacity or RFC. The ALJ ...


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