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Bryant v. Berryhill

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

September 27, 2017

NANCY BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Beverly Ann Bryant (hereinafter “Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her 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 26, 2017, the parties consented to have the undersigned conduct any and all proceedings in this case. (Doc. 19). 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 [2]

         Plaintiff filed her application for benefits on April 22, 2013, alleging disability beginning December 14, 2012, based on fibromyalgia, cervical and lumbar spine degenerative disease, spinal stenosis, depression, osteoarthritis, and inflammatory arthritis. (Doc. 9-3 at 2). Plaintiff's application was denied and upon timely request, she was granted an administrative hearing before Administrative Law Judge Renee Blackmon Hagler (hereinafter “ALJ”) on August 4, 2014. (Id. at 32). Plaintiff attended the hearing with her counsel and provided testimony related to her claims. (Id.). A vocational expert (“VE”) also appeared at the hearing and provided testimony. (Id.). On November 13, 2014, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding that Plaintiff is not disabled. (Id. at 20). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on May 3, 2017. (Id. at 2). Therefore, the ALJ's decision dated November 13, 2014, became the final decision of the Commissioner.

         Having exhausted her administrative remedies, Plaintiff timely filed the present civil action. (Doc. 1). Oral argument was conducted on June 1, 2017 (Doc. 21), 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 substantial evidence supports the ALJ's assignment of no weight to the opinions of Plaintiff's treating physician?
2.Whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff's claims of pain were not credible?

         III. Factual Background

         Plaintiff was born on January 13, 1952, and was sixty-two years of age at the time of her administrative hearing on November 13, 2014. (Doc. 9-2 at 35). Plaintiff graduated from high school and completed some college courses. (Id. at 24).

         Plaintiff last worked from 2007 to 2012 at Georgia Pacific as a senior purchaser. (Doc. 10 at 11-12; Doc. 10-1 at 7; Doc. 9-2 at 39-40). Prior to that, she worked from 2004 to 2006 at RockTenn Corporation as a purchaser/buyer and from 1999 to 2003 at Jefferson Smurfett Corporation as a purchaser/buyer.[3] (Id.).

         Plaintiff testified that she can no longer work due to severe pain in her spine from a herniated disc, spinal stenosis, and osteoarthritis. (Doc. 9-2 at 41). Her treatment has included anti-inflammatories, pain medication, blocks, and epidurals.[4] Plaintiff testified that she may need surgery at some point in the future. (Id. at 41).

         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.[5] 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 Regulatory Framework

         An individual who applies for Social Security disability benefits must prove his or her disability. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1512, 416.912. Disability is defined as the “inability 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.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A); see also 20 C.F.R. ยงยง 404.1505(a), 416.905(a). The Social Security ...

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