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Steele v. Berryhill

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

September 28, 2017

CHERYL MARIE STEELE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          P. BRADLEY MURRAY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Cheryl Marie Steele brings this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”) denying her claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act). The parties have consented to the exercise of jurisdiction by the Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), for all proceedings in this Court. (Doc. 14 (“In accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, the parties in this case consent to have a United States Magistrate Judge conduct any and all proceedings in this case, … order the entry of a final judgment, and conduct all post-judgment proceedings.”)). See also Doc. 15. Upon consideration of the administrative record, Steele's brief, the Commissioner's brief, and oral argument presented at the September 14, 2017 hearing before the undersigned Magistrate Judge, it is determined that the Commissioner's decision denying benefits should be affirmed.[1]

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Steele applied for a period of disability and DIB, under Title II of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 423 - 425, on October 31, 2013, alleging disability beginning on December 1, 2010. (Tr. 132-33, 134). Her application was denied at the initial level of administrative review on December 11, 2013. (Tr. 67-71). On December 26, 2013, Steele requested a hearing by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Tr. 73-74). Steele initially appeared at a hearing before the ALJ on January 26, 2015. (Tr. 51-59). That hearing was continued in order for Steele to obtain legal counsel. (Tr. 58). After obtaining counsel, Steele appeared at a supplemental hearing on June 8, 2015. (Tr. 30-50). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding that Steele was not under a disability during the applicable time period on June 26, 2015. (Tr. 20-25). Steele appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council, and, on October 19, 2016, the Appeals Council denied her request for review of the ALJ's decision, thereby making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-3, 16).

         After exhausting her administrative remedies, Steele sought judicial review in this Court, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g). (Doc. 1). The Commissioner filed an answer and the social security transcript on March 6, 2017. (Docs. 6, 7). Both parties filed briefs setting forth their respective positions. (Docs. 9, 10). Oral argument was held before the undersigned Magistrate Judge on September 14, 2017. (Doc. 13). The case is now ripe for decision.

         II. CLAIM ON APPEAL

         Steele alleges that the ALJ's decision to deny her benefits is in error for the following reason:

1. The ALJ erred by failing to retain a medical expert to determine the onset date of Plaintiff's impairments. (Doc. 9 at p. 2).

         III. BACKGROUND FACTS

         Steele was born on March 13, 1958, and was 55 years old at the time she filed her claim for benefits. (Tr. 34). Steele alleged disability due to scoliosis, arthritis, hearing loss, feet problems, carpal tunnel syndrome, lower back problems, neck pain down to her right arm with numbness in her right arm, high blood pressure, and acid reflux. (Tr. 159). She graduated from high school in 1976 and did not take special education classes. (Tr. 160). She worked as a sewing machine operator from 1984 until 2004. (Tr. 193). Steele stopped working in 2004 because the company closed. (Tr. 35). Steele testified that she did not look for work immediately because she wanted to stay home for awhile, but when she wanted to go back to work in 2008, she was not able to because of back problems. (Tr. 35). Steele testified that she is primarily sedentary during the day, but she does cook, clean house, and grocery shop. (Tr. 36-37). After conducting a hearing, the ALJ made a determination that Steele was not under a disability at any time from December 1, 2005, the alleged onset date, through December 31, 2010, the date last insured, and thus, was not entitled to benefits. (Tr. 20-25).

         IV. ALJ'S DECISION

         After considering all of the evidence, the ALJ made the following findings that are relevant to the issues presented in his June 26, 2015 decision:

3. Through the date last insured, the claimant had the following medically determinable impairment: scoliosis (20 CFR 404.1521et seq.).
4. Through the date last insured, the claimant did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that significantly limited the ability to perform basic work-related activities for 12 consecutive months; therefore, the claimant did not have a severe impairment ...

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