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Summerford v. Berryhill

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

November 9, 2017




         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Corey Benjamin Summerford (“Summerford”) brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Summerford seeks a review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”), who denied his application for supplemental security income (“SSI”). Summerford filed his application on August 6, 2013. After that, Summerford exhausted the administrative remedies available before the Commissioner. This case is now ripe for judicial review under section 205(g) of the Social Security Act (the “Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         After reviewing the entire record, this Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision.

         II. Relevant Background

         Summerford was 23 years old at the time of his hearing with the ALJ. (Tr. 27). At that time, he was living with his parents. (Id.). His highest level of education is part of the 10th grade, and he does not have a GED. (Id. at 25). The vocational expert “didn't identify any work experience.” (Id. at 43). Summerford claims disability based on his mental health. (Id. at 27, 29, 31, 33).

         The amended alleged onset date is June 21, 2009. (Id. at 10). On August 6, 2013, Summerford filed an application for supplemental security income. (Id.). The Social Security Administration denied that application on October 10, 2013. (Id.). On April 16, 2015, Administrative Law Judge Ronald Reeves held a hearing. (Id.). The ALJ issued his decision on May 8, 2015, which was unfavorable to Summerford. (Id. at 10-17). The ALJ determined that Summerford suffers from “panic disorder, anxiety disorder, an obsessive-compulsive disorder.” (Id. at 12) (emphasis omitted). Summerford also alleged that he suffers from paranoia. (Id.). In his opinion, the ALJ found that Summerford's impairments did not meet the severity of the ones included in the Code of Federal Regulations. (Id.) (emphasis omitted). Summerford requested the Appeals Council review his claim. (Id. at 1-3). They refused. (Id.).

         Summerford filed his Complaint in the Northern District of Alabama on September 30, 2016. (Doc. 1). Summerford filed his brief in support of his position on May 22, 2017. (Doc. 12). The Commissioner responded on May 30, 2017. (Doc. 13).

         III. Standards

         The court's review of the Commissioner's decision is narrowly circumscribed. The function of this court is to determine whether the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence and whether proper legal standards were applied. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971); Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002). This court must “scrutinize the record as a whole to determine if the decision reached is reasonable and supported by substantial evidence.” Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983). This court will determine that the ALJ's opinion is supported by substantial evidence if it finds “such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. Substantial evidence is “more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Id. Factual findings that are supported by substantial evidence must be upheld by the court.

         The ALJ's legal conclusions, however, are reviewed de novo, because no presumption of validity attaches to the ALJ's determination of the proper legal standards to be applied. Davis v. Shalala, 985 F.2d 528, 531 (11th Cir. 1993). If the court finds an error in the ALJ's application of the law, or if the ALJ fails to provide the court with sufficient reasoning for determining that the proper legal analysis has been conducted, the ALJ's decision must be reversed. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).

         IV. Statutory and Regulatory Framework

         To qualify for disability benefits and establish his or her entitlement for a period of disability, a claimant must be disabled as defined by the Social Security Act and the Regulations promulgated thereunder.[2] The Regulations define “disabled” as “the inability to do 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 twelve (12) months.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a). To establish an entitlement to disability benefits, a claimant must provide evidence about a “physical or mental impairment” that “must result from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which can be shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1508.

         The Regulations provide a five-step process for determining whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i-v). The Commissioner must determine in sequence:

(1) whether the claimant is currently employed;
(2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment;
(3) whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals an impairment listed by ...

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