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Collins v. Berryhill

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

November 9, 2017

JAHALA COLLINS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant .

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. Introduction

         Before the Court is the Social Security Administration Commissioner's (“Commissioner”) Motion To Alter or Amend Memorandum Opinion and Order (the “Motion”) pursuant to Rule 59(e). (Doc. 15). Both parties have filed their respective briefs, and this Motion is ripe for the Court's review.

         On July 13, 2016, Plaintiff Jahala Collins (“Collins”) filed her appeal seeking a review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration. On July 25, 2017, this Court issued its Memorandum Opinion (“Opinion”) regarding Ms. Collins's appeal. (Doc. 13). In that Opinion, the Court found “that the ALJ committed reversible error in his disability analysis by using Ms. Collins's gross income to determine that her consignment owner job was [substantial gainful activity].” (Id. at 9). The Court then reversed the Commissioner's decision. (Doc. 14 at 1).

         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.[1] 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 the [Commissioner];
(4) whether the claimant can perform his or her past work; and
(5) whether the claimant is capable of performing any work in the national economy.

Pope v. Shalala, 998 F.2d 473, 477 (7th Cir. 1993) (citing to formerly applicable C.F.R. section), overruled on other grounds by Johnson v. Apfel, 189 F.3d 561, 562-63 (7th Cir. 1999); accord McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir. 1986). The sequential analysis goes as follows:

Once the claimant has satisfied steps One and Two, she will automatically be found disabled if she suffers from a listed impairment. If the claimant does not have a listed impairment but cannot perform her work, the burden shifts to the [Commissioner] to show that the claimant can perform some other job.

Pope, 998 F.2d at 477; accord Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1559 (11th Cir. 1995). The Commissioner must further show that such work exists in the national economy in significant numbers. Id.

         II. Standard

         A. Rule 59

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 59(e) concerns motions to alter or amend judgments. Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e). The standard governing Rule 59(e) motions is straightforward:

[The Eleventh Circuit] review[s] the denial of a Rule 59 motion for abuse of discretion. Drago v. Jenne, 453 F.3d 1301, 1305 (11th Cir. 2006). “The only grounds for granting [a Rule 59] motion are newly-discovered evidence or manifest errors of law or fact.” In re Kellogg, 197 F.3d 1116, 1119 (11th Cir. 1999). “[A] Rule 59(e) motion [cannot be used] to relitigate old matters, raise argument or present evidence that could have been raised prior to the entry of judgment.” Michael Linet, Inc. v. Village of Wellington, Fla., 408 F.3d 757, 763 (11th Cir. 2005).

Arthur v. King, 500 F.3d 1335, 1343 (11th Cir. 2007).

         B. Standards for Reviewing a Commissioner's Decision

         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).

         III. Findings of the Administrative Law Judge

         After consideration of the entire record, the ALJ made the following findings:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2017.
2. Although the claimant alleged an onset date of September 30, 2012, the undersigned finds that the claimant engaged in substantial gainful activity from January 1, 2011[, ] to at least December 31, 2012, and likely thereafter (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq.).
3. There has possibly been a continuous 12-month period during which the claimant did not engage in substantial gainful activity. The remaining findings address that period.
4. The claimant has the following severe impairments: mild chronic kidney disease; obesity; neuropathy, NOS; status post possible Lyme disease infection; osteoarthritis/Lyme arthritis; degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine; and chronic sinusitis (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).
5. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526).
6. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except she can frequently climb ramps and stairs but never climb ladders or scaffolds. This person can frequently balance but can only occasionally stoop, crouch, kneel and crawl. This individual should never be exposed to unprotected heights, dangerous machinery, dangerous tools or hazardous processes[, ] and should be exposed to no more than moderate noise levels. In addition to normal workday breaks, this person would be off-task up to five percent of an eight-hour workday, in non-consecutive minutes.
7. The claimant is capable of performing past relevant work as a consignment store operator. This work does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the claimant's residual functional capacity (20 CFR 404.1565).
8. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from September 30, 2012, through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(f)).

(Tr. 13-26).

         III. ...


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