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Minor v. Berryhill

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

November 28, 2017

SHERI L. MINOR, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          GRAY M. BORDEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Sheri L. Minor is appearing in this appeal pro se and seeking judicial review of the denial of her claim for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. Doc. 1. The parties have consented to the entry of a final judgment by the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b), Rule 73 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and Rule 73.1 of the court's Local Rules. Docs. 9 & 10. Because the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the “Commissioner”)[1] is supported by substantial evidence and does not contain reversible error, the decision will be affirmed.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The court reviews a social security case to determine whether the Commissioner's decision “is supported by substantial evidence and based upon proper legal standards.” Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1439 (11th Cir. 1997). The court “may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner, ” but rather it “must defer to the Commissioner's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence.” Miles v. Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1997) (internal quotation marks omitted). Indeed, the court must affirm the Commissioner's decision “if it is supported by substantial evidence and the correct legal standards were applied.” Kelly v. Apfel, 185 F.3d 1211, 1213 (11th Cir. 1999) (citing Graham v. Apfel, 129 F.3d 1420, 1422 (11th Cir. 1997)).

         “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla-i.e., the evidence must do more than merely create a suspicion of the existence of a fact, and must include such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support the conclusion.” Jones ex rel. T.J.J. v. Astrue, 2011 WL 1706465, at *1 (M.D. Ala. May 5, 2011) (citing Lewis, 125 F.3d at 1440). The court must scrutinize the entire record to determine the reasonableness of the decision reached. Hale v. Bowen, 831 F.2d 1007, 1010 (11th Cir. 1987). “If the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, the district court will affirm, even if the court would have reached a contrary result as a finder of fact, and even if the court finds that the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's decision.” Jones, 2011 WL 1706465, at *2 (citing Edwards v. Sullivan, 937 F.2d 580, 584 n.3 (11th Cir. 1991)). The court will reverse the Commissioner's decision on plenary review if the decision applies incorrect law, or if the decision fails to provide the court with sufficient reasoning to determine that the Commissioner properly applied the law. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991); Jones, 2011 WL 1706465, at *2 (citing Keeton v. Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 21 F.3d 1064, 1066 (11th Cir. 1994)). There is no presumption that the Commissioner's conclusions of law are valid. Id.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Facts

         On February 14, 2011, Minor filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits as well as a Title XVI application for supplemental security income. Doc. 14-2 at 19. In both applications, Minor alleged a disability due to back and feet problems, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”), and panic attacks with an alleged onset date of January 1, 2009. Doc. 14-2 at 19 & 22. Her claims were denied at the initial administrative level and on appeal by decision of an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) dated October 24, 2012.[2] The Appeals Council upheld the ALJ's October 24th decision on February 21, 2013. Doc. 14-2 at 19.

         On March 22, 2013, Minor filed a second Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits and a Title XVI application for supplemental security income. Doc. 14-2 at 19. In both applications, Minor claimed a new disability onset date of September 1, 2012. Doc. 14-2 at 19. These claims were denied at the initial administrative level on June 11, 2013. Doc. 14-2 at 19.

         Minor requested a hearing before an ALJ, which was held on September 9, 2014. Doc. 14-2 at 19. The claimant appeared at the hearing with her attorney and testified. Doc. 14-2 at 19. A vocational expert appeared at the hearing and testified as well. Doc. 14-2 at 19.

         At the hearing, Minor amended her disability onset date from September 1, 2012, to her protected filing date of March 22, 2013. Doc. 14-2 at 19. Because of this change, Minor would not have been entitled to the claimed period of disability and disability insurance benefits because she would not have disability insured status on the date of onset. Doc. 14-2 at 19. Therefore, Minor, through her attorney, voluntarily withdrew her hearing request as it pertained to her Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, making the initial administrative denial of her Title II application the final decision of the Commissioner. Doc. 14-2 at 19. The ALJ then dismissed her hearing request as to that claim and addressed only Minor's remaining claim for supplemental security income under Title XVI. Doc. 14-2 at 19-20.

         By decision dated November 12, 2014, the ALJ denied Minor's supplemental security income claim. Doc. 14-2 at 19-29. In his decision, the ALJ found that Minor suffered from the severe impairments of COPD, degenerative disc disease, anxiety-related disorder of post-traumatic stress disorder, and bipolar disorder, but that none of those impairments or a combination of those impairments meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926). The ALJ further concluded that Minor has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to

perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b), with abilities, limitations and restrictions to include the following: no climbing of ladders, ropes and scaffolds; occasional climbing of ramps and stairs; occasional balancing, kneeling, crouching, crawling, and stooping; avoid concentrated exposure to extreme heat and cold; avoid concentrated exposure to humidity; avoid even moderate exposure to fumes, odors, chemicals, gases, dusts, and poorly ventilated areas; avoid hazardous machinery and unprotected heights; can understand, remember and carry out short and simple instructions, but is unable to do so with detailed or complex instructions; can perform simple, routine, repetitive tasks, but is unable to do so with detailed or complex tasks; can have no more than occasional, casual contact with the general public; can accept constructive, non-confrontational supervisory criticism; can deal with changes in the work place if they are introduced occasionally, gradually and are well explained; and may be expected to miss one-to-two days of work per month due to impairments.

Doc. 14-2 at 25. The ALJ ultimately concluded that-considering Minor's age, education, work experience, and RFC-there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that she can perform. Doc. 14-2 at 28. Consequently, the ALJ concluded that Minor is not disabled within the meaning of ...


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