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Hull v. Berryhill

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

December 11, 2017

CANTRECE L. HULL, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL[1], Acting Social Security Commissioner, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          KATHERINE P. NELSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         In this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) Plaintiff Cantrece Hull (“Hull” or “Plaintiff) seeks judicial review of an adverse social security ruling denying disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. (Docs. 1, 11). With the consent of the parties, the Court has designated the undersigned Magistrate Judge to conduct all proceedings and order the entry of judgment in this civil action, in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73, and S.D. Ala. GenLR 73. (See Docs. 15, 16). The parties requested that oral argument be waived, and their request was granted. (Docs. 18-19). After considering the administrative record and the memoranda of the parties, the Court finds that the decision of the Commissioner due to be AFFIRMED.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On May 22, 2014, Plaintiff protectively applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. (R. 20). Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of September 1, 2011. (Id.). On July 24, 2014, the application was denied, and Plaintiff requested a hearing. (Id.). On November 4, 2015, Plaintiff attended a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) and the ALJ rendered an unfavorable decision on March 25, 2016. (R. 17-77).

         At the time of the administrative hearing, Plaintiff was thirty nine years old and had completed one year of a four year college program. (Doc. 11 at 10). She had previous work history as a gate guard and in used car sales. (Id.). Plaintiff alleges she is disabled due to diabetes mellitus, hypertension, osteoarthritis of the left knee, major depressive disorder, and panic disorder. (Id.).

         On March 26, 2016, the ALJ entered a decision unfavorable to Plaintiff and on March 9, 2017, the Appeals counsel denied Plaintiff's request for review. (R. 1-77).

         Plaintiff presented the following claims on appeal:

1. The Administrative Law Judge committed reversible error in violation of Social Security Regulations 20 C.F.R. §416.945, 20 C.F.R. §404.1545, and Social Security Ruling 96-8p in that the Administrative Law Judge's residual functional capacity determination was not supported by substantial evidence.
2. Given the Administrative Law Judge's finding that the Plaintiff is limited to “simple routine tasks of unskilled work involving short, simple instructions and simple work decisions with few changes in work setting”; and “can interact with co-workers and supervisors on a basic level and interact with the public occasionally on a basic level, ” the VE's testimony that the Plaintiff can perform jobs as an election clerk (DOT #205.367-030) or call out operator (DOT #237.367-014) or tube operator (DOT #239.687-014), conflicts with the DOT because, according to the DOT, an individual who “is limited to simple, unskilled tasks” could not perform any of these three jobs.

(Doc. 11 at 1-2). Defendant has responded to-and denies-these claims. (Doc. 12, generally).

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         “In Social Security appeals, [the Court] must determine whether the Commissioner's decision is ‘ “supported by substantial evidence and based on proper legal standards. Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” ‘ “ Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (quoting Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004) (per curiam) (internal citation omitted) (quoting Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1439 (11th Cir. 1997))). However, the Court “ ‘may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute our judgment for that of the [Commissioner].' “ Id. (quoting Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1240 n.8 (11th Cir. 2004) (alteration in original) (quoting Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983))). “‘Even if the evidence preponderates against the [Commissioner]'s factual findings, [the Court] must affirm if the decision reached is supported by substantial evidence.' “ Ingram v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 496 F.3d 1253, 1260 (11th Cir. 2007) (quoting Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990)).

         “Yet, within this narrowly circumscribed role, [courts] do not act as automatons. [The Court] must scrutinize the record as a whole to determine if the decision reached is reasonable and supported by substantial evidence[.]” Bloodsworth, 703 F.2d at 1239 (citations and quotation omitted). See also Owens v. Heckler, 748 F.2d 1511, 1516 (11th Cir. 1984) (per curiam) (“We are neither to conduct a de novo proceeding, nor to rubber stamp the administrative decisions that come before us. Rather, our function is to ensure that the decision was based on a reasonable and consistently applied standard, and was carefully considered in light of all the relevant facts.”). “In determining whether substantial evidence exists, [a court] must…tak[e] into account evidence favorable as well as unfavorable to the [Commissioner's] decision.” Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986).

         However, the “substantial evidence” “standard of review applies only to findings of fact. No similar presumption of validity attaches to the [Commissioner]'s conclusions of law, including determination of the proper standards to be applied in reviewing claims.” MacGregor v. Bowen, 786 F.2d 1050, 1053 (11th Cir. 1986) (quotation omitted). Accord, e.g., Wiggins v. Schweiker, 679 F.2d 1387, 1389 (11th Cir. 1982) (“Our standard of review for appeals from the administrative denials of Social Security benefits dictates that ‘(t)he findings of the Secretary as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive ....' 42 U.S.C.A. s 405(g) … As is plain from the statutory language, this deferential standard of review is applicable only to findings of fact made by the Secretary, and it is well established that no similar presumption of validity attaches to the Secretary's conclusions of law, including determination of the proper standards to be applied in reviewing claims.” (some quotation marks omitted)). This Court “conduct[s] ‘an exacting examination' of these factors.” Miles v. Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996) (per curiam) (quoting Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990)). “‘The [Commissioner]'s failure to apply the correct law or to provide the reviewing court with sufficient reasoning for determining that the proper legal analysis has been conducted mandates reversal.'” Ingram, 496 F.3d at 1260 (quoting Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991)). Accord Keeton v. Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 21 F.3d 1064, 1066 (11th Cir. 1994).

         In sum, courts “review the Commissioner's factual findings with deference and the Commissioner's legal conclusions with close scrutiny.” Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001). See also Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211 (11th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (“In Social Security appeals, we review de novo the legal principles upon which the Commissioner's decision is based. Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986). However, we review the resulting decision only to determine whether it is supported by substantial evidence. Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 363 F.3d 1155, 1158-59 (11th Cir. 2004).”).

Eligibility for DIB and SSI requires that the claimant be disabled. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(a)(1)(E), 1382(a)(1)-(2). A claimant is disabled if she is unable “to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment ... 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), 1382c(a)(3)(A).

         Thornton v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 597 F. App'x. 604, 609 (11th Cir. 2015) ...


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