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Poole v. Berryhill

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

December 26, 2017

CHRISTA POOLE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff Christa Poole seeks judicial review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. The Commissioner denied Ms. Poole's claim for a period of disability and disability insurance. After careful review, the Court affirms the Commissioner's decision.[1]

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Ms. Poole applied for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on July 26, 2013. (Doc. 6-4, p. 2). Ms. Poole alleges that her disability began December 8, 2008. (Doc. 6-4, p. 2). The Commissioner initially denied Ms. Poole's claim on October 30, 2013. (Doc. 6-5. pp. 2-8). Ms. Poole requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Doc. 6-5, p. 13). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on April 30, 2015. (Doc. 6-3, pp. 10-22). On July 22, 2016, the Appeals Council declined Ms. Poole's request for review (Doc. 6-3, p. 2), making the Commissioner's decision final and a proper candidate for this Court's judicial review. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The scope of review in this matter is limited. “When, as in this case, the ALJ denies benefits and the Appeals Council denies review, ” the Court “review[s] the ALJ's ‘factual findings with deference' and [his] ‘legal conclusions with close scrutiny.'” Riggs v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 522 Fed.Appx. 509, 510-11 (11th Cir. 2013) (quoting Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001)).

         The Court must determine whether there is substantial evidence in the record to support the ALJ's factual findings. “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004). In evaluating the administrative record, the Court may not “decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, ” or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (internal quotations and citation omitted). If substantial evidence supports the ALJ's factual findings, then the Court “must affirm even if the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's findings.” Costigan v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 603 Fed.Appx. 783, 786 (11th Cir. 2015) (citing Crawford, 363 F.3d at 1158).

         With respect to the ALJ's legal conclusions, the Court must determine whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards. If the Court finds an error in the ALJ's application of the law, or if the Court finds that the ALJ failed to provide sufficient reasoning to demonstrate that the ALJ conducted a proper legal analysis, then the Court must reverse the ALJ's decision unless the error is harmless. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).

         III. SUMMARY OF THE ALJ'S DECISION

         To determine whether a claimant has proven that she is disabled, an ALJ follows a five-step sequential evaluation process. The ALJ considers:

(1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment or combination of impairments; (3) whether the impairment meets or equals the severity of the specified impairments in the Listing of Impairments; (4) based on a residual functional capacity (“RFC”) assessment, whether the claimant can perform any of his or her past relevant work despite the impairment; and (5) whether there are significant numbers of jobs in the national economy that the claimant can perform given the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience.

Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178. For purposes of evaluating Ms. Poole's request for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, the ALJ noted that Ms. Poole had sufficient coverage to remain insured through December 31, 2013, so Ms. Poole had to establish disability on or before December 31, 2013 to be entitled to a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. (Doc. 6-3, p. 13); see also Moncrief v. Astrue, 300 Fed.Appx. 879, 880 n.1 (11th Cir. 2008) (“Unlike SSI, which has no insured status requirement, a claimant must demonstrate disability on or before the last date on which she was insured in order to be eligible for DIB.”).

         In this case, the ALJ found that Ms. Poole has not engaged in substantial gainful activity from December 8, 2008, the alleged onset date, through December 31, 2013, her date last insured. (Doc. 6-3, p. 15). The ALJ determined that Ms. Poole suffers from the following severe impairments: diabetes mellitus, hypertension, neuropathy, obesity, and major depression, recurrent, moderate, with anxiety. (Doc. 6-3, p. 15). Based on a review of the medical evidence, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Poole does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of any of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Doc. 6-3, p. 15).

         In light of Ms. Poole's impairments, the ALJ evaluated Ms. Poole's residual functional capacity or RFC. The ALJ determined that Ms. Poole has the RFC to perform:

sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a), with respect to sitting, standing, walking, lifting and carrying; work that is simple and routine in nature; is able to maintain attention and concentration for two hours with customary rest breaks; and can work with things rather than data or people.

(Doc. 6-3, p. 17).

         Based on this RFC, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Poole is not able to perform her past relevant work as a certified nurse assistant and cashier. (Doc. 6-3, p. 20). Relying on testimony from a vocational expert, the ALJ found that jobs exist in the national economy that Ms. Poole can perform, including inspector and sorter, production table worker, and machine operator and feeder. (Doc. 6-3, pp. 20-21). Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Ms. Poole has not been under ...


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