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Woodruff v. Berryhill

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

January 24, 2018




         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Kandy Woodruff (“Woodruff”) brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Woodruff seeks a review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”), who denied her application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”). Woodruff filed her application on June 25, 2012. After that, Woodruff 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 REVERSES and REMANDS the Commissioner's decision.

         II. Relevant Background

         Woodruff was 33 years old at the time of her hearing with the ALJ. (Tr. 14-16). Her education is limited, but she can read and write in English. (Id. at 38-39, 56, 203). Most of her past work is in retail and fast food. (Id. 214). The vocational expert analyzed Woodruff's past work experience as a cashier, fast food worker, and managerial fast food worker. (Id. at 37-38). Woodruff claims disability based on rheumatoid arthritis. (Id. at 204).

         The alleged onset date is August 2, 2009. (Id. at 50). On June 25, 2012, Woodruff filed an application for DIB and SSI. (Id.). The Social Security Administration denied that application on September 7, 2012. (Id.). On April 21, 2014, Administrative Law Judge Cynthia W. Brown held a video hearing. (Id.). The ALJ issued her decision on June 12, 2014, which was unfavorable to Woodruff. (Id. at 50-58). The ALJ determined that Woodruff suffers from “chondromalicia; chronic pain syndrome; morbid obesity; and sciatica.” (Id. at 53) (emphasis omitted). In her opinion, the ALJ found that Woodruffs's impairments did not meet the severity of the ones included in the Code of Federal Regulations. (Id.). Woodruff requested the Appeals Council review her claim. (Id. at 1-3). They refused. (Id.).

         Woodruff filed her Complaint in the Northern District of Alabama on April 13, 2016. (Doc. 1). Woodruff filed her brief in support of her Complaint on June 26, 2017. (Doc. 11). The Commissioner responded on July 21, 2017. (Doc. 12).

         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.[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 ...

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