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Holley v. Berryhill

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

February 9, 2018

NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



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


         Ms. Holley applied for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on August 23, 2013. (Doc. 7-4, p. 2). Ms. Holley initially alleged that her disability began August 23, 2013, but she later amended her alleged disability onset date to November 15, 2013. (Doc. 7-3, pp. 21, 49; Doc. 7-4, p. 2). The Commissioner initially denied Ms. Holley's claim on April 25, 2014. (Doc. 7-5, pp. 2-5). Ms. Holley requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Doc. 7-5, p. 8). Subsequently, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on January 26, 2016. (Doc. 7-3, pp. 18-38). On June 3, 2016, the Appeals Council declined Ms. Holley's request for review (Doc. 7-3, p. 1), making the Commissioner's decision final and a proper candidate for this Court's judicial review. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).


         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. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).


         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.

         In this case, the ALJ found that Ms. Holley has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 15, 2013, the alleged onset date. (Doc. 7-3, p. 23). The ALJ determined that Ms. Holley suffers from the following severe impairments: Meniere's disease; bilateral sensory hearing loss; history of migraines; Barrett's syndrome with esophagitis; osteoarthritis, not specified, status post surgeries to right foot; mild lumbar scoliosis; obstructive sleep apnea; major depressive disorder, recurrent, moderate; and anxiety disorder, not otherwise specified. (Doc. 7-3, p. 23). The ALJ also found that Ms. Holley has the following non-severe impairments: hypertension, hyperlipidemia, diabetes mellitus, and coronary artery disease. (Doc. 7-3, p. 24). Based on a review of the medical evidence, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Holley does not have an impairment or a 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. 7-3, p. 25).

         In light of Ms. Holley's impairments, the ALJ evaluated Ms. Holley's residual functional capacity. (Doc. 7-3, p. 29). The ALJ determined that Ms. Holley has the RFC to perform:

medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) except she can only frequently use right foot controls. She can frequently climb ramps and stairs, but never climb ladders and scaffolds. She can frequently balance and stoop, but never kneel, crouch, or crawl. The claimant would require the occasional use of a single-handed walking device to ambulate as well as balance. She can never be exposed to unprotected heights, dangerous tools, dangerous machinery, or hazardous processes. She can never operate commercial motor vehicles. The claimant can tolerate moderate noise levels in the workplace. She would be limited to simple tasks and simple work-related decisions. She would be unable to perform at production-rate pace but could do goal-oriented work. The claimant would be able to accept constructive non-confrontational criticism and work in small group settings. She would be able to accept changes in a work place setting if introduced gradually and infrequently. In addition to normal breaks, the claimant would be off-task approximately five percent of an eight-hour workday, in non-consecutive minutes.

(Doc. 7-3, p. 29).

         Based on Ms. Holley's RFC, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Holley is not able to perform her past relevant work as an apartment house manager, home health aide, and convenience store manager. (Doc. 7-3, pp. 35-36). Relying on testimony from a vocational expert, the ALJ found that jobs exist in the national economy that Ms. Holley can perform, including checker, marker, and chick grader. (Doc.7-3, p. 37). Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Ms. Holley has not been under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (Doc. 7-3, p. 37).

         IV. ...

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