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Buxton v. Berryhill

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

March 19, 2018

BILLY J. BUXTON, Plaintiff,
NANCY BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Billy J. Buxton (hereinafter “Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his claim for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq., and 1381, et seq. On October 5, 2017, the parties consented to have the undersigned conduct any and all proceedings in this case. (Doc. 18). Thus, the action was referred to the undersigned to conduct all proceedings and order the entry of judgment in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73. Upon careful consideration of the administrative record and the memoranda of the parties, it is hereby ORDERED that the decision of the Commissioner be AFFIRMED.

         I. Procedural History [2]

         Plaintiff filed his application for benefits on April 30, 2013, alleging disability beginning March 1, 2011, based on learning disability, hip problems, and knee problems. (Doc. 12 at 181, 188, 201, 204). Plaintiff's application was denied and upon timely request, he was granted an administrative hearing before Administrative Law Judge Renee Blackmon Hagler (hereinafter “ALJ”) on May 20, 2015. (Id. at 44). Plaintiff attended the hearing with his counsel and provided testimony related to his claims. (Id.). A vocational expert (“VE”) also appeared at the hearing and provided testimony. (Id.). On June 5, 2015, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding that Plaintiff is not disabled. (Id. at 29). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on September 1, 2016. (Id. at 5). Therefore, the ALJ's decision dated June 5, 2015, became the final decision of the Commissioner.

         Having exhausted his administrative remedies, Plaintiff timely filed the present civil action. (Doc. 1). Oral argument was conducted on October 26, 2017 (Doc. 21), and the parties agree that this case is now ripe for judicial review and is properly before this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).

         II. Issues on Appeal

         1.Whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff's bursitis of the hip was non-severe?

         2.Whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's assignment of little weight to the opinions of Plaintiff's treating physician?

         3.Whether substantial evidence supports the Residual Functional Capacity?

         4.Whether the ALJ erred by failing to fully develop the record by ordering consultative psychological and orthopedic examinations?

         III. Factual Background

         Plaintiff was born on September 28, 1964, and was fifty years of age at the time of his administrative hearing on May 20, 2015. (Doc. 12 at 44, 49). Plaintiff was in regular classes in school but only completed the fifth grade. (Id. at 49-50). Plaintiff reported that he cannot read or write, but he can make change for a twenty-dollar bill. (Id. at 50).

         Plaintiff last worked from 2004 to 2010 at BAE Systems/Atlantic Marine as a laborer, sand blaster, and painter. (Doc. 12 at 51-52). Prior to that, he worked from 1989 to 2004 at Mitchell Company in the area of ground maintenance and Henry Marine Services on a tugboat as a deckhand. (Id. at 51-52; Doc. 12 at 209).

         Plaintiff testified that he can no longer work due to pain in his knees and his hip. (Id. at 53). His medical treatment has consisted of cortisone injections and medications such as Ibuprofen, Celebrex, and Paxil, which have provided some relief. (Id. at 53-55).

         IV. Standard of Review

         In reviewing claims brought under the Act, this Court's role is a limited one. The Court's review is limited to determining 1) whether the decision of the Secretary is supported by substantial evidence and 2) whether the correct legal standards were applied.[3] Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990). A court may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Sewell v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 1065, 1067 (11th Cir. 1986). The Commissioner's findings of fact must be affirmed if they are based upon substantial evidence. Brown v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d 1233, 1235 (11th Cir. 1991); Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983) (holding substantial evidence is defined as “more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance” and consists of “such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”). In determining whether substantial evidence exists, a court must view the record as a whole, taking into account evidence favorable, as well as unfavorable, to the Commissioner's decision. Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986); Short v. Apfel, 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10163, *4 (S.D. Ala. June 14, 1999).

         V. Statutory and ...

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