United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
VICKIE D. WALLACE, Plaintiff,
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
E. Ott Chief United States Magistrate Judge
Vickie D. Wallace brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g), seeking review of the final decision of the
Acting Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying the continuation of her
disability benefits. (Doc. 1). The case has been assigned to the
undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to this
court's general order of reference. The parties have
consented to the jurisdiction of this court for disposition
of the matter. (See Doc. 8). See 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(c), Fed.R.Civ.P. 73(a). Upon review of the record
and the relevant law, the undersigned finds that the
Commissioner's decision is due to be affirmed.
was determined on June 16, 2006, to be disabled beginning
April 5, 2005, based on severe impairments of depression and
status post left shoulder injury. (R. 26, 28, 141). The
Social Security Administration sent Plaintiff for
psychological and physical examinations in June and July 2012
(R. 375, 379) and concluded on October 2, 2012, that she was
no longer disabled as of October 2012. (R. 138-39, 141). This
determination was upheld on reconsideration after a
disability hearing by a State agency Disability Hearing
Officer. (R. 142-66).
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
(R. 167, 238). An ALJ held hearings in May 2014 and June 2015
and issued a decision on June 18, 2015, finding
Plaintiff's disability ended effective October 2012. (R.
23-70, 96-119). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's
request for review on December 23, 2016. (R. 1-6). The
Commissioner's final decision is ripe for judicial
review. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
was 46 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. She
previously obtained her Associate of Arts degree. (R. 114-15,
529). She has worked in the past as a receiving clerk, motel
housekeeper, office cleaner, and assistant manager of a pizza
shop and truck deli. (R. 42, 377). As noted above, she was
previously found to be disabled as of April 2005 based on the
severe impairments of depression and status post left
shoulder injury. (R. 28). Plaintiff now alleges that she is
disabled due to her dislocated left shoulder, depression,
panic attacks, type 2 diabetes, congestive heart failure,
tinnitus, and arthritis in her hands. (R. 167, 238).
administrative hearings, the ALJ considered Plaintiff's
disability claim in accordance with the eight-step sequential
evaluation process to determine whether her disability had
ceased. (R. 26-43). The ALJ found that the June
16, 2006 decision was the most recent decision finding
Plaintiff disabled and was the decision to be used for
comparison with the present evidence. (R. 28). The ALJ
observed that, at the time of the comparison point decision
(“CPD”) -June 16, 2006-Plaintiff had impairments
of a depressive disorder and a status post left shoulder
injury, which resulted in marked limitations on her ability
to perform basic work activities and an inability to perform
even sedentary work or sustain a 40-hour workweek with
adequate work attendance. (R. 28).
also found that as of October 2012, Plaintiff had the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a
modified range of light work. (R. 37). Specifically,
Plaintiff could lift and carry 10 pounds frequently and 20
pounds occasionally; sit and stand/walk a total of six hours
each in an eight-hour workday; frequently reach in all
directions, handle, finger, feel, and push/pull, bilaterally;
and occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and
climb ramps and stairs (Id.) She could not, however,
climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. (Id.) Plaintiff
needed to avoid exposure to unprotected heights and moving or
dangerous machinery, and she required an environment free of
concentrated exposure to temperature extremes, wetness,
humidity, noise, vibration, fumes, odors, gases, dust, and
poor ventilation. (Id.)
further found, based in part on the testimony of a vocational
expert (“VE”), that Plaintiff could perform other
work that exists in significant numbers in the national
economy, including cashier, parking lot attendant, and toll
collector. (R. 42, 62-63). Therefore, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff's disability ended in October 2012 and she has
not become disabled since that date. (R. 43).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
court's review of the Commissioner's decision is
narrowly circumscribed. The function of the court is to
determine whether the Commissioner's decision is
supported by substantial evidence and whether proper legal
standards were applied. Richardson v. Perales, 402
U.S. 389, 390, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1422 (1971); Wilson v.
Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002). The
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).
Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a
reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Id. It is “more than a
scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Id.
court must uphold factual findings that are supported by
substantial evidence. However, it reviews the ALJ's legal
conclusions 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, it must reverse the ALJ's decision.
See Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46
(11th Cir. 1991).
STATUTORY AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK
regulations provide an eight-step sequential evaluation
process for determining whether a claimant's disability
continues. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f). The
steps require an ALJ to determine:
(1) whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful
(2) whether the claimant has an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or equals a listed impairment;
(3) whether there has been medical improvement;
(4) whether the medical improvement is related to the
claimant's ability to work;
(5) whether an exception applies to a finding of no medical
improvement or a finding that medical improvement is not
related to ...