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Posey v. Berryhill

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

March 29, 2018

NINA POSEY, Claimant,
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          KARON OWEN BOWDRE, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         On April 28, 2014, the claimant, Nina Posey, protectively filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits and a Title XVI application for supplemental security income. (R. 184-196). In both applications, the claimant alleged disability beginning July 24, 2012. (R. 109, 188). These claims were denied initially on June 10, 2014. (R. 119, 125). The claimant then filed a written request for hearing on June 19, 2014. (R. 132).

         In a decision dated November 6, 2015, the ALJ found that the claimant was not disabled as defined by the Social Security Act and was, therefore, ineligible for social security benefits. (R. 18-30). On September 28, 2016, the Appeals Council denied the claimant's request for review. (R. 1-4). Consequently, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration. (R. 1). The claimant has exhausted her administrative remedies, and this court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). For the reasons stated below, this court will AFFIRM the decision of the Commissioner.

         II. ISSUES PRESENTED

         The claimant presents the following issues for review:

1. whether the ALJ fully and fairly developed the record concerning the severity of the claimant's alleged carpal tunnel syndrome;
2. whether the ALJ accorded proper weight to the opinion of the claimant's cardiologist; and
3. whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's finding that the claimant can perform light work.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The standard for reviewing the Commissioner's decision is limited. This court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards and substantial evidence supports his factual findings. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Graham v. Apfel, 129 F.3d 1420, 1422 (11th Cir. 1997); Walker v. Bowen, 826 F.2d 996, 999 (11th Cir. 1987).

         “No . . . presumption of validity attaches to the [Commissioner's] legal conclusions, including determination of the proper standards to be applied in evaluating claims.” Walker, 826 F.2d at 999. This court does not review the Commissioner's factual determinations de novo. The court will affirm those factual determinations that are supported by substantial evidence. “Substantial evidence” is “more than a scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).

         The court must keep in mind that opinions such as whether a claimant is disabled, the nature and extent of a claimant's residual functional capacity, and the application of vocational factors “are not medical opinions . . . but are, instead, opinions on issues reserved to the Commissioner because they are administrative findings that are dispositive of a case; i.e., that would direct the determination or decision of disability.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(d), 416.927(d). Whether the claimant meets the listing and is qualified for Social Security disability benefits is a question reserved for the ALJ, and the court “may not decide facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the Commissioner.” Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005). Thus, even if the court were to disagree with the ALJ about the significance of certain facts, the court has no power to reverse that finding as long as substantial evidence in the record supports it.

         The court must “scrutinize the record in its entirety to determine the reasonableness of the [Commissioner]'s factual findings.” Walker, 826 F.2d at 999. A reviewing court must not only look to those parts of the record that support the decision of the ALJ, but also must view the record in its entirety and take account of evidence that detracts from the evidence relied on by the ALJ. Hillsman v. Bowen, 804 F.2d 1179, 1180 (11th Cir. 1986).

         IV. LEGAL STANDARD

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A), a person is entitled to disability benefits when the person is unable to “engage in 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 12 months . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

         To make this determination the Commissioner employs a five-step, sequential evaluation process:

(1) Is the person presently unemployed?
(2) Is the person's impairment severe?
(3) Does the person's impairment meet or equal one of the specific impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1?
(4) Is the person unable to perform his or her former occupation?
(5) Is the person unable to perform any other work within the economy?
An affirmative answer to any of the above questions leads either to the next question, or, on steps three and five, to a finding of disability. A negative answer to any question, other than step three, leads to a determination of “not disabled.”

McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir. 1986)[1]; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.

         The claimant focuses her arguments on the ALJ's determination of her residual functional capacity. The assessment of the claimant's residual functional capacity determines the claimant's ability to do work despite her impairments and should be “based upon all of the relevant evidence.” Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1440 (11th Cir. 1997); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a). The ALJ makes this determination by considering the claimant's physical, mental, and other abilities affected by the impairment(s). 20 C.F.R. § 416.945(b)-(d).

         V. FACTS

         The claimant was 53 years old at the time of the ALJ hearing. (R. 42). The claimant attended school until the 10th grade and had previously worked as a chicken packer at Marshall Durbin Corporation from 2006 through 2010. (R. 45, 238-39, 273). The claimant is a life-long smoker and alleges disability based on possessing a pacemaker, and suffering from seizures, carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), high cholesterol, Bell's palsy, and colon issues. (R. 250).

         Physical Impairments

         In October of 2007, the claimant first sought treatment for a seizure disorder and fibromyalgia from Dr. Scott Boswell, a specialist in family medicine. At that time, Dr. Boswell ruled out fibromyalgia, as well as anemia. But in November of 2007, Dr. Boswell assessed the claimant to have arthritis, low back pain and an abnormal chest x-ray. In 2008, ...


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