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Riggins v. Berryhill

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

May 9, 2018

KIMBERLYN RIGGINS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS, United States District Judge

          I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Kimberlyn Denise Riggins (“Riggins”) brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Riggins seeks 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”). Riggins filed her application on January 10, 2014. After that, Riggins 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).

         Riggins appeals the ALJ's decision on seven different grounds. After reviewing the entire record and the arguments set forth, this Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision.

         II. Relevant Background

         Riggins “was 46 years old . . . on [her] alleged disability onset date.” (Tr. 82). Her past relevant work includes being “a patient insurance clerk, an inventory clerk, and a warehouse worker.” (Id.). The alleged onset date is August 1, 2013. (Id. at 73). On January 10, 2014, Riggins applied for SSI and DIB. (Id.). The Social Security Administration denied that application on March 17, 2014. (Id.). On November 10, 2015, Administrative Law Judge Lisa M. Johnson held a video hearing. (Id.). The ALJ issued her decision on December 4, 2015, which was unfavorable to Riggins. (Id. at 84). The ALJ determined that Riggins suffers from numerous severe impairments but found that her impairments did not meet the severity of the ones included in the Code of Federal Regulations. (Id. at 75-76). The ALJ also determined that Riggins could still perform substantial gainful activity. (Id. at 82-83). Riggins requested the Appeals Council review her claim. (Id. at 1-4). They refused. (Id.).

         Riggins filed her Complaint in the Northern District of Alabama on March 7, 2017. (Doc. 1). She filed her brief in support of her Complaint on November 8, 2017. (Doc. 8). The Commissioner responded on January 10, 2018. (Doc. 11). Riggins replied on January 24, 2018. (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 national economy.

Pope v. Shalala, 998 F.2d 473, 477 (7th Cir. 1993) (citing to formerly applicable C.F.R. section), overruled on other grounds by Johnson v. Apfel, 189 F.3d 561, 562-63 (7th Cir. 1999); accord McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir. 1986). The sequential analysis goes as follows:

Once the claimant has satisfied steps One and Two, she will automatically be found disabled if she suffers from a listed impairment. If the claimant does not have a listed impairment but cannot perform her work, the burden shifts to the [Commissioner] to show that the claimant can perform some other job.

Pope, 998 F.2d at 477; accord Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1559 (11th Cir. 1995).

         The Commissioner must further show that such work exists in the national economy in significant numbers. Id.

         V. Findings of the Administrative Law Judge

         After considering the record, the ALJ made the following findings:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2017.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 1, 2013, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease with lumbar pain and cervicalgia, gastroesophageal disease (GERD), narcolepsy, and rheumatoid arthritis (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or a combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), ...

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