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Cobb v. Berryhill

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

May 29, 2018

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



         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff Melissa Cobb seeks judicial review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. The Commissioner denied Ms. Cobb's claim for supplemental security income. After careful review, the Court reverses the Commissioner's decision.[1]


         Ms. Cobb applied for supplemental security income on April 1, 2014. (Doc. 6-3, p. 18; Doc. 6-4, p. 25). Ms. Cobb initially alleged that her disability began July 7, 2013, but she later amended her alleged disability onset date to April 1, 2014. (Doc 6-3, p. 40).[2] The Commissioner initially denied Ms. Cobb's claim on July 23, 2014. (Doc. 6-5, pp. 2-6). Ms. Cobb requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Doc. 6-5, pp. 7-8). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on June 17, 2016. (Doc. 6-3, pp. 18-31). On April 25, 2017, the Appeals Council declined Ms. Cobb's request for review (Doc. 6-3, pp. 2-4), 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. Cobb has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 1, 2014, Ms. Cobb's amended onset date. (Doc. 6-3, p. 20; see Doc. 6-3, pp. 40-41). The ALJ determined that Ms. Cobb suffers from the following severe impairments: generalized anxiety disorder; dysthymia (persistent depressive disorder); right-side stroke from bacterial endocarditis; history of restless leg syndrome; chronic hepatitis C; status-post drug overdose complicated by sepsis; stroke; renal failure; asthma; opiate addiction; celiac disease; history of gastroparesis; and borderline personality disorder. (Doc. 6-3, p. 20). The ALJ also found that Ms. Cobb has the following non-severe impairments: hypothyroidism and anemia. (Doc. 6-3, p. 20). Based on a review of the medical evidence, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Cobb does not have an impairment or 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. 6-3, pp. 21-23).

         In light of Ms. Cobb's impairments, the ALJ evaluated Ms. Cobb's residual functional capacity. (Doc. 6-3, pp. 23-29). The ALJ determined that Ms. Cobb has the RFC to perform:

sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a) except she can only ambulate short distances up to 100 yards on flat, hard surfaces per instance. With her non-dominant right hand she can occasionally use hand controls and reach overhead but can frequently handle, finger, and feel. She can occasionally climb ramps and stairs but can never climb ladders or scaffolds. She can frequently balance, stoop, crouch, and kneel, but only occasionally crawl. Claimant should never be exposed to unprotected heights, dangerous machinery, dangerous tools, hazardous processes, or operate commercial motor vehicles. She should never be exposed to concentrated dust, fumes, gases, or other pulmonary irritants. Claimant could only remember short, simple instructions and could only engage in simple, routine, and repetitive tasks. She would be limited to making simple, work-related decisions. She would be able to accept constructive, non-confrontational criticism, work in small group settings, and accept changes in the workplace if such changes ...

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