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Hedrick v. Berryhill

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

June 12, 2018

NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff John Henry Hedrick, III, 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 him disability insurance benefits. (Doc. 1).[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. 12). 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 reversed and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


         Plaintiff filed for disability benefits, alleging that he was disabled beginning March 17, 2014. (R. 93, 144-45).[2] After his application was denied by the State Agency, he requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on August 7, 2014. An ALJ held a hearing on April 7, 2016 (R. 38-78) and issued a decision on June 17, 2016, finding Plaintiff was not disabled. (R. 22-34). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on April 28, 2017. (R. 1). The Commissioner's final decision is ripe for judicial review. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         II. FACTS

         Plaintiff was 60 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. He has worked in the past as a general manager, a supervisor of underground surface mines, a safety department supervisor, a safety director, and a plant superintendent. (R. 31, 70-71). He last engaged in substantial gainful employment on March 13, 2014. (R. 21).

         Following an administrative hearing, the ALJ determined Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: a history of complex partial epileptic seizure; idiopathic peripheral neuropathy; vertigo and vertiginous syndrome; status post right ankle fusion; coronary artery disease with stent placement and carotid artery stenosis; hypertension; hyperlipidemia; obesity; and, a history of alcohol dependence in sustained remission. (R. 23). The ALJ also found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform medium work in close proximity to others that involves frequent balancing, stooping, and use of right foot controls; occasional crouching, kneeling, crawling, use of bilateral hand controls, and ramp and stair climbing; and no ladder or scaffold climbing or exposure to unprotected heights. (R. 26-31). He also found that Plaintiff could not return to his previous work, but could perform other work as a hand packager, a laborer or an off bearer. (R. 32-33). He then concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled. (R. 33).


         The 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.

         The 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).


         To qualify for benefits, a claimant must show the inability 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). A physical or mental impairment is “an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(3).

         Determination of disability under the Social Security Act requires a five step analysis. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4). Specifically, the Commissioner must determine in sequence:

whether the claimant: (1) is unable to engage in substantial gainful activity; (2) has a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment; (3) has such an impairment that meets or equals a Listing and meets the duration requirements; (4) can perform his past relevant work, in light of his residual functional capacity; and (5) can make an adjustment to other work, in light of his residual functional capacity, age, education, and work experience.

Evans v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 551 Fed.Appx. 521, 524 (11th Cir. 2014)[3] (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)). The plaintiff bears the burden of proving that he was disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211 (11th Cir. 2005). The applicable “regulations place a very heavy burden on the claimant to demonstrate both a qualifying disability and an inability to perform past relevant work.” Id.

         V. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff argues that (1) the ALJ failed to afford proper weight to the opinion of State Agency Consultant Dr. William Russell May and (2) the ALJ's RFC findings are unsupported and not based on ...

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