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Thomas v. Berryhill

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

June 19, 2018

ANNIE THOMAS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS, United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Annie Thomas, representing herself pro se, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Ms. Thomas seeks a 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”). Ms. Thomas 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).

         The Court carefully reviewed the record in this case and AFFIRMS the ALJ's decision.

         II. Relevant Background

         The alleged onset date is August 20, 2013. (Tr. 104). Mr. Thomas suffers from numerous impairments, but none that the ALJ found to disable her. (See Id. at 106, 114). On August 20, 2013, Ms. Thomas filed an application for Social Security benefits. (Id. at 104). The Social Security Administration denied that application on November 27, 2013. (Id.). On April 23, 2015, Administrative Law Judge Cynthia W. Brown held a hearing. (Id.). Attorney George Harris represented Ms. Thomas at the administrative level. (Id.). The ALJ issued her decision on July 30, 2015, which was unfavorable to Ms. Thomas. (Id. at 114). In that opinion, the ALJ found that Ms. Thomas did not meet the disability standard at Steps Three and Five. (Id. at 107, 113). Ms. Thomas requested the Appeals Council review the claim. (Id. at 97). They refused. (Id.). Ms. Thomas filed her complaint in the Northern District of Alabama on June 5, 2017. (Doc. 1). She is proceeding pro se. (See Id. at 4).

         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 ...

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