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Boler v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Northern Division

June 27, 2018

SHERRY BOLER, Plaintiff,
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Sherry Boler (hereinafter “Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq. On May 10, 2018, the parties consented to have the undersigned conduct any and all proceedings in this case. (Doc. 23). Thus, the action was referred to the undersigned to conduct all proceedings and order the entry of judgment in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73. Upon careful consideration of the administrative record and the memoranda of the parties, it is hereby ORDERED that the decision of the Commissioner be AFFIRMED.

         I. Procedural History[1]

         Plaintiff filed her application for benefits on May 14, 2014. (Doc. 11 at 134). Plaintiff alleges that she has been disabled since February 1, 2013, due to “osteoarthritis, right foot, right hip, ” and high blood pressure. (Id. at 141, 144).

         Plaintiff's application was denied and upon timely request, she was granted an administrative hearing before Administrative Law Judge Mary E. Helmer (hereinafter “ALJ”) on March 10, 2016. (Id. at 37). Plaintiff attended the hearing with her counsel and provided testimony related to her claims. (Id. at 40). A vocational expert (“VE”) also appeared at the hearing and provided testimony. (Id. at 50). On April 1, 2016, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding that Plaintiff is not disabled. (Id. at 23). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on April 7, 2017. (Id. at 1-2). Therefore, the ALJ's decision dated April 1, 2016, became the final decision of the Commissioner.

         Having exhausted her administrative remedies, Plaintiff timely filed the present civil action. (Doc. 1). The parties waived oral argument on May 10, 2018. (Doc. 22). This case is now ripe for judicial review and is properly before this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).

         II. Issues on Appeal 1. Whether the Appeals Council erred in failing to remand Plaintiff's case for consideration of additional evidence submitted after the ALJ's decision?

         2. Whether the ALJ erred in assigning great weight to the opinion of State Agency reviewer, Dr. Maria Wellman, M.D.?

         3. Whether the ALJ erred in finding Plaintiff's hypertension, diabetes, and osteoarthritis to be non-severe?

         III. Factual Background

         Plaintiff was born on February 16, 1959, and was fifty-six years of age at the time of her administrative hearing on March 10, 2016. (Doc. 11 at 37, 141). Plaintiff graduated from high school and attended college for one year. (Id. at 145).

         Plaintiff last worked from 2011 to 2012 at a convenience store/restaurant as a cashier/cook. (Id. at 41, 145). The job ended when the owner went out of business, and she has not applied for another job since that time. (Id. at 41). Prior to that, Plaintiff worked from 2003 to 2009 at a convenience store and gas station as a cashier/cook. (Id. at 145).

         At her hearing, Plaintiff testified that she can no longer work due to pain from osteoarthritis in her hips and joints. (Id. at 42). Her medical treatment for osteoarthritis has consisted of taking medications, such as Aleve, Lortab, and Meloxicam, and steroid injections. (Id. at 119-21, 146, 223). She also has diabetes, for which she takes insulin, and high blood pressure, for which she takes Lisinopril. (Id. at 42).

         IV. Standard of Review

         In reviewing claims brought under the Act, this Court's role is a limited one. The Court's review is limited to determining 1) whether the decision of the Secretary is supported by substantial evidence and 2) whether the correct legal standards were applied.[2]Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990). A court may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Sewell v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 1065, 1067 (11th Cir. 1986). The Commissioner's findings of fact must be affirmed if they are based upon substantial evidence. Brown v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d 1233, 1235 (11th Cir. 1991); Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983) (holding substantial evidence is defined as “more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance” and consists of “such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”). In determining whether substantial evidence exists, a court must view the record as a whole, taking into account evidence favorable, as well as unfavorable, to the Commissioner's decision. Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986); Short v. Apfel, 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10163, *4 (S.D. Ala. June 14, 1999).

         V. Statutory and ...

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