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Bouler v. Berryhill

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

June 28, 2018

BETTY BOULER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          SONJA F. BIVINS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Betty Bouler (hereinafter “Plaintiff”), seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her claim for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381, et seq. On May 10, 2018, the parties consented to have the undersigned conduct any and all proceedings in this case. (Doc. 25). 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 April 25, 2014. (Doc. 11 at 238). Plaintiff alleges that she has been disabled since June 1, 2009, due to back problems/bad discs, swollen feet, numbness in hands, pain, high blood pressure, skin disease, nerves, depression, and problems with left eye. (Id. at 251, 255).

         Plaintiff's application was denied and upon timely request, she was granted an administrative hearing before Administrative Law Judge Paul Johnson (hereinafter “ALJ”) on July 28, 2016.[2] (Id. at 48). Plaintiff attended the hearing with her counsel and provided testimony related to her claims. (Id. at 55). A vocational expert (“VE”) also appeared at the hearing and provided testimony. (Id. at 72). On September 10, 2016, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding that Plaintiff is not disabled. (Id. at 14). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on July 18, 2017. (Id. at 5). Therefore, the ALJ's decision dated September 10, 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. 24). 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 substantial evidence supports the assignment of little weight to the opinions of Plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Huey Kidd, D.O., and the opinions of examining psychiatrist, Dr. David Hodo, M.D.?
2. Whether the ALJ erred in considering evidence that is not in the record?

         III. Factual Background

         Plaintiff was born on February 4, 1967, and was forty-nine years of age at the time of her administrative hearing on July 28, 2016. (Doc. 11 at 48, 251). Plaintiff completed the tenth grade in school and one semester of eleventh grade. While in the tenth and eleventh grades, Plaintiff was assigned to special education classes. (Id. at 66, 292).

         Plaintiff last worked in 2009 for two months as a packer on a poultry farm. (Id. at 55, 256). Prior to that, she had no past relevant work. (Id. at 56).

         At her hearing, Plaintiff testified that she can no longer work due to depression after the death of her son in 2014. (Id. at 56-57, 60, 68). Plaintiff further testified that she has problems with carpal tunnel syndrome in her left wrist, gout in her feet, diabetes, high blood pressure, low back pain, stomach pain, trouble sleeping, and glaucoma.[3] (Id. at 60-62, 65-68). She takes oral medication for diabetes, as well as medication to help her sleep. She also uses eye drops for glaucoma. (Id. at 60-62, 65, 68, 71). Some of Plaintiff's medications make her drowsy. (Id. at 64). At the administrative hearing, Plaintiff reported that she was scheduled for gall bladder surgery. (Id. at 70).

         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.[4]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 Regulatory Framework

         An individual who applies for Social Security disability benefits must prove his or her disability. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1512, 416.912. Disability is defined as 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); see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a), 416.905(a). The Social Security regulations provide a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining if a claimant has proven his disability. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.

         The claimant must first prove that he or she has not engaged in substantial gainful activity. The second step requires the claimant to prove that he or she has a severe impairment or combination of impairments. If, at the third step, the claimant proves that the impairment or combination of impairments meets or equals a listed impairment, then the claimant is automatically found disabled regardless of age, education, or work experience. If the claimant cannot prevail at the third step, he or she must proceed to the fourth step where the claimant must prove an inability to perform their past relevant work. Jones v. Bowen, 810 F.2d 1001, 1005 (11th Cir. 1986). At the fourth step, the ALJ must make an assessment of the claimant's RFC. See Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1238 (llth Cir. ...


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