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Ford v. Berryhill

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

June 29, 2018

ANNETTE FORD, Plaintiff,
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Annette Ford 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 her Disability Income Benefits (“DIB”). (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 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 affirmed.


         Plaintiff filed her application for DIB benefits on August 8, 2014, alleging she became disabled beginning April 19, 2012. It was initially denied by an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). The Appeals Council (“AC”) denied Plaintiff's request for review. (R. 1).[2] The matter is ripe for judicial review.

         II. FACTS

         Plaintiff previously applied for DIB in May 2010, but an ALJ denied her application on May 18, 2012. (R. 67-96). The AC denied her request for review, and she did not seek judicial review. (R. 100-03). That decision is final and binding. (R. 18). Accordingly, the proper onset date for purposes of review is May 19, 2012.[3] (Id.)

         Plaintiff was 55 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision that is under review. (R. 36-37). She previously worked as a machine assembler and house supervisor. (R. 36, 61). She alleges disability due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”), fibromyalgia, depression, anxiety, migraine headaches, “merolgie, ” and panic attacks. (R. 212).

         Following Plaintiff's hearing, the ALJ found that she last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on December 31, 2014. (R. 20). Plaintiff had the medically determinable severe impairments of osteoarthritis, meralgia peresthetica, [4] COPD, mild degenerative disc disease, fibromyalgia, anxiety and depression. (R. 21). The ALJ also found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled the severity of a listed impairment. (Id.) He further found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform medium work with limitations. (R. 24). He determined that Plaintiff did not have the ability to perform her past relevant work. (R. 36). He further found that based on Plaintiff's age, education, work experience and RFC, and the testimony of a vocational expert (“VE”), Plaintiff could work as an assembler, laundry worker, and hand packer. (R. 36-37). The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled. (R. 37).


         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); Mitchell v. Comm'r Soc. Sec., 771 F.3d 780, 782 (11th Cir. 2015; 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). The court must affirm the ALJ's decision if substantial evidence supports it, even if other evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's findings. See Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004) (quoting Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir.1990)).


         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). 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).[5] The plaintiff bears the burden of proving that she was disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211 (11th Cir. 2005); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). 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 asserts that the ALJ erred in that he failed to properly assess her limitations and complaints of pain. (Doc. 11 at 4-11). She argues that the ALJ (1) failed to properly consider the medical evidence, (2) improperly relied on her daily activities, and (3) failed to find her mental limitations disabling. (Id.) The Commissioner responds that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's evaluation of Plaintiff's subjective statements. (Doc. 12 at 4-12). Each area will be addressed below.

         A. ...

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