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Elkins v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner

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

July 13, 2018

TIMOTHY BRIAN ELKINS, Plaintiff,
v.
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, COMMISSIONER, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ANNEMARIE CARNEY AXON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Timothy Brian Elkins appeals the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. Based on the court's review of the administrative record and the parties' briefs, the court affirms the Commissioner's decision.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Mr. Elkins applied for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on February 18, 2014. (R. 19; 66). Mr. Elkins alleges that his disability began on September 27, 2012. (R. 19; 66). The Commissioner initially denied Mr. Elkins's claim on April 18, 2014. (R. 79). Mr. Elkins requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (R. 87). After holding a hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on February 9, 2016. (R. 27). On February 17, 2017, the Appeals Council declined Mr. Elkins's request for review (R. 1), making the Commissioner's decision final and ripe for the court's judicial review. See 42 U.S.C § 405(g).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The court's role in reviewing claims brought under the Social Security Act is a narrow one. The court “must determine whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence and based on proper legal standards.” Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “Under the substantial evidence standard, this court will affirm the ALJ's decision if there exists ‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Henry v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 802 F.3d 1264, 1267 (11th Cir. 2015) (quoting Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178). The court may not “decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, ” or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178 (internal quotations and citation omitted). The court must affirm “[e]ven if the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's findings.” Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158-59 (11th Cir.2004) (per curiam) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         Despite the deferential standard for review of claims, the court must “‘scrutinize the record as a whole to determine if the decision reached is reasonable and supported by substantial evidence.'” Henry, 802 F.3d at 1267 (quoting MacGregor v. Bowen, 786 F.2d 1050, 1053 (11th Cir. 1986)). Moreover, the court must reverse the Commissioner's decision if the ALJ does not apply the correct legal standards. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).

         III. ALJ'S DECISION

         To determine whether an individual is disabled, an ALJ follows a five-step sequential evaluation process. The ALJ considers:

(1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment or combination of impairments; (3) whether the impairment meets or equals the severity of the specified impairments in the Listing of Impairments; (4) based on a residual functional capacity (“RFC”) assessment, whether the claimant can perform any of his or her past relevant work despite the impairment; and (5) whether there are significant numbers of jobs in the national economy that the claimant can perform given the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience.

Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178.

         Here, the ALJ determined that Mr. Elkins has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 27, 2012, the alleged onset date. (R. 21). The ALJ found that Mr. Elkins has the following severe impairments: tenosynovitis and degenerative disc disease. (R. 21). The ALJ then concluded that Mr. Elkins does not suffer from an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (R. 23).

         After considering the evidence of record, the ALJ determined that Mr. Elkins has the RFC to perform:

light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except: occasionally lift 20 pounds and 10 pounds frequently; sit at least 6 hours during an 8hour workday; stand and walk at least 6 hours in an 8-hour workday; frequently lift overhead on the left[] and right sides; frequently handle on the right and left; frequently feel on the right and left; and frequently finger on the right and left.

(R. 23). Based on this RFC, the ALJ found that Mr. Elkins cannot perform his past relevant work as a seat assembler, machine tender, or hand packager. (R. 25).

         Relying on testimony from a vocational expert, the ALJ concluded that jobs exist in the national economy that Mr. Elkins can perform, including garment sorter, housekeeper, and cashier. (R. 26). Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Mr. Elkins has not been under a disability as defined in the Social Security Act, since September 27, 2012 through the date of the decision. (R. 27).

         IV. ...


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