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Deloney v. Berryhill

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

July 16, 2018

GLORY JEAN DELONEY, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner for Operations of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          T. MICHAEL PUTNAM, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. Introduction

         The plaintiff, Glory Jean Deloney, appeals from the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying her application for a period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). Deloney timely pursued and exhausted her administrative remedies and the decision of the Commissioner is ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). The parties have consented to the exercise of dispositive jurisdiction by a United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Doc. 12).

         Deloney was 54 years old on the date of the ALJ's opinion. (Tr. at 27, 59). Her past work experiences include employment as a dye automation operator and crew leader. (Tr. at 39-40). Deloney claims that she became disabled on October 29, 2013, due to reflex sympathetic dystrophy[1] of the lower right limb and GERD. (Tr. at 22). However, Deloney amended her alleged onset date to April 1, 2015. (Tr. at 20, 164).

         When evaluating the disability of individuals over the age of eighteen, the regulations prescribe a five-step sequential evaluation process. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; see also Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001). The first step requires a determination of whether the claimant is “doing substantial gainful activity.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). If she is, the claimant is not disabled and the evaluation stops. Id. If she is not, the Commissioner next considers the effect of all of the physical and mental impairments combined. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). These impairments must be severe and must meet the durational requirements before a claimant will be found to be disabled. Id. The decision depends on the medical evidence in the record. See Hart v. Finch, 440 F.2d 1340, 1341 (5th Cir. 1971). If the claimant's impairments are not severe, the analysis stops. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). Otherwise, the analysis continues to step three, which is a determination of whether the claimant's impairments meet or equal the severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the claimant's impairments fall within this category, she will be found disabled without further consideration. Id. If they do not, a determination of the claimant's residual functional capacity will be made and the analysis proceeds to the fourth step. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). Residual functional capacity (“RFC”) is an assessment, based on all relevant evidence, of a claimant's remaining ability to do work despite her impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 404.945(a)(1).

         The fourth step requires a determination of whether the claimant's impairments prevent her from returning to past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant can still do her past relevant work, the claimant is not disabled and the evaluation stops. Id. If the claimant cannot do past relevant work, then the analysis proceeds to the fifth step. Id. Step five requires the court to consider the claimant's RFC, as well as the claimant's age, education, and past work experience, in order to determine if she can do other work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v). If the claimant can do other work, the claimant is not disabled. Id. The burden is on the Commissioner to demonstrate that other jobs exist which the claimant can perform; and, once that burden is met, the claimant must prove her inability to perform those jobs in order to be found disabled. Jones v. Apfel, 190 F.3d 1224, 1228 (11th Cir. 1999).

         Applying the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that Deloney meets the insurability and duration requirements for a period of disability and DIB and was insured through December 31, 2019. (Tr. at 22). She further determined that Deloney has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the amended alleged onset of her disability of April 1, 2015. Id. According to the ALJ, the plaintiff has the following impairments that are considered “severe” based on the requirements set forth in the regulations: reflex sympathetic dystrophy of the lower right limb. Id. However, she found that this impairment neither meets nor medically equals any of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. at 23). The ALJ did not find Deloney's allegations of pain to be entirely credible, and she determined that Deloney has the following residual functional capacity:

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except no climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds; occasionally climb ramps/stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl; avoid concentrated exposure to temperature extremes; avoid all exposure to unprotected heights and moving machinery.

(Tr. at 23). According to the ALJ, Deloney “is capable of performing past relevant work as a dye automation operator.”[2] (Tr. at 26). The ALJ concluded her findings by stating that Deloney “has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from April 1, 2015, through the date of this decision.” (Tr. at 27).

         II. Standard of Review

         This court's role in reviewing claims brought under the Social Security Act is a narrow one. The scope of its review is limited to determining (1) whether there is substantial evidence in the record as a whole to support the findings of the Commissioner, and (2) whether the correct legal standards were applied. See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390, 401 (1971); Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002). The court approaches the factual findings of the Commissioner with deference, but applies close scrutiny to the legal conclusions. See Miles v. Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996). “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Mitchell v. Commissioner, Soc. Sec. Admin., 771 F.3d 780, 782 (11th Cir. 2014). The court may not decide facts, weigh evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Miles, 84 F.3d at 1400. “The substantial evidence standard permits administrative decision makers to act with considerable latitude, and ‘the possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does not prevent an administrative agency's finding from being supported by substantial evidence.'” Parker v. Bowen, 793 F.2d 1177, 1181 (11th Cir. 1986) (Gibson, J., dissenting) (quoting Consolo v. Federal Mar. Comm'n, 383 U.S. 607, 620 (1966)). Indeed, even if this court finds that the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's decision, the court must affirm if the decision is supported by substantial evidence. Miles, 84 F.3d at 1400. No. decision is automatic, however, for “despite this deferential standard [for review of claims] it is imperative that the court scrutinize the record in its entirety to determine the reasonableness of the decision reached.” Bridges v. Bowen, 815 F.2d 622, 624 (11th Cir. 1987). Moreover, failure to apply the correct legal standards is grounds for reversal. See Bowen v. Heckler, 748 F.2d 629, 635 (11th Cir. 1984).

         III. Discussion

         The plaintiff argues that the ALJ's decision that she can perform past relevant work is not supported by substantial evidence. Specifically, the plaintiff contends that that ALJ erroneously concluded that the plaintiff's subjective complaints of pain were not entirely credible in contravention of the pain standard.

         The Eleventh Circuit established a pain standard to direct ALJs in evaluating claimant's subjective allegations of disabling pain. Subjective testimony of pain and other symptoms may establish the presence of a disabling impairment if it is supported by medical evidence. See Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1561 (11th Cir. 1995). To establish disability based upon pain and other subjective symptoms, “[t]he pain standard requires (1) evidence of an underlying medical condition and either (2) objective medical evidence that confirms the severity of the alleged pain arising from that condition or (3) that the objectively determined medical condition is of such a severity that it can be reasonably expected to give rise to the alleged ...


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