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Aldridge v. Berryhill

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

July 24, 2018

PATRICIA LYNN ALDRIDGE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Patricia Lynn Aldridge (“Ms. Aldridge”) brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Ms. Aldridge seeks a review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”), who denied her application for social security benefits. Ms. Aldridge exhausted the administrative remedies available before the Commissioner. This case is now ripe for judicial review under section 205(g) of the Social Security Act (the "Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         The Court carefully reviewed the record in this case and AFFIRMS the ALJ's decision.

         II. Relevant Background

         The alleged onset date is April 20, 2014. (Tr. 10). Ms. Aldridge suffers from numerous severe impairments, but the ALJ found that none rendered her disabled. (Id. at 12, 20). Ms. Aldridge filed an application for DIB and SSI on August 11, 2014. (Id. at 10). The Social Security Administration denied that application on October 28, 2014. (Id.). Administrative Law Judge Cynthia G. Weaver held a hearing on September 8, 2015. (Id. at 10). The ALJ issued her decision on October 15, 2015, which was unfavorable to Ms. Aldridge. (Id. at 21). In that opinion, the ALJ found that Ms. Aldridge did not meet the disability standard at Steps Three and Five. (Id. at 13, 20). Ms. Aldridge requested the Appeals Council review the claim. (Id. at 1-3). The Appeals Council refused. (Id.).

         Ms. Aldridge filed her Complaint in the Northern District of Alabama on March 20, 2017. (Doc. 1). She submitted her brief on November 16, 2017, and the Commissioner responded on January 17, 2018. (Docs. 13, 16). Ms. Aldridge never replied to the Commissioner. (See CM/ECF).

         III. Standards

         The court's review of the Commissioner's decision is narrowly circumscribed. The function of this court is to determine whether the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence and whether proper legal standards were applied. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971); Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002). This 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). This court will determine that the ALJ's opinion is supported by substantial evidence if it finds “such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. Substantial evidence is “more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Id. Factual findings that are supported by substantial evidence must be upheld by the court.

         The ALJ's legal conclusions, however, are reviewed 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, the ALJ's decision must be reversed. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).

         IV. Statutory and Regulatory Framework

         To qualify for disability benefits and establish his or her entitlement for a period of disability, a claimant must be disabled as defined by the Social Security Act and the Regulations promulgated thereunder.[1] The Regulations define “disabled” as “the inability to do 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 twelve (12) months.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a). To establish an entitlement to disability benefits, a claimant must provide evidence about a “physical or mental impairment” that “must result from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which can be shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1508.

         The Regulations provide a five-step process for determining whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i-v). The Commissioner must determine in sequence:

(1) whether the claimant is currently employed;
(2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment;
(3) whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals an impairment listed by the [Commissioner];
(4) whether the claimant can perform his or her past work; and
(5) whether the claimant is capable of performing any work in the national economy.

Pope v. Shalala, 998 F.2d 473, 477 (7th Cir. 1993) (citing to formerly applicable C.F.R. section), overruled on other grounds by Johnson v. Apfel, 189 F.3d 561, 562-63 (7th Cir. 1999); accord McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir. 1986). The sequential analysis goes as follows:

Once the claimant has satisfied steps One and Two, she will automatically be found disabled if she suffers from a listed impairment. If the claimant does not have a listed impairment but cannot perform her work, the burden shifts to the [Commissioner] to show that the claimant can perform some other job.

Pope, 998 F.2d at 477; accord Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1559 (11th Cir. 1995).

         The Commissioner must further show that such work exists in the national economy in significant numbers. Id.

         V. Finding of the Administrative Law Judge After considering the record, the ALJ made the following findings:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through the date of this decision.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 20, 2014, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease, obesity, an anxiety disorder, a depressive disorder, and a bipolar disorder ...

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