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Jemison v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

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

August 22, 2018




         Plaintiff Misty Ann Jemison 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 insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”) benefits. (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). (Doc. 9). Upon review of the record and the relevant law, the undersigned finds that the Commissioner's decision is due to be affirmed.


         Plaintiff first filed for DIB on July 30, 2009, alleging disability since June 15, 2009. She also filed for SSI on August 17, 2009. In a decision dated December 21, 2010, an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) found Plaintiff not disabled. (R. 1155).[2] The Appeals Council (“AC”) reviewed this decision and found that the ALJ failed to adequately address certain opinion evidence and Plaintiff's mental residual functional capacity and vacated and remanded the decision on May 31, 2011. (Id.). On September 14, 2012, the previous ALJ found again that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Id.). The AC denied Plaintiff's request for review on May 20, 2014. (Id.). Plaintiff appealed to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, Northern Division and on February 10, 2015, that Court found that the ALJ failed to fully develop the record regarding Plaintiff's impairments, failed to consider Plaintiff's inability to afford medical treatment, and failed to adequately resolve conflicting reports of the physicians regarding the need for medications. (R. 1155-56). The Court reversed the hearing decision and remanded the case to the Commissioner. (Id.). On May 31, 2017, another ALJ decided for a third time that Plaintiff is not disabled. (R. 1198). The AC denied Plaintiff's request for review on July 31, 2017. (Doc. 1 at 1).

         II. FACTS

         Plaintiff was 41 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision that is under review. (R. 1163). She has completed high school and she has taken three or four college courses. (Id.) She previously worked as a clerk and bookkeeper. (R. 1196). She alleges disability due to various medical issues including neck and back pain, headaches, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and depression. (R. 354).

         Following Plaintiff's administrative hearing, the ALJ found that she had the medically determinable severe impairments of mild osteoarthritis with disc bulge of the cervical spine; mild multi-level degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; obesity; bipolar disorder; personality disorder; and anxiety/panic disorder/obsessive compulsive disorder. (R. 1158). She also found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled the severity of a listed impairment. (R. 1159). She further found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work with limitations. (R. 1162). She determined that Plaintiff could not perform her past relevant work but could perform the requirements of representative occupations such as a garment sorter, folder, or small parts assembler. (R. 1197). The ALJ ultimately concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Id.).


         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. § 1382c(a)(3)(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. § 1382c(a)(3)(D).

         Determination of disability under the Social Security Act requires a five step analysis. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). 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).[3] The claimant 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), 416.920(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 she (1) failed to pose a complete hypothetical question to the vocational expert (“VE”) and (2) failed to properly credit (a) the side effects of Plaintiff's prescribed medication upon her ability to work and (b) Dr. Nicholas Pantaleone's opinion regarding the same. (Doc. 10 at 4-5). More specifically, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to include all of Plaintiff's limitations in the hypothetical question and did not provide adequate rationale with respect to the effects and resulting limitations imposed by her medications. (Id. at 11, 13). The Commissioner argues that the ALJ properly evaluated Plaintiff's ...

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