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Burford v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

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

September 11, 2018

DAVID WADE BURFORD, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION [1]

          JOHN H. ENGLAND, III UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff David Wade Burford (“Burford”) seeks review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), § 205(g) of the Social Security Act, of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”), denying his application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). (Doc. 1). Burford timely pursued and exhausted his administrative remedies. This case is therefore ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). The undersigned has carefully considered the record and, for the reasons stated below, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

         I. Factual and Procedural History

         Burford filed his application for a period of disability and DIB October 4, 2013, alleging he became unable to work beginning that day. (Tr. 23, 151). After the Agency initially denied his application, Burford requested a hearing where he appeared on March 15, 2015. (Tr. 46-70). After the hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) denied Burford's claim on December 4, 2015. (Tr. 20-43). Burford sought review by the Appeals Council, but it declined his request on October 26, 2016. (Tr. 1-6). On that date, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. On December 27, 2016, Burford initiated this action. (See doc. 1).

         Burford was thirty-three-years-old on the alleged disability onset date (October 4, 2013) and has a high school education. (Tr. 38). Burford reported he previously worked as a general cleaner, retail stocker, caregiver, industrial cleaner, and carpet cleaner. (Tr. 65, 186, 220). After the alleged onset date, Burford continued to work part-time through the second quarter of 2015. (Tr. 160).

         II. Standard of Review[2]

         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). 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.

         This Court must uphold factual findings supported by substantial evidence. “Substantial evidence may even exist contrary to the findings of the ALJ, and [the reviewing court] may have taken a different view of it as a factfinder. Yet, if there is substantially supportive evidence, the findings cannot be overturned.” Barron v. Sullivan, 924 F.2d 227, 230 (11th Cir. 1991). However, the Court 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 the proper legal analysis has been conducted, it must reverse the ALJ's decision. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).

         III. 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.[3] 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 entitlement to disability benefits, a claimant must provide evidence of a “physical or mental impairment” which “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 the 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). “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 such work exists in the national economy in significant numbers. Id.

         IV. Findings of the Administrative Law Judge

         After consideration of the entire record and application of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ made the following findings:

At Step One, the ALJ found Burford meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2019, and that Burford had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date of October 4, 2013. (Tr. 25). At Step Two, the ALJ found Burford has the following severe impairments: major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, borderline intellectual functioning, adjustment disorder, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine status post discectomy, DiGeorge Syndrome, and obesity. (Id.). At Step Three, the ALJ found Burford did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 26-29).

         Before proceeding to Step Four, the ALJ determined Burford's residual functioning capacity (“RFC”), which is the most a claimant can do despite his impairments. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1). The ALJ determined that Burford had the RFC to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a), except he can only occasionally climb ramps or stairs, and ladders, ropes or scaffolds. (Tr. 29). The ALJ further limited Burford to occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling and to no more than simple, unskilled work, requiring understanding and carrying out of no more than simple instructions, with occasional decision-making and changes. (Id.).

         At Step Four, the ALJ determined Burford is unable to perform any past relevant work. (Tr. 37). At Step Five, the ALJ determined, based on Burford's age, education, work experience, and RFC, jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy Burford could perform. (Tr. 38-39). Therefore, ...


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