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Kinsley v. Berryhill

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

September 14, 2018

ALICE KINSLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c), plaintiff Alice Kinsley seeks judicial review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. The Commissioner denied Ms. Kinsley's claims for disability insurance benefits and for supplemental security income. After careful review, the Court reverses the Commissioner's decision.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Ms. Kinsley applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income on June 9, 2015. (Doc. 7-3, p. 14; Doc. 7-5, pp. 30-31). Ms. Kinsley alleges that her disability began November 20, 2014. (Doc. 7-3, p. 14; Doc. 7-7, pp. 2-9). The Commissioner initially denied Ms. Kinsley's claims on September 23, 2015, and Ms. Kinsley requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Doc. 7-3, p. 14; Doc. 7-6, pp. 8-14). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on June 15, 2016. (Doc. 7-3, pp. 11-23). On May 22, 2017, the Appeals Council declined Ms. Kinsley's request for review (Doc. 7-3, p. 2), making the Commissioner's decision final and a proper candidate for this Court's judicial review. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The scope of review in this matter is limited. “When, as in this case, the ALJ denies benefits and the Appeals Council denies review, ” the Court “review[s] the ALJ's ‘factual findings with deference' and [his] ‘legal conclusions with close scrutiny.'” Riggs v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 522 Fed.Appx. 509, 510-11 (11th Cir. 2013) (quoting Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001)).

         The Court must determine whether there is substantial evidence in the record to support the ALJ's factual findings. “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004). In evaluating the administrative record, the Court may not “decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, ” or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (internal quotations and citation omitted). If substantial evidence supports the ALJ's factual findings, then the Court “must affirm even if the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's findings.” Costigan v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 603 Fed.Appx. 783, 786 (11th Cir. 2015) (citing Crawford, 363 F.3d at 1158).

         With respect to the ALJ's legal conclusions, the Court must determine whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards. If the Court finds an error in the ALJ's application of the law, or if the Court finds that the ALJ failed to provide sufficient reasoning to demonstrate that the ALJ conducted a proper legal analysis, then the Court must reverse the ALJ's decision. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).

         III. SUMMARY OF THE ALJ'S DECISION

         To determine whether a claimant has proven that she 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.

         In this case, the ALJ found that Ms. Kinsley has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 20, 2014, the alleged onset date. (Doc. 7-3, p. 16). The ALJ determined that Ms. Kinsley suffers from the severe impairment of degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine. (Doc. 7-3, p. 16). The ALJ also determined that Ms. Kinsley has the following non-severe impairments: Crohn's disease, COPD, and anxiety. (Doc. 7-3, pp. 16-17). Based on a review of the medical evidence, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Kinsley does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of any of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Doc. 7-3, p. 18).

         In light of Ms. Kinsley's impairments, the ALJ evaluated Ms. Kinsley's residual functional capacity. The ALJ determined that Ms. Kinsley has the RFC to perform:

less than the full range of light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except she is limited to occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling and climbing ramps and stairs. She is limited to occupations which do not require climbing ropes, ladders or scaffolds. She must be afforded the option to sit and stand during the workday, one to two minutes every hour or so at the workstation. She should avoid exposure to dangerous, moving, unguarded machinery and exposure to unprotected heights.

(Doc. 7-3, p. 19).

         Based on this RFC, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Kinsley is able to perform her past relevant work as a cashier. (Doc. 7-3, p. 23). Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Ms. Kinsley has not been under a disability ...


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