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Bailey v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

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

September 17, 2018




         Plaintiff Roger Dale Bailey (“Bailey”) 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). Bailey 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

         On December 28, 2013, Bailey protectively filed a Title II application for a period of disability and DIB, alleging he became unable to work beginning August 22, 2013. (Tr. 164-65). The claim was denied initially on February 28, 2014. (Tr. 105). Thereafter, Bailey filed a written request for hearing on March 31, 2014. (Tr. 114-15). On August 11, 2015, Bailey appeared from Gadsden, Alabama via video at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) in Birmingham, Alabama. (Tr. 45-89). After the hearing, the ALJ denied Bailey's claim on December 4, 2015. (Tr. 40). Bailey sought review by the Appeals Council, but it declined his request on February 8, 2017. (Tr. 1-7). On that date, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. On April 12, 2017, Bailey initiated this action. (See doc. 1).

         Bailey was forty-nine years old on the alleged disability onset date. (Tr. 39). Bailey has at least a high school education and previously worked as a Press Operator, Machinist, Welder/Fitter, Coil Assembler, and Construction Equipment Mechanic Helper. (Tr. 38-39).

         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 Bailey meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through March 31, 2019, and that Bailey had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 22, 2013, the alleged onset date. (Tr. 30). At Step Two, the ALJ found Bailey has the following severe impairments: cirrhosis of the liver with ascites, hepatic encephalopathy, and obesity. (Id.). At Step Three, the ALJ found Bailey 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. 35).

         Before proceeding to Step Four, the ALJ determined Bailey'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 Bailey had the RFC to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b), with the following non-exertional limitations: He can lift and/or carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; can stand and/or walk six hours in an eight-hour day with a ten minute break on the second, fourth, and sixth hours; can sit eight hours in an eight-hour day with a ten minute break on the second, fourth, and sixth hours; can never climb a ladder, rope, or scaffolding; can occasionally climb ramps and stairs; can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; and can never work around hazardous machinery, at unprotected heights, or driving commercial vehicles. (Tr. 35-38).

         At Step Four, the ALJ determined Bailey is unable to perform any past relevant work. (Tr. 38-39). At Step Five, the ALJ determined, based on Bailey's age, education, work experience, and RFC, jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy Bailey could perform. (Tr. 39-40). Therefore, the ALJ determined Bailey had not been under a disability and denied Bailey's claim. (Tr. 40).

         V. Analysis

         Although the court may only reverse a finding of the Commissioner if it is not supported by substantial evidence or because improper legal standards were applied, “[t]his does not relieve the court of its responsibility to scrutinize the record in its entirety to ascertain whether substantial evidence supports each essential administrative finding.” Walden v. Schweiker, 672 F.2d 835, 838 (11th Cir. 1982) (citing Strickland v. Harris, 615 F.2d 1103, 1106 (5th Cir. 1980)). The court, however, “abstains from reweighing the evidence or substituting its own judgment for that of the [Commissioner].” Id. (citation omitted).

         Bailey alleges the following errors:

1. The ALJ failed to evaluate Bailey pursuant to Listing 5.05 Chronic Liver Disease. Additionally, medical information should have been requested if there was doubt as to the application of Listing 5.05.
2. The ALJ's decision is not based on substantial evidence, especially when records submitted to the Appeals Council are considered.
3. The ALJ failed to consider all of Bailey's severe impairments.
4. The RFC findings is not supported by substantial evidence, conclusory, and ...

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