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Eason v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

September 23, 2018

APRIL EASON, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION [1]

          JOHN H. ENGLAND, III UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff April Eason (“Eason”) 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”), partially granting her application for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits (“DIB”), and supplemental security income (“SSI”). (Doc. 1). Eason timely pursued and exhausted her administrative remedies. This case is therefore ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The undersigned has carefully considered the record and, for the reasons stated below, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

         I. Factual and Procedural History

         Eason filed an application for a period of disability and DIB on February 17, 2011, and protectively filed an application for SSI on May 10, 2013. (Tr. 157, 376-82, 404-09). Both applications alleged an onset date of September 1, 2010.[2] (Id.). On May 10, 2011, the Commissioner denied both claims, (tr. 145), and on June 8, 2011, Eason requested a hearing before an ALJ, (tr. 184-85). On March 6, 2013, the ALJ held a hearing, (tr. 82-144), and subsequently denied Eason's claim on June 28, 2013, (tr. 154-73). Eason sought review by the Appeals Council, which vacated and remanded the case on June 27, 2014 due to the ALJ's failure to proffer to Eason and her counsel a consultative examination report used in his decision. (Tr. 174-77). On remand, the ALJ held a second hearing on March 26, 2015. (Tr. 45-81). On July 14, 2015, the ALJ issued a partially favorable decision, finding Eason became disabled on May 1, 2014. (Tr. 18-44). Eason again sought review by the Appeals Council, but it denied her request for review on March 7, 2017. (Tr. 1-6). On that date, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. On May 9, 2017, Eason initiated this action. (Doc. 1).

         On the date the ALJ rendered his decision, Eason was fifty years old, with at least a high school education and previous work as a retail inspector, purchasing agent, and a receiving clerk. (Tr. 34, 69, 376).

         II. Standard of Review[3]

         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, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1422 (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 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 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 her entitlement for a period of disability, a claimant must be disabled as defined by the Social Security Act and the Regulations promulgated thereunder.[4] 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. ...


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