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Iheanacho v. Berryhill

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

September 28, 2018

NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



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


         Ms. Iheanacho applied for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income on May 14, 2015. (Doc. 7-6, pp. 2, 9). Ms. Iheanacho alleges that her disability began March 10, 2015. (Doc. 7-6, p. 9). The Commissioner initially denied Ms. Iheanacho's claims on July 24, 2015. (Doc. 7-5, p. 4). Ms. Iheanacho requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on August 20, 2015. (Doc. 7-5, p. 9). The hearing took place on March 7, 2016. (Doc. 7-3, p. 32). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on May 26, 2016. (Doc. 7-3, p. 9). On April 26, 2017, the Appeals Council declined Ms. Iheanacho's request for review (Doc. 7-3, p. 2), making the Commissioner's decision final for this Court's appellate review. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c).


         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).


         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. Iheanacho has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 10, 2015, the alleged onset date. (Doc. 7-3, p. 14). The ALJ determined that Ms. Iheanacho suffers from two severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine post laminectomy x2 and obesity. (Doc. 7-3, p. 14). The ALJ also determined Ms. Iheanacho has the following non-severe impairments: hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and hyperlipidemia. (Doc. 7-3, p. 15). Based on a review of the medical evidence, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Iheanacho 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. 15).

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

light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except that she can lift and/or carry up to 20 pounds occasionally and up to 10 pounds frequently; stand and/or walk, with normal breaks, for a total of 6 hours in an 8-hour workday; sit, with normal breaks, for a total of 6 hours in an 8-hour workday; push and/or pull same as for lift and/or carry; occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; frequently balance; occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl; should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, extreme heat, wetness and humidity; and should avoid all exposure to hazards, such as moving unguarded machinery and unprotected heights.

(Doc. 7-3, p. 16).

         Based on this RFC, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Iheanacho is able to perform her past relevant work as a cashier. (Doc. 7-3, p. 23). Relying on testimony from a vocational expert, the ALJ found that other jobs exist in the national economy that Ms. Iheanacho can perform, including garment folder, bagger, and marker. (Doc. 7-3, p. 25). Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Ms. Iheanacho has not been under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (Doc. 7-3, p. 25).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         Ms. Iheanacho argues that she is entitled to relief from the ALJ's decision because the ALJ failed to properly evaluate the credibility of Ms. Iheanacho's testimony regarding her pain. (Doc. 9 at 29). This Court agrees because the ALJ's negative credibility finding is not based on substantial evidence. Consequently, the Court finds that this case should be remanded for further development. See Carpenter v. Astrue, No. 8:10-CV-290-T-TGW, 2011 WL 767652, at *5 (M.D. Fla. Feb. 25, 2011) (“[I]f a credibility determination is inadequate, a remand to the agency for further consideration is the proper remedy.”).[1]

         The Eleventh Circuit pain standard “applies when a disability claimant attempts to establish disability through his own testimony of pain or other subjective symptoms.” Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005). “In order to establish a disability based on testimony of pain and other symptoms, the claimant must satisfy two parts of a three-part test showing: (1) evidence of an underlying medical condition; and (2) either (a) objective medical evidence confirming the severity of the alleged pain; or (b) that the objectively determined medical condition can reasonably be expected to give rise to the claimed pain.” Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1225 (11th Cir. 2002) (citing Holt v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d 1221, 1223 (11th Cir. 1991)). A claimant's testimony coupled with evidence that meets this standard “is itself sufficient to support a finding of disability.” Holt v. Sullivan, 921 ...

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