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Wallace v. Berryhill

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

January 18, 2019

ARETHA WALLACE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the United States Social Security Administration Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ABDUL K. KALLON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Aretha Wallace brings this action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the final adverse decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”). The court finds that the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”) and the Appeals Council's decisions-which have become the decision of the Commissioner-are supported by substantial evidence. Therefore, the court affirms the decision denying benefits.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On November 17, 2015, Wallace filed applications for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (DIB) and for supplemental security income, alleging a disability beginning June 1, 2008. R. 199-210. After the denial of both applications, Wallace requested a hearing before an ALJ. R. 96-99, 35. At the hearing and upon Wallace's request, the ALJ amended her alleged onset date of disability to July 11, 2014. R. 45-46. The ALJ ultimately denied Wallace's claim, finding that Wallace was not disabled under the Act. R. 7-26. This became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council refused to grant review. R. 1-6. Wallace then filed this action pursuant to § 205(g) of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Doc. 1.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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. See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971); Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence falls somewhere between a scintilla and a preponderance of evidence, and 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) (citations omitted). The ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence if it is based on “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) (quoting Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1439 (11th Cir. 1997)).

         If supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's factual findings must be affirmed “[e]ven if the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's findings. . . .” Id. (quoting Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990)). The ALJ's legal conclusions, however, are reviewed 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). While the court acknowledges that judicial review of the ALJ's findings is limited in scope, the court also notes that review “does not yield automatic affirmance.” Lamb v. Bowen, 847 F.2d 698, 701 (11th Cir. 1988). 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, the ALJ's decision must be reversed. See Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).

         III. STATUTORY AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK

         To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must show the “inability to engage in 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 months[.]” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); 42 U.S.C. § 416(i)(I)(A). A physical or mental impairment is “an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrated by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(3). The disability must have begun on or before the date that the individual was last insured for disability benefits. 42 U.S.C. § 423 (a)(1)(A), (c)(1).

         Determination of disability under the Act requires a five step analysis. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)-(f). Specifically, the Commissioner must determine in sequence:

(1) whether the claimant is currently unemployed;
(2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment;
(3) whether the impairment meets or equals one listed by the Secretary;
(4) whether the claimant is unable to perform his or her past ...

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