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Parkinson v. Berryhill

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

February 7, 2019

JENNIFER JAYE PARKINSON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          GRAY M. BORDEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         On January 5, 2015, Plaintiff Jennifer Jaye Parkinson applied for a period of disability, supplemental security income, and disability insurance benefits under the Social Security Act (“the Act”) alleging a disability onset date of November 2, 2011. Doc. 14-2 at 61. Parkinson then requested and received a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on July 25, 2016. Doc. 14-2 at 61. On September 29, 2016, the ALJ denied Parkinson's claims. Doc. 14-2 at 58. Parkinson's request for review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council was denied on September 7, 2017. Doc. 14-2 at 2. As a result, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the “Commissioner”) as of September 7, 2017.

         The case is now before the court for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).[1] Based on the court's careful review of the parties' arguments, the record, and the relevant case law, the court concludes that the decision of the Commissioner is due to be AFFIRMED, as set forth below.

         I. NATURE OF THE CASE

         Parkinson seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's decision denying her application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits. United States District Courts may conduct limited review of such decisions to determine whether they comply with applicable law and are supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405. The court may affirm, reverse and remand with instructions, or reverse and render a judgment.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The court reviews a social security appeal to determine whether the Commissioner's decision “is supported by substantial evidence and based upon proper legal standards.” Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1439 (11th Cir. 1997). The court will reverse the Commissioner's decision if it is convinced that the decision was not supported by substantial evidence or that the proper legal standards were not applied. Carnes v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1215, 1218 (11th Cir. 1991). The court “may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the [Commissioner], ” but rather it “must defer to the Commissioner's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence.” Miles v. Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1997) (internal quotations and citations omitted). “Even if the evidence preponderates against the Secretary's factual findings, [the court] must affirm if the decision reached is supported by substantial evidence.” Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990). Moreover, reversal is not warranted even if the court itself would have reached a result contrary to that of the factfinder. See Edwards v. Sullivan, 937 F.2d 580, 584 n.3 (11th Cir. 1991).

         The substantial evidence standard is met “if a reasonable person would accept the evidence in the record as adequate to support the challenged conclusion.” Holladay v. Bowen, 848 F.2d 1206, 1208 (11th Cir. 1988) (quoting Boyd v. Heckler, 704 F.2d 1207, 1209 (11th Cir. 1983)). The requisite evidentiary showing has been described as “more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983). The court must scrutinize the entire record to determine the reasonableness of the decision reached and cannot “act as [an] automaton[] in reviewing the [Commissioner's] decision.” Hale v. Bowen, 831 F.2d 1007, 1010 (11th Cir. 1987). Thus, the court must consider evidence both favorable and unfavorable to the Commissioner's decision. Swindle v. Sullivan, 914 F.2d 222, 225 (11th Cir. 1990).

         The court will reverse the Commissioner's decision on plenary review if the decision applies incorrect law or fails to provide the court with sufficient reasoning to determine that the Commissioner properly applied the law. Keeton v. Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 21 F.3d 1064, 1066 (11th Cir. 1994). There is no presumption that the Commissioner's conclusions of law are valid. Id.

         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 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); 42 U.S.C. § 416(i). 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). Parkinson bears the burden of proving that she is disabled, and she is responsible for producing evidence to support her claim. See Ellison v. Barnhart, 355 F.3d 1272, 1276 (11th Cir. 2003).

         A determination of disability under the Social Security Act requires a five-step analysis. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). The Commissioner must determine in sequence:

(1) Is the claimant presently unable to engage in substantial gainful activity?
(2) Is the claimant's impairment(s) severe?
(3) Does the claimant's impairment(s) satisfy or medically equal one of the specific impairments set forth in 20 ...

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