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Harris v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division

February 27, 2019

NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Crystal R. Harris (hereinafter “Plaintiff”), seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her claim for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381, et seq. On October 12, 2018, the parties consented to have the undersigned conduct any and all proceedings in this case. (Doc. 23). Thus, the action was referred to the undersigned to conduct all proceedings and order the entry of judgment in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73. Upon careful consideration of the administrative record and the memoranda of the parties, it is hereby ORDERED that the decision of the Commissioner be AFFIRMED.

         I. Procedural History [1]

         Plaintiff filed her application for benefits on October 21, 2014, alleging disability beginning May 23, 2009, based on hidradenitis suppurativa (sometimes referred to as “HS”), depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, and asthma. (Doc. 12 at 191, 207, 211). Plaintiff's application was denied and upon timely request, she was granted an administrative hearing before Administrative Law Judge Robert Waller (hereinafter “ALJ”) on July 27, 2016. (Id. at 53). Plaintiff attended the hearing with her attorney and provided testimony related to her claims. (Id. at 58). A vocational expert (“VE”) also appeared at the hearing and provided testimony. (Id. at 81). On October 13, 2016, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding that Plaintiff is not disabled. (Id. at 24). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on August 30, 2017. (Id. at 5). Therefore, the ALJ's decision dated October 13, 2016, became the final decision of the Commissioner.

         Having exhausted her administrative remedies, Plaintiff timely filed the present civil action. (Doc. 1). Oral argument was conducted on November 19, 2018. (Doc. 30). This case is now ripe for judicial review and is properly before this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).

         II. Issue on Appeal

         1. Whether the ALJ reversibly erred in failing to find that Plaintiff's impairments met Listing 8.06?

         III. Factual Background

         Plaintiff was born on November 25, 1981, and was thirty-four years of age at the time of her administrative hearing on July 27, 2016. (Doc. 12 at 53, 207). Plaintiff quit school in the sixth grade because of problems with hidradenitis suppurativa, [2] and she did not obtain her GED. (Id. at 59).

         Plaintiff last worked in 2015 as a cleaner at a bank. (Id. at 60). Prior to that she worked retail and as a stocker in 2009 for JC Penney, in 2006 for Walmart, and in 2003 for Winn-Dixie. (Id. at 59, 223).

         Plaintiff testified that she can no longer work because she is having problems with her legs and pain from flareups from HS. (Id. at 61). When she has a flareup, she is unable to bend, stand, or walk for very long because of drainage and pain and sometimes must stay in the bed for several days. (Id. at 65-66, 72). She takes medication that helps temporarily (antibiotic creams, antibiotics, steroids, and pain medication), but it is an incurable, chronic condition that recurs. (Id. at 66, 68-69, 79).

         IV. Standard of Review

          In reviewing claims brought under the Act, this Court's role is a limited one. The Court's review is limited to determining 1) whether the decision of the Secretary is supported by substantial evidence and 2) whether the correct legal standards were applied.[3]Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990). A court may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Sewell v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 1065, 1067 (11th Cir. 1986). The Commissioner's findings of fact must be affirmed if they are based upon substantial evidence. Brown v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d 1233, 1235 (11th Cir. 1991); Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983) (holding substantial evidence is defined as “more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance” and consists of “such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”). In determining whether substantial evidence exists, a court must view the record as a whole, taking into account evidence favorable, as well as unfavorable, to the Commissioner's decision. Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986); Short v. Apfel, 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10163, *4 (S.D. Ala. June 14, 1999).

         V. Statutory and Regulatory Framework

         An individual who applies for Social Security disability benefits must prove his or her disability. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1512, 416.912. Disability is defined as 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); see also 20 C.F.R. ยงยง 404.1505(a), 416.905(a). The Social Security ...

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