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Stevenson v. Berryhill

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

March 6, 2019

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



         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c), plaintiff Joseph Li Gary Stevenson seeks judicial review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. The Commissioner denied Mr. Stevenson's claim for a period of disability and supplemental security income. After careful review, the Court reverses and remands the Commissioner's decision.


         Mr. Stevenson applied for a period of disability and supplemental security income on February 24, 2015. (Doc. 7-4, p. 29). Mr. Stevenson alleges that his disability began September 23, 2012. (Doc. 7-6, p. 2). The Commissioner initially denied Mr. Stevenson's claim on April 14, 2015. (Doc. 7-4, pp. 23; 17-28). Mr. Stevenson requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Doc. 7-5, pp. 12-14). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on March 14, 2017. (Doc. 7-3, pp. 12-28). On November 27, 2017, the Appeals Council declined Mr. Stevenson's request for review (Doc. 7-3, pp. 2-7), making the Commissioner's decision final for this Court's appellate review. See 42 U.S.C. § 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 he 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 Mr. Stevenson has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 24, 2015, the application date. (Doc. 7-3, p. 17).[1]The ALJ determined that Mr. Stevenson suffers from the severe impairment of paranoid schizophrenia. (Doc. 7-3, p. 17). Based on a review of the medical evidence, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Stevenson 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. 19).

         In light of Mr. Stevenson's impairment, the ALJ evaluated Mr. Stevenson's residual functional capacity. The ALJ determined that Mr. Stevenson has the RFC to perform:

a full range of work at all exertional levels but the following non-exertional limitations: no climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; no work around unprotected heights or hazardous machinery; limited to unskilled work with the ability to make simple work related decisions with few work place changes; can attend and concentrate for two-hour periods; work must be goal oriented, with no production paced or assembly line production requirement; must have no direct interaction with the general public; work must not require teamwork or coordination with others; and can work around coworkers, but must have no more than occasional interaction with coworkers.

(Doc. 7-3, p. 20).

         The ALJ found that Mr. Stevenson has no past relevant work. (Doc. 7-3, p. 22). Based on this RFC and relying on testimony from a vocational expert, the ALJ found that jobs exist in the national economy that Mr. Stevenson can perform, including a laundry worker, folder, and marker. (Doc. 7-3, pp. 23-24). Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Mr. Stevenson ...

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