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Cannon v. Berryhill

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

March 13, 2019

JAMES B. CANNON, on behalf of TINA STANFIELD CANNON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER [1]

          SUSAN RUSS WALKER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff James B. Cannon, on behalf of Tina Stanfield Cannon, commenced this action on August 11, 2017, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner partially denying Tina Stanfield Cannon's (“the claimant's”) applications for supplemental security income benefits (“SSI”), and disability insurance benefits.[2] See Doc. 1; R. 22. On September 23, 2014, the claimant protectively filed applications for disability and SSI benefits, alleging disability as of March 16, 2014, due to lupus, high blood pressure, staph infection, ulcer, and heart disease. See Doc. 13 at 1; R. 11, 188-201, 222. On October 6, 2016, Administrative Law Judge Amy H. Naylor (“the ALJ”) issued a partially adverse decision after holding a hearing on the claimant's applications.[3] See R. 11-22. The Appeals Council denied claimant's request for review, and the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. See R. 1-5.

         In the instant appeal, the plaintiff asks the court to reverse the Commissioner's partially adverse decision and award benefits for the period from March 15, 2014 through September 29, 2015 or, in the alternative, to remand this cause to the Commissioner under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See Docs. 1 at 3; 13 at 11. This case is ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). The parties have consented to entry of final judgment by the Magistrate Judge. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); see also Docs. 10, 11. For the reasons stated herein, and based upon its review of the record, the court finds that the Commissioner's decision is due to be remanded for additional proceedings.

         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. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971); Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002). 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). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. It is “more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Id. A reviewing court “may not decide facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its] decision for that of the [Commissioner].” Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005). In other words, this court is prohibited from reviewing the Commissioner's findings of fact de novo, even where a preponderance of the evidence supports alternative conclusions.

         While the court must uphold factual findings that are supported by substantial evidence, it reviews the ALJ's legal conclusions 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). 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 that the proper legal analysis has been conducted, it must reverse the ALJ's decision. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).

         To qualify for SSI and disability benefits, a claimant must be disabled as defined by the Social Security Act and the Regulations promulgated thereunder. The Regulations define “disabled” as “the inability to do 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 (12) months.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a), 416.905(a). To establish an entitlement to disability benefits, a claimant must provide evidence about a “physical or mental impairment” that “must result from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which can be shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1508, 416.908.

         The Regulations provide a five-step process for determining whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i-v), 416.920(a)(4)(i-v). The Commissioner must determine in sequence:

(1) whether the claimant is currently employed;
(2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment;
(3) whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals an impairment listed by the Commissioner;
(4) whether the claimant can perform his or her past work; and
(5) whether the claimant is capable of performing any work in the national economy.

Pope v. Shalala, 998 F.2d 473, 477 (7th Cir. 1993) (citing to a formerly applicable C.F.R. section), overruled on other grounds by Johnson v. Apfel, 189 F.3d 561, 562-63 (7th Cir.1999); accord McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir. 1986). The sequential analysis goes as follows:

Once the claimant has satisfied steps One and Two, she will automatically be found disabled if she suffers from a listed impairment. If the claimant does not have a listed impairment but cannot perform her work, the burden shifts to the [Commissioner] to show that the claimant can perform some other job.

Pope, 998 F.2d at 477; accord Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1559 (11th Cir. 1995). The Commissioner must further show that such work exists in the national economy in significant numbers. Id.

         ADMINISTRATIVE HEARING

         At the hearing before the ALJ held on April 28, 2016, the claimant was 50 years old. R. 44. She testified that her condition had worsened since she quit working in the first quarter of 2014. R. 46. She constantly had cardiac issues, but they got worse in June of that year when she had to be rushed to the emergency room. R. 47.

         At the time of the hearing, claimant lived only with her husband; her daughter and son had moved out. R. 47. The ALJ questioned the claimant about notations in medical records concerning her being a primary caregiver for her grandchildren. Although she used to watch the grandchildren if her daughter had to go out on occasion, she had not been driving them for quite a while. The claimant quit driving six to eight months prior to the hearing because she got dizzy and saw spots. R. 48. Her husband ...


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