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Hudson v. Social Security Administration

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

March 22, 2019

CHERRI EVON HUDSON, Plaintiff,
v.
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, COMMISSIONER, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ANNEMARIE CARNEY AXON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Cherrie Evon Hudson appeals the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her claim for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income benefits. Based on the court's review of the administrative record and the parties' briefs, the court WILL REVERSE AND REMAND the Commissioner's decision for further administrative proceedings.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On July 8, 2015, Ms. Hudson applied for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income benefits. (R. 358-59, 362- 63). She alleged that her disability began on December 17, 2012. (Id. at 358, 362). The Commissioner initially denied her application and she requested review by an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Id. at 234-37, 265). After holding a hearing (id. at 55-78), the ALJ issued an unfavorable opinion (id. at 37-48), which Ms. Hudson requested that the Appeals Council review (id. at 356). On May 25, 2017, the Appeals Council denied her request for review. (Id. at 1-4). The Commissioner's decision is now final and ripe for judicial review. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The court's role in reviewing claims brought under the Social Security Act is a narrow one. The court “must determine whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence and based on proper legal standards.” Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (quotation marks omitted). “Where the ALJ denies benefits and the Appeals Council denies review, [this court] review[s] the ALJ's decision as the Commissioner's final decision.” Henry v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 802 F.3d 1264, 1267 (11th Cir. 2015) (quotation marks and alteration omitted).

         “Under the substantial evidence standard, this court will affirm the ALJ's decision if there exists ‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Henry, 802 F.3d at 1267 (quoting Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178). The court may not “decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, ” or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178 (quotation marks omitted). The court must affirm “[e]ven if the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's findings.” Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158-59 (11th Cir.2004) (quotation marks omitted).

         Despite the deferential standard for review of claims, the court must “scrutinize the record as a whole to determine if the decision reached is reasonable and supported by substantial evidence.” Henry, 802 F.3d at 1267 (quoting MacGregor v. Bowen, 786 F.2d 1050, 1053 (11th Cir. 1986)). The court must reverse the Commissioner's decision if the ALJ does not apply the correct legal standards. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).

         III. ALJ'S DECISION

         To determine whether an individual 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.

         Here, the ALJ determined that Ms. Hudson had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged disability onset date of December 17, 2012. (R. 39). She found that Ms. Hudson' depression, anxiety, and degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine were severe impairments but that the swelling in her legs and feet, varicose veins, sleep disorder, and plantar fasciitis were not severe. (Id. at 39-40). The ALJ also found that although Ms. Hudson claimed she had knee pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder, those were not medically determinable impairments. (Id. at 40). The ALJ concluded that Ms. Hudson did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equalled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Id. at 42-43).

After considering the evidence, the ALJ determined that Ms. Hudson had the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), except the claimant can lift twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently, sit at least six hours in an eight-hour workday and stand and walk in combination at least six hours in an eight-hour workday. The claimant can bilaterally handle frequently. The claimant can occasionally climb ramps and stairs but never ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. The claimant can frequently balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. The claimant can do no work around unprotected heights and can have only occasional exposure to extreme cold and to vibrations. The claimant is limited to simple, routine tasks. ...

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