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Morgan v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner

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

April 3, 2019




         Plaintiff Sonya Hall Morgan appeals the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. Based on the court's review of the administrative record and the parties' briefs, the court affirms the Commissioner's decision.


         Ms. Morgan applied for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on September 15, 2014. (R. 37; 118). Ms. Morgan alleges that her disability began on July 13, 2009. (R. 37; 118). The Commissioner initially denied Ms. Morgan's claim on October 23, 2014. (R. 121-127). Ms. Morgan requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (R. 128-130). After holding a hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on June 24, 2016. (R. 33-51). On May 3, 2017, the Appeals Council declined Ms. Morgan's request for review (R. 1), making the Commissioner's decision final and ripe for the court's judicial review. See 42 U.S.C § 405(g).


         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) (internal quotation marks and citation 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 v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 802 F.3d 1264, 1267 (11th Cir. 2015) (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 (internal quotations and citation 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) (per curiam) (internal quotation marks and citation 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)). Moreover, 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).


         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. Morgan has not engaged in substantial gainful activity from the alleged onset date of July 13, 2019 through her date last insured of December 31, 2014. (R. 40). The ALJ found that Ms. Morgan has the following severe impairments: fibromyalgia, lupus, osteoarthritis, migraine headaches, obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, and depression. (R. 40). The ALJ then concluded that Ms. Morgan does not suffer from an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (R. 44).

         After considering the evidence of record, the ALJ determined that through her date last insured, Ms. Morgan had the RFC to perform:

light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b), which allowed for primarily work around things; casual contact with the general public; occasional contact with co-workers and supervisors; occasional stooping and crouching; no climbing; no driving; no unrestricted heights; simple, ...

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