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Tisdale v. Commissoner, United States Social Security Administration

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

April 29, 2019




         Plaintiff Kimberly Kay Tisdale appeals the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her claim for supplemental security income benefits. Based on the court's review of the administrative record and the parties' briefs, the court WILL AFFIRM the Commissioner's decision.


         On August 14, 2014, Ms. Tisdale applied for supplemental security income benefits, alleging that her disability began on April 1, 2004. (R. 118-23). The Commissioner initially denied her application and she requested review by an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Id. at 60-64, 71-73). After holding a hearing (id. at 25-45), the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision (id. at 10-19), which Ms. Tisdale requested that the Appeals Council review (id. at 116). On June 11, 2018, the Appeals Council denied her request for review. (R. at 1-5). The Commissioner's decision is now final and ripe for judicial review. See 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3).


         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).


         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. Tisdale had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 14, 2014, the date of her application. (R. at 12). He found that Ms. Tisdale had the severe impairments of borderline intellectual functioning and asthma, but that her gastroesophageal reflux disease and chronic sinusitis were non-severe. (Id.).

         The ALJ concluded that Ms. Tisdale 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. (R. at 12-14). The ALJ specifically found that Ms. Tisdale did not meet Listing 12.05(B), which requires that an applicant have either an extreme limitation of one, or a marked limitation of two of the following areas: (1) understanding, remembering, or applying information; (2) interacting with others; (3) concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace; and (4) adapting or managing oneself. (Id. at 13-14); 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App'x 1, ยง ...

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