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Robert Clarence Warden v. Berryhill

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

May 9, 2019




         Plaintiff Robert Clarence Warden[1] appeals the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his 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 WILL AFFIRM the Commissioner's decision.


         On October 9, 2013, Mr. Warden applied for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging that his disability began on July 8, 2013. (R. at 292-300). The Commissioner initially denied his application and he requested review by an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Id. at 184, 186-90). After holding a hearing (id. at 26-64), the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision (id. at 163-79), which the Appeals Council reversed and remanded with instructions for the ALJ to consider the opinion of a treating physician (id. at 182-873). On remand, the ALJ held another hearing (R. at 65-110), then issued another unfavorable decision (id. at 10-25). The Appeals Council denied Mr. Warden's request for review of that decision. (Id. at 1-6). The Commissioner's decision is now final and ripe for 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) (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 the relevant time period was from Mr. Warden's alleged disability onset date of July 8, 2013, through his date last insured of December 31, 2015. (R. at 12). He had not engaged in substantial gainful activity during that period. (Id.).

         The ALJ found that during the relevant time period, Mr. Warden had one severe impairment: coronary artery disease. (R. at 12). During the same period, Mr. Warden also had hypertension, hyperlipidemia, gastroesophageal reflux disease, mild dementia, arthritis, anxiety, and depression, all of which were non-severe. (Id. at 12-15). Finally, the ALJ noted that Mr. Warden had in the past been treated for carpal tunnel syndrome, sleep apnea, mild asthma/chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and restless leg syndrome, but he had not received any treatment for those impairments during the relevant time period. (Id. at 15).

         The ALJ concluded that Mr. Warden 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 15). After considering the evidence, the ALJ determined that Mr. Warden had

the residual functional capacity to perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) except the claimant can frequently use bilateral hand controls. He can frequently reach overhead bilaterally. He can frequently climb ramps and stairs, but never climb ladders or scaffolds. He can frequently stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl. The claimant should never be exposed to unprotected heights. He would be limited to routine and repetitive tasks and making simple work ...

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