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Wooley v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division

June 24, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Valerie Denice Wooley brings this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”) denying her claim for a period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act). The parties have consented to the exercise of jurisdiction by the Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), for all proceedings in this Court. (Doc. 19 (“In accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, the parties in this case consent to have a United States Magistrate Judge conduct any and all proceedings in this case, … order the entry of a final judgment, and conduct all post-judgment proceedings.”)). See also Doc. 20. Upon consideration of the administrative record, Wooley's brief, the Commissioner's brief, and oral argument presented at the January 9, 2019 hearing before the undersigned Magistrate Judge, it is determined that the Commissioner's decision denying benefits should be affirmed.[1]


         Wooley applied for a period of disability and DIB, under Title II of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 423 - 425, on August 14, 2015, alleging disability beginning on May 26, 2011. (Tr. 138-39). Her application was denied at the initial level of administrative review on September 30, 2015. (Tr. 49-55). On November 4, 2015, Wooley requested a hearing by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Tr. 69-70). Wooley appeared at a hearing before the ALJ on March 10, 2017. (Tr. 26-48). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding that Wooley was not under a disability during the applicable time period on June 22, 2017. (Tr. 10-18). Wooley appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council, and, on February 12, 2018, the Appeals Council denied her request for review of the ALJ's decision, thereby making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-3).

         After exhausting her administrative remedies, Wooley sought judicial review in this Court, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g). (Doc. 1). The Commissioner filed an answer and the social security transcript on July 30, 2018. (Docs. 10, 11). Both parties filed briefs setting forth their respective positions. (Docs. 13, 14). Oral argument was held before the undersigned Magistrate Judge on January 9, 2019. (Doc. 21). The case is now ripe for decision.


         Wooley alleges that the ALJ's decision to deny her benefits is in error for the following reasons:

1. The ALJ erred by failing to retain a medical expert to determine the onset date of Plaintiff's impairments; and
2. The ALJ erred by failing to find Wooley's depression and anxiety to be severe impairments.

(Doc. 13 at pp. 1-2).


         Wooley was born on December 27, 1968 and was 46 years old at the time she filed her claim for benefits. (Tr. 32). Wooley alleged disability due to inflammatory arthritis, back pain, hand pain, shoulder pain, severe depression, and anxiety. (Tr. 40, 150). She did not graduate from high school, but she did obtain a GED. (Tr. 32). Her most recent jobs were as an office cleaner at a law firm and an office manager for a home builder. (Tr. 35). She is computer literate. (Tr. 35-36). Wooley claimed disability commencing on May 26, 2011 based on her decision that she could not push herself any further. (Tr. 34-35; 150). Wooley testified that she is able to bathe, dress, and groom herself. (Tr. 36). Wooley testified at the hearing on March 10, 2017 that she is primarily sedentary during the day, only folding clothes while sitting and driving to her sister's house about twice a week. (Tr. 36-37). Wooley's date last insured was March 31, 2014. (Tr. 10, 155). After conducting a hearing, the ALJ made a determination that Wooley was not under a disability at any time from May 26, 2011, the alleged onset date, through March 31, 2014, the date last insured, and thus, was not entitled to benefits. (Tr. 10-18).


         After considering all of the evidence, the ALJ made the following findings in his June 22, 2017 decision that are relevant to the issues presented:

3. Through the date last insured, the claimant had the following severe impairments: spinal disorders and obesity ...

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