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Brothers v. Berryhill

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

August 5, 2019

NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Lewis Eugene Brothers brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying him Supplemental Social Security (“SSI”) and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). (Doc. 1).[1] The case has been assigned to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to this court's general order of reference. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of this court for disposition of the matter. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Fed.R.Civ.P. 73(a). (Doc. 10). Upon review of the record and the relevant law, the undersigned finds that the Commissioner's decision is due to be affirmed.


         Plaintiff filed his applications for SSI and DIB on June 16, 2015, alleging disability beginning April 27, 2015. (R. 47, 139, 147).[2] After his applications were denied initially, (R. 68-77), Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). (R. 80). After the video hearing, the ALJ issued a decision on November 15, 2017, finding Plaintiff not disabled. (R. 14-26). Plaintiff then filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision, and the Appeals Council (“AC”) denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Id. at 1-3). The matter is properly before this court.

         II. FACTS

         Plaintiff was born on November 21, 1965. (R. 35, 139). At the time Plaintiff filed his applications he was 49 years old, but was a few days shy of his 52nd birthday on the date of the ALJ's decision. (Id. at 24-26). He alleges that he became disabled as of April 25, 2015, as a result of a broken neck, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”), cholesterol, high blood pressure, chest pain and carotid artery disease. (R. 186, 191).

         Following Plaintiff's administrative hearing, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the onset date or April 27, 2015. (R. 19). The ALJ further found that Plaintiff had the medically determinable severe impairments of status post cervical fusion, COPD, carotid artery stenosis and cerebral vascular disease.[3] (Id.). He also found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled the severity of a listed impairment. (Id. at 20). The ALJ then found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a full range of light work, and, as such, determined that Plaintiff could return to his past relevant work as a tool sharpener and machine cleaner based on the testimony from the vocational expert (“VE”), descriptions from the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”) and Plaintiff's descriptions of his past work. (Id. at 21, 24-25). Based on the above, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Id. at 25).


         The court's review of the Commissioner's decision is narrowly circumscribed. The function of the court is to determine whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence and whether proper legal standards were applied. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1422 (1971); Mitchell v. Comm'r Soc. Sec., 771 F.3d 780, 782 (11th Cir. 2015); Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002). The court must “scrutinize the record as a whole to determine if the decision reached is reasonable and supported by substantial evidence.” Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. It is “more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Id.

         The court must uphold factual findings that are supported by substantial evidence. However, it reviews the ALJ's legal conclusions de novo because no presumption of validity attaches to the ALJ's determination of the proper legal standards to be applied. Davis v. Shalala, 985 F.2d 528, 531 (11th Cir. 1993). If the court finds an error in the ALJ's application of the law, or if the ALJ fails to provide the court with sufficient reasoning for determining that the proper legal analysis has been conducted, it must reverse the ALJ's decision. See Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991). The court must affirm the ALJ's decision if substantial evidence supports it, even if other evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's findings. See Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004) (quoting Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir.1990)).


         To qualify for benefits a claimant must show the inability to engage in “any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). A physical or mental impairment is “an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(D).

         Determination of disability under the Social Security Act requires a five step analysis. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b) & 416.920(a)(4). Specifically, the Commissioner must determine in sequence:

whether the claimant: (1) is unable to engage in substantial gainful activity; (2) has a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment; (3) has such an impairment that meets or equals a Listing and meets the duration requirements; (4) can perform his past relevant work, in light of his residual functional capacity; and (5) can make an adjustment to other work, in light of his residual functional capacity, age, education, and work experience.

Evans v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 551 Fed.Appx. 521, 524 (11th Cir. 2014).[4] The plaintiff bears the burden of proving that he was disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211 (11th Cir. 2005); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.704. The applicable “regulations place a very heavy burden on the claimant to demonstrate both a qualifying disability and an inability to perform past relevant work.” Id.

         V. ...

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