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Williams v. Berryhill

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

August 7, 2019

JOE NATHAN WILLIAMS, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JOHN E. OTT CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Joe Nathan Williams, Jr. 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.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff filed his applications for SSI and DIB on July 23, 2015, alleging disability beginning July 13, 2015. (R. 135-47).[2] After his applications were denied initially, (R. 70-71), Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). (R. 94-95). After the video hearing, the ALJ issued a decision on November 15, 2017, finding Plaintiff not disabled. (R. 10-17). 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 1-6). The matter is properly before this court.

         II. FACTS

         Plaintiff was born on October 24, 1970, and was forty-four years old at the time his filed his applications. (R. 74, 135, 142). He alleges that he became disabled as of July 13, 2015, as a result of diabetes, hypertension, back problems and amputated small left toe. (R. 191).

         Following Plaintiff's administrative hearing, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the onset date of July 13, 2015. (R. 12). The ALJ further found that Plaintiff had the medically determinable severe impairments of diabetes mellitus and states post amputation of the third, fourth and fifth toes on the left foot. (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 13). The ALJ then found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a full range of light work and could not perform his past relevant work. (R. 13-15). Based on the Plaintiff's age, education and RFC, the ALJ concluded that Medical-Vocational Rule 202.18 directed a finding of not disabled. (R. 15-16). Therefore, the ALJ found Plaintiff was not disabled from July 13, 2015, through the date of the decision. (Id. at 16).

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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)).

         IV. STATUTORY AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK

         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 ...

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