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Walker v. Commissioner Social Security

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

September 30, 2019

JOHN DIXON WALKER, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION [1]

          JOHN H. ENGLAND, III, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff John Dixon Walker, Jr. (“Walker”) seeks review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), § 205(g) of the Social Security Act, of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”), denying his application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). (Doc. 1). Walker timely pursued and exhausted his administrative remedies. This case is therefore ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The undersigned has carefully considered the record and, for the reasons stated below, the Commissioner’s decision is AFFIRMED.

         I. Factual and Procedural History

         Walker filed an application for a period of disability and DIB on June 19, 2012, alleging he became unable to work beginning May 17, 2011. (270-76). The Agency initially denied Walker’s application, after a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) denied Walker’s claim on May 16, 2014. (Tr. 6-16). After the Appeals Council denied review, (tr. 1-4), Walker appealed to this court. See Walker v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner, No. 4:15-cv-01611-AKK at doc. 1. On February 25, 2016, United States District Judge Abdul Kallon granted the Commissioner’s request for entry of judgment and remand under Sentence Four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Tr. 538-42).

         On remand, the ALJ held supplemental hearings on September 26, 2016, and January 18, 2017. (Tr. 509-37). On August 23, 2017, the ALJ again denied Walker’s claim. (Tr. 486-501). Walker again sought review by the Appeals Council, but it denied his request on May 9, 2018. (Tr. 479-85). On that date, the ALJ’s decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. On April 21, 2018, Walker initiated this action. (See doc. 1).

         Walker was forty-eight on his last hearing date. (Tr. 513). Walker has a high school education and previous work as an HVAC service technician. (Tr. 513-14, 520).

         II. Standard of Review[2]

         The court’s review of the Commissioner’s decision is narrowly circumscribed. The function of this Court is to determine whether the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence and whether proper legal standards were applied. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971); Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002). This 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.

         This Court must uphold factual findings 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 the proper legal analysis has been conducted, it must reverse the ALJ’s decision. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).

         III. Statutory and Regulatory Framework

         To qualify for disability benefits and establish his or her entitlement for a period of disability, a claimant must be disabled as defined by the Social Security Act and the Regulations promulgated thereunder.[3] The Regulations define “disabled” as “the inability to do 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 twelve (12) months.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a). To establish entitlement to disability benefits, a claimant must provide evidence of a “physical or mental impairment” which “must result from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which can be shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1508.

         The Regulations provide a five-step process for determining whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i-v). The Commissioner must determine in sequence:

(1) whether the claimant is currently employed;
(2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment;
(3) whether the claimant’s impairment meets or equals an impairment listed by the [Commissioner];
(4) whether the claimant can perform his or her past work; and
(5) whether the claimant is capable of performing any work in the national economy.

Pope v. Shalala, 998 F.2d 473, 477 (7th Cir. 1993) (citing to the formerly applicable C.F.R. section), overruled on other grounds by Johnson v. Apfel, 189 F.3d 561, 562-63 (7th Cir. 1999); accord McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir. 1986). “Once the claimant has satisfied steps One and Two, she will automatically be found disabled if she suffers from a listed impairment. If the claimant does not have a listed impairment but cannot perform her work, the burden shifts to the [Commissioner] to show that the claimant can perform some other job.” Pope, 998 F.2d at 477; accord Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1559 (11th Cir. 1995). The Commissioner must further show such work exists in the national economy in significant numbers. Id.

         IV. Findings of the Administrative Law Judge

         After consideration of the entire record and application of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ made the following findings:

         At Step One, the ALJ found Walker met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through his date last insured (“DLI”) of December 31, 2016 and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity between his alleged onset date of May 17, 2011 and his DLI. (Tr. 491). At Step Two, the ALJ found Walker has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease (“ DDD”) and carpal tunnel syndrome. (Tr. Tr. 491). At Step Three, the ALJ found that, through his DLI, Walker did not have an impairment or ...


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