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Leath v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner

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

December 18, 2019

LAUREN LEATH, Plaintiff,
v.
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, COMMISSIONER, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ANNEMARIE CARNEY AXON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Lauren Leath appeals the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her claim for supplemental security income benefits. Based on the court's review of the administrative record and the parties' briefs, the court WILL AFFIRM the Commissioner's decision.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On January 26, 2016, Ms. Leath applied for supplemental security income benefits, alleging that her disability began on November 30, 2015. (R. at 193). The Commissioner initially denied her application and she requested review by an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Id. at 116-30, 141-43). After holding a hearing (id. at 102-15), on June 1, 2018, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision (id. at 46-56), which Ms. Leath requested that the Appeals Council review (id. at 19).

         Ms. Leath submitted various new medical records to the Appeals Council, including treatment notes from Ms. Leath's primary care physician, Dr. Jane Teschner.[1] (R. at 63-101; see also R. at 2; Doc. 10 at 3). On March 28, 2019, the Appeals Council denied Ms. Leath's request for review, finding that the additional evidence did not show a reasonable probability that it would change the outcome of the decision. (R. at 1-5). The Commissioner's decision is now final and ripe for judicial review. See 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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).

         III. ALJ'S DECISION

         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 Ms. Leath had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 13, 2016. (R. at 48). He found that Ms. Leath had the severe impairments of borderline intellectual functioning and obsessive-compulsive disorder, but that her “status post hernia repair and removal of abdominal mass, ” ...


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