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Turner v. Berryhil

United States District Court, N.D. Florida, Pensacola Division

March 30, 2017

DEBBIE MARIE TURNER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1]Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          ELIZABETH M. TIMOTHY, CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This case has been referred to the undersigned magistrate judge for disposition pursuant to the authority of 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, based on the parties' consent to magistrate judge jurisdiction (see ECF Nos. 10, 11). It is now before the court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), for review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying Plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-34.

         Upon review of the record before this court, it is the opinion of the undersigned that the findings of fact and determinations of the Commissioner are supported by substantial evidence; thus, the decision of the Commissioner should be affirmed.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On August 14, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB, and in the application she alleged disability beginning February 22, 2013, but later amended the alleged onset date to January 22, 2013 (tr. 24).[2] Her application was denied initially and on reconsideration, and thereafter she requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). A hearing was held on May 29, 2015, and on June 8, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision in which he found Plaintiff “not disabled, ” as defined under the Act, at any time through the date of his decision (tr. 24-37). The Appeals Council subsequently denied Plaintiff's request for review. Thus, the decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner, subject to review in this court. Ingram v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 496 F.3d 1253, 1262 (11th Cir. 2007). This appeal followed.

         II. FINDINGS OF THE ALJ

         In denying Plaintiff's claims, the ALJ made the following relevant findings (see tr. 24-37):

(a) Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements of the Act through September 30, 2018[3];
(b) Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 22, 2013, the amended onset date;
(c) Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: lumbar degenerative disc disease, status post discectomy and laminectomy; lumbar spondylolisthesis; cervical spondylosis; cervical degenerative disc disease; headaches; mild carpal tunnel syndrome; diabetes mellitus; intrinsic asthma; hypertension; and obesity;
(d) Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, subpart P, Appendix 1;
(e) Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) except that she could occasionally use her hands to push and pull arm controls and frequently use her hands to simple grasp and fine manipulate. She could occasionally use her feet to push and pull leg controls. She could never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds and could occasionally stoop, crouch, kneel, crawl, climb stairs and ramps, balance, and reach overhead. She could never drive automotive equipment requiring use of a clutch and could occasionally work around unprotected heights, moving machinery, and marked changes in temperature and humidity. She experienced a moderate degree of pain, which occasionally interfered with concentration, persistence, or pace but did not require her to abandon her work or workstation. This was not a continuous concept and occurred intermittently.
(f) Plaintiff was capable of performing her past relevant work as a retail cashier/stocker as generally performed in the national economy and defined in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles but not as performed by Plaintiff. This work did not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by Plaintiff's residual functional capacity.
(g) Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Act, from January 22, 2013, through June 8, 2015, the date of the ALJ's decision.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Review of the Commissioner's final decision is limited to determining whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence from the record and was a result of the application of proper legal standards. Carnes v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1215, 1218 (11th Cir. 1991) (“[T]his Court may reverse the decision of the [Commissioner] only when convinced that it is not supported by substantial evidence or that proper legal standards were not applied.”); see also Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1439 (11th Cir. 1997); Walker v. Bowen, 826 F.2d 996, 999 (11th Cir. 1987). “A determination that is supported by substantial evidence may be meaningless . . . if it is coupled with or derived from faulty legal principles.” Boyd v. Heckler, 704 F.2d 1207, 1209 (11th Cir. 1983), superseded by statute on other grounds as stated in Elam v. R.R. Ret. Bd., 921 F.2d 1210, 1214 (11th Cir. 1991). As long as proper legal standards were applied, the Commissioner's decision will not be disturbed if in light of the record as a whole the decision appears to be supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Falge v. Apfel, 150 F.3d 1320, 1322 (11th Cir. 1998); Lewis, 125 F.3d at 1439; Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1995). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, but not a preponderance; it is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1427, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 59 S.Ct. 206, 217, 83 L.Ed. 126 (1938)); Lewis, 125 F.3d at 1439. The court may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990) (citations omitted). Even if the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's decision, the decision must be affirmed if supported by substantial evidence. Sewell v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 1065, 1067 (11th Cir. 1986).

         The Act defines a disability as an “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. § 423(d)(1)(A). To qualify as a disability the physical or mental impairment must be so severe that the claimant is not only unable to do her previous work, “but cannot, considering [her] age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy.” Id. § 423(d)(2)(A). Pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)-(g), the Commissioner analyzes a disability claim in five steps:

         1. If the claimant is performing substantial gainful activity, she is not disabled.

         2. If the claimant is not performing substantial gainful activity, her impairments must be severe before she can be found disabled.

         3. If the claimant is not performing substantial gainful activity and she has severe impairments that have lasted or are expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months, and if her impairments meet or medically equal the criteria of any impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, the claimant is presumed disabled without further inquiry.

         4. If the claimant's impairments do not prevent her from doing her past relevant work, she is not disabled.

         5. Even if the claimant's impairments prevent her from performing her past relevant work, if other work exists in significant numbers in the national economy that ...


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