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Blackburn v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division

February 20, 2018

DEBORAH BLACKBURN, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER

          JULIE S. SNEED UNTIED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, Deborah Blackburn, seeks judicial review of the denial of her claims for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. As the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”) decision was based on substantial evidence and employed proper legal standards, the decision is affirmed.

         BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on September 10, 2013. (Tr. 191-97.) The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's claims both initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 89-110.) Plaintiff then requested an administrative hearing. (Tr. 125- 26.) Upon Plaintiff's request, the ALJ held a hearing at which Plaintiff appeared and testified. (Tr. 29-87.) Following the hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding Plaintiff not disabled and accordingly denied Plaintiff's claim for benefits. (Tr. 17-22.) Subsequently, Plaintiff requested review from the Appeals Council, which the Appeals Council denied. (Tr. 1-6.) Plaintiff then timely filed a complaint with this Court. (Dkt. 1.) The case is now ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3).

         B. Factual Background and the ALJ's Decision

         Plaintiff, who was born in 1952, claimed disability beginning on December 31, 2006. (Tr. 90.) Plaintiff completed college and medical school and worked as a gynecologist. (Tr. 437-38.) Plaintiff alleged disability due to lumbar and cervical spinal stenosis, severe peripheral neuropathy of her legs and feet, neuropathy and stenosis induced leg weakness and pain, progressive weakness of upper legs, pernicious anemia, osteoarthritis of multiple sites, and chronic insomnia secondary to back pain and arthritis. (Tr. 90.)

         In rendering the decision, the ALJ the concluded that Plaintiff engaged in substantial, gainful activity (“SGA”) from the alleged onset date of December 31, 2006, through the date she was last insured, December 31, 2011. (Tr. 19.) Further, the ALJ concluded there was no continuous twelve-month period during which Plaintiff did not engage in SGA through December 31, 2012. (Tr. 22.) Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not under a disability at any time from the alleged onset date through the date Plaintiff was last insured. (Id.)

         APPLICABLE STANDARDS

         To be entitled to benefits, a claimant must be disabled, meaning that the claimant must be unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). A “physical or mental impairment” is an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities that are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(3), 1382c(a)(3)(D).

         The Social Security Administration, in order to regularize the adjudicative process, promulgated the detailed regulations currently in effect. These regulations establish a “sequential evaluation process” to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. If an individual is found disabled at any point in the sequential review, further inquiry is unnecessary. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a). Under this process, the ALJ must determine, in sequence, the following: (1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment, i.e., one that significantly limits the ability to perform work-related functions; (3) whether the severe impairment meets or equals the medical criteria of 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; and, (4) whether the claimant can perform his or her past relevant work. If the claimant cannot perform the tasks required of his or her prior work, step five of the evaluation requires the ALJ to decide if the claimant can do other work in the national economy in view of the claimant's age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a). A claimant is entitled to benefits only if unable to perform other work. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-42 (1987); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(g).

         A determination by the Commissioner that a claimant is not disabled must be upheld if it is supported by substantial evidence and comports with applicable legal standards. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)); Miles v. Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996). While the court reviews the Commissioner's decision with deference to the factual findings, no such deference is given to the legal conclusions. Keeton v. Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 21 F.3d 1064, 1066 (11th Cir. 1994).

         In reviewing the Commissioner's decision, the court may not decide the facts anew, re-weigh the evidence, or substitute its own judgment for that of the ALJ, even if it finds that the evidence preponderates against the ALJ's decision. Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983). The Commissioner's failure to apply the correct law, or to give the reviewing court sufficient reasoning for determining that he or she has conducted the proper legal analysis, mandates reversal. Keeton, 21 F.3d at 1066. The scope of review is thus limited to determining whether the findings of the Commissioner are ...


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