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Dwiggins v. Berryhill

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

September 19, 2019

TRACY LYNN DWIGGINS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          Lacey A. Collier Senior United States District Judge.

         This case is now before the court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the Act for review of a final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security (“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 March 6, 2015, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB, and in the application she alleged disability beginning February 15, 2013 (tr. 15).[1] Her application was denied initially and on reconsideration, and thereafter Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). A hearing was held on January 17, 2017, and on July 5, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision in which she found Plaintiff “not disabled, ” as defined under the Act, at any time through the date of her decision (tr. 15-26). On April 26, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review (tr. 1). 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).

         II. FINDINGS OF THE ALJ

         On July 5, 2017, (date of ALJ decision), the ALJ made several findings relative to the issues raised in this appeal (tr. 15-26):

1) Plaintiff last met the insured status requirements of the Act on September 30, 2014;
2) Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset date of February 15, 2013 through her date last insured of September 30, 2014;
3) Through the date last insured, Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: hypothyroidism, Hashimoto's thyroiditis, hypertension, fibromyalgia, diabetes mellitus, gastroparesis, ulcerative colitis, and osteoporosis;
4) Through the date last insured, Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equal the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1;
5) Through the date last insured, Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except for the following limitations: Plaintiff should avoid climbing ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. She should avoid work at unprotected heights and around hazardous machinery;
6) Through the date last insured, Plaintiff was capable of performing past relevant work as a cosmetologist. This work did not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by Plaintiff's residual functional capacity; and
7) Plaintiff was not under a disability, as defined in the Act, at any time from February 15, 2013, the alleged onset date, through September 30, 2014, the date last insured.[2]

         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/his 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 ...


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