United States District Court, Middle District of Georgia, Albany Division
DEBRA F. ALDRIDGE, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
THOMAS Q. LANGSTAFF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
The Plaintiff herein filed this Social Security appeal on March 4, 2013, challenging the Commissioner's final decision denying her application for disability benefits, finding her not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act and Regulations. Jurisdiction arises under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c). All administrative remedies have been exhausted.
In reviewing the final decision of the Commissioner, this Court must evaluate both whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence and whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards to the evidence. Boyd v. Heckler, 704 F.2d 1207, 1209 (11th Cir. 1983); Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983). The Commissioner's factual findings are deemed conclusive if supported by substantial evidence, defined as more than a scintilla, such that a reasonable person would accept the evidence as adequate to support the conclusion at issue. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145 (11th Cir. 1991). In reviewing the ALJ's decision for support by substantial evidence, this Court may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. "Even if we find that the evidence preponderates against the [Commissioner's] decision, we must affirm if the decision is supported by substantial evidence." Bloodsworth, 703 F.2d at 1239. "In contrast, the [Commissioner's] conclusions of law are not presumed valid. . . . The [Commissioner's] failure to apply the correct law or to provide the reviewing court with sufficient reasoning for determining that the proper legal analysis has been conducted mandates reversal." Cornelius, 936 F.2d at 1145-1146.
The Plaintiff filed applications for disability benefits and Supplemental Security Income benefits in September 2009. (T- 170-80). Her claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. (T – 112-25, 128-34). A hearing was held before an ALJ in June 2011. (T-52-84). Thereafter, in a hearing decision dated July 13, 2011, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff was not disabled. (T- 12-29). The Appeals Council subsequently denied review and the ALJ's decision thereby became the final decision of the Commissioner. (T-1-5).
Statement of Facts and Evidence
The Plaintiff was 43 years of age at the time of the ALJ's decision. (T – 170). Plaintiff alleges disability since June 24, 2009, due primarily to Sjogren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disease in which the body’s white blood cells attack their moisture, manifesting itself primarily in the form of dry mouth and eyes. (T - 197); www.sjogrens.org. Plaintiff graduated from high school and has past relevant work experience as a school lunchroom worker. (T- 203, 198). As determined by the ALJ, Plaintiff suffers from severe impairments in the form of Sjorgen’s Syndrome and rheumatoid arthritis. (T – 17). The ALJ found that the Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination thereof that met or medically equaled a listed impairment, and remained capable of performing light work activity with certain restrictions. (T – 18-19). The ALJ relied on the Medical Vocational Guidelines (the “Grids”) and the testimony of a Vocational Expert to determine that although the Plaintiff could not return to her past relevant work, the Plaintiff remained capable of performing other jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy and thus was not disabled. (T- 25).
Residual functional capacity
The Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ erred in determining her residual functional capacity, in that the ALJ did not consider nerve conduction study results from June 2010, and furthermore, that agency physicians did not review this evidence prior to issuing their opinions.
The ALJ determined that
the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work . . . except she can lift, carry, push and pull 10 pounds frequently but no more than 15 pounds occasionally; she cannot climb ladders, ropes and scaffolds; [s]he can frequently climb ramps, but only occasionally climb stairs; she is limited to occasional kneeling, crawling and crouching and frequent balancing and stooping; she should avoid concentrated exposure to hazards such as heights and machinery, and environments of extreme cold or humidity; she also has manipulative limitations to the extent that she can only frequently handle and finger, but she can otherwise reach and feel ...