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Haralson v. Colvin

United States District Court, Middle District of Georgia, Macon Division

July 16, 2014

LESLIE HARALSON, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

Social Security Appeal

RECOMMENDATION

Charles H. Weigle United States Magistrate Judge

This is a review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff Leslie Haralson’s claim for supplemental security income. Because the Commissioner’s final decision is supported by substantial evidence and based on proper legal standards, it is RECOMMENDED that the decision be AFFIRMED.

BACKGROUND

At the time of the administrative hearing, Plaintiff was 36 years old. Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of residuals from leg fracture and mood/anxiety disorder. Prior to the alleged onset date of February 26, 2005, Plaintiff worked as a hairstylist and a preschool teacher. On February 17, 2010, Plaintiff applied for supplemental security income. Plaintiff’s application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Following an administrative hearing on May 22, 2012, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued a written decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. The Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ’s written decision on January 4, 2013. On March 12, 2013, the Appeals Council also denied Plaintiff’s request to reopen the file based on a newly submitted one-paragraph letter from Dr. Phillips dated January 28, 2013. Plaintiff filed the instant case on April 8, 2013.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Review of the Commissioner’s decision is restricted to whether the decision “is supported by substantial evidence and based on proper legal standards.” Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1439 (11th Cir. 1997). “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. Under this limited standard of review, a reviewing court “‘may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the [Commissioner].’” Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1240 n. 8 (11th Cir. 2004), quoting Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983). Where substantial evidence supporting the ALJ’s factual findings exists, courts cannot overturn those findings even if other substantial evidence exists that is contrary to the ALJ’s factual findings. Barron v. Sullivan, 924 F.2d 227, 230 (11th Cir. 1991). Even so, the failure to apply the correct legal standards or to provide a sufficient factual basis for the reviewing court to determine whether the correct legal standards have been applied is grounds for reversal. Wiggins v. Schweiker, 679 F.2d 1387, 1389 (11th Cir. 1982).

EVALUATION OF DISABILITY

Persons are “disabled” for purposes of receiving benefits under the Social Security Act if they are unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity due to any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which is expected to result in death or which has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). The claimant bears the burden of proving her disability. Ellison v. Barnhart, 355 F.3d 1272, 1276 (11th Cir. 2003).

When analyzing the issue of disability, the Commissioner must follow a five-step sequential evaluation procedure. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v). First, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant currently is engaging in substantial gainful activity. Second, the Commissioner considers the medical severity of the claimant’s impairments. Third, the Commissioner considers whether the medical severity of the claimant’s impairments meets or equals the severity of one or more of the specified impairments in the listing of impairments and meets the duration requirement.

The Commissioner next assesses the claimant’s residual functional capacity (RFC), which is defined as “the most you can still do despite your limitations.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.945(a)(1). Fourth, based on the RFC assessment, the Commissioner evaluates the claimant’s ability to return to past relevant work despite the claimant’s impairments. Fifth, the Commissioner determines whether there are a sufficient number of jobs in the national economy that the claimant can perform in light of her RFC, age, education, and work experience.

DISCUSSION

The Commissioner’s final decision must be affirmed because the determination that Plaintiff is not disabled is supported by substantial evidence and based on proper legal standards. Plaintiff argues that this case should be remanded because she has identified new, material evidence that she has good cause for not submitting at the administrative level, namely a one-paragraph letter from Dr. Phillips dated January 28, 2013. As discussed below, however, review of the complete administrative record establishes that ...


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