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Baldwin v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Augusta Division

March 7, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Teresa Ann Baldwin appeals the decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security denying her application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under the Social Security Act. Upon consideration of the briefs submitted by both parties, the record evidence, and the relevant statutory and case law, the Court REPORTS and RECOMMENDS the Commissioner's final decision be AFFIRMED, this civil action be CLOSED, and a final judgment be ENTERED in favor of the Commissioner.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff applied for SSI on July 8, 2013, alleging a disability onset date of January 3, 2012.[1] Tr. (“R.”), pp. 20, 261-70. Plaintiff was forty-three years old at her alleged disability onset date and was forty-six years old at the time the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) issued the decision currently under consideration. R. 31, 45, 261.

         Plaintiff applied for benefits based on allegations of anxiety NOS, mood disorder NOS, dissociative identity, panic disorder, and rule out schizoaffective disorder. R. 301. Plaintiff completed a GED. R. 45. Prior to her alleged disability, Plaintiff's only work history consisted of working one month at a bait shop. R. 308-15.

         The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's application initially, R. 68-79, and on reconsideration, R. 80-92. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ, R. 133-35, and the ALJ held a hearing on March 4, 2015 and a supplemental hearing on August 31, 2015. R. 38-67. The ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff, who appeared with counsel, as well as from Joseph Atkinson, a Vocational Expert (“VE”). Id. On September 4, 2015, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. R. 20-31.

         Applying the sequential process required by 20 C.F.R. § 416.920, the ALJ found:

1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 8, 2013, the application date (20 C.F.R. § 416.971 et seq.).
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbosacral spine and a mental impairment (variously characterized) (20 C.F.R. § 416.920(c)).
3. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(d), 416.925, and 416.926).
4. The claimant has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to lift, carry, push, and/or pull 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; occasional stooping, twisting, and crouching; and sitting, standing, and/or walking for six hours each in an eight-hour workday. She retains the ability to understand and follow simple instructions and directions; perform simple tasks with supervision and independently; maintain attention/concentration for simple tasks; regularly attend to a routine and maintain a schedule; and can relate to and interact with others to the extent necessary to carry out simple tasks but should avoid work requiring more complex interaction or joint efforts to achieve work goals. She should not have interaction with the public. She can handle reasonable levels of simple work-related stress in that she can make simple decisions directly related to the completion of her tasks and work in a stable, unchanging work environment. The claimant has no past relevant work (20 C.F.R. § 416.965).
5. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform, including office helper, mail clerk, and small products assembler (20 C.F.R. §§ 416.969, and 416.969(a)). Therefore, the claimant was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since July 8, 2013, the date the application was filed (20 C.F.R. § 416.920(g)).

R. 23-30.

         When the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, R. 1-6, the Commissioner's decision became “final” for the purpose of judicial review. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff then filed this civil action requesting reversal or remand of that adverse decision.


         Judicial review of social security cases is narrow and limited to the following questions: (1) whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence, and (2) whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards. Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1439 (11th Cir. 1997). When considering whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, the reviewing court may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute its judgment for the Commissioner's. Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211 (11th Cir. 2005); Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145 (11th Cir. 1991). Notwithstanding this measure of deference, the Court remains ...

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