Prim v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Magistrate Judge Staci G Cornelius on 01/19/2023. (CTF)
2023 Jan-19 PM 01:08
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
) Case No. 2:21-cv-01671-SGC
MEMORANDUM OPINION 1
The plaintiff, Ashley Prim, appeals pro se from the decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) finding
she was no longer disabled as of July 1, 2019. (Doc. 1).2 Prim timely pursued and
exhausted her administrative remedies, and the Commissioner’s decision is ripe for
review. 42 U.S.C § 405(g). As discussed below, the Commissioner’s decision is
due to be affirmed.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Prim previously applied for and received disability insurance benefits. (See
R. 15). In a November 21, 2011 decision, the Commissioner found Prim was
The parties have consented to magistrate judge jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Doc. 12).
Citations to the record in this case refer to the document and page numbers assigned by the court’s
CM/ECF electronic document system and appear in the following format: (Doc. __ at __).
Citations to the administrative record refer to the page numbers assigned by the Commissioner and
appear in the following format: (R. __).
disabled as of October 31, 2007, due to Graves’ Disease and chronic bipolar/major
depressive disorder with psychotic features. (R. 90-102). Among the findings
included in this prior, favorable decision was that Prim’s mental health impairments
satisfied Section 12.04 of the Medical Listings (“Listings”). (R. 93). The agency
subsequently conducted a continuing disability review and found Prim was no longer
disabled. (See R. 15). Following a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
issued a March 31, 2021 decision finding Prim was not disabled as of July 1, 2019.
(R. 15-26). This is the decision Prim challenges in the instant appeal.
Prim was 40 years old on July 1, 2019—the date the ALJ determined her
disability ended—and 42 at the time of the ALJ’s decision. (R. 24, 26). Prim has at
least a high school education and previously worked as a “day worker.” (R. 24, 75).
In the continuing disability review reports, Prim alleged she was disabled due to
thyroid problems, major depression, back problems, and swelling in her lower
extremities. (R. 274, 313, 326).
When determining whether a claimant’s disability benefits should be
terminated, Social Security regulations prescribe an eight-step evaluation process:
(1) Are you engaging in substantial gainful activity? If you are (and any
applicable trial work period has been completed), we will find disability
to have ended (see paragraph (d)(5) of this section).
(2) If you are not, do you have an impairment or combination of
impairments which meets or equals the severity of an impairment listed
in appendix 1 of this subpart? If you do, your disability will be found to
(3) If you do not, has there been medical improvement as defined in
paragraph (b)(1) of this section? If there has been medical improvement
as shown by a decrease in medical severity, see step (4). If there has
been no decrease in medical severity, there has been no medical
improvement. (See step (5).)
(4) If there has been medical improvement, we must determine whether
it is related to your ability to do work in accordance with paragraphs
(b)(1) through (4) of this section, i.e., whether or not there has been an
increase in the residual functional capacity based on the impairment(s)
that was present at the time of the most recent favorable medical
determination. If medical improvement is not related to your ability to
do work, see step (5). If medical improvement is related to your ability
to do work, see step (6).
(5) If we found at step (3) that there has been no medical improvement
or if we found at step (4) that the medical improvement is not related to
your ability to work, we consider whether any of the exceptions in
paragraphs (d) and (e) of this section apply. If none of them apply, your
disability will be found to continue. If one of the first group of
exceptions to medical improvement applies, see step (6). If an exception
from the second group of exceptions to medical improvement applies,
your disability will be found to have ended. The second group of
exceptions to medical improvement may be considered at any point in
(6) If medical improvement is shown to be related to your ability to do
work or if one of the first group of exceptions to medical improvement
applies, we will determine whether all your current impairments in
combination are severe (see § 404.1521). This determination will
consider all your current impairments and the impact of the combination
of those impairments on your ability to function. If the residual
functional capacity assessment in step (4) above shows significant
limitation of your ability to do basic work activities, see step (7). When
the evidence shows that all your current impairments in combination do
not significantly limit your physical or mental abilities to do basic work
activities, these impairments will not be considered severe in nature. If
so, you will no longer be considered to be disabled.
(7) If your impairment(s) is severe, we will assess your current ability
to do substantial gainful activity in accordance with § 404.1560. That is,
we will assess your residual functional capacity based on all your current
impairments and consider whether you can still do work you have done
in the past. If you can do such work, disability will be found to have
(8) If you are not able to do work you have done in the past, we will
consider whether you can do other work given the residual functional
capacity assessment made under paragraph (f)(7) of this section and
your age, education, and past work experience (see paragraph (f)(9) of
this section for an exception to this rule). If you can, we will find that
your disability has ended. If you cannot, we will find that your disability
20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)
Here, at the first step, the ALJ determined Prim had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity. (R. 17). The ALJ next found that, as of July 1, 2019, Prim suffered
from the severe impairments of morbid obesity, lumbar degenerative disc disease,
and left knee osteoarthritis, as well as the non-severe impairments of
hypothyroidism, major depressive disorder, and Graves’ disease. (Id. at 17-18). At
step two, the ALJ concluded that none of Prim’s impairments, either individually or
in combination, satisfied a Listing. (Id. at 18-20). At step three, the ALJ found Prim
had undergone medical improvement by July 1, 2019; specifically, the ALJ
concluded Prim’s mental health issues no longer satisfied a Listing. (Id. at 20). At
steps four and five, the ALJ concluded Prim’s medical improvement was related to
her ability to work. (Id.).
Moving to steps six and seven, the ALJ determined Prim continued to suffer
from severe impairments but had the RFC to perform medium work, except that she
could: (1) never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; (2) never work with dangerous
moving machinery or at unprotected heights; (3) occasionally kneel and crawl; (4)
frequently climb ramps and stairs; and (5) frequently balance, stoop, and crouch.
(Id. at 20-24). The ALJ also found Prim should avoid concentrated exposure to
pulmonary irritants and poorly ventilated areas. (Id.). Based on these findings, the
ALJ concluded Prim could not perform her past relevant work. (Id. at 24). However,
at step eight the ALJ determined Prim could perform other work. (Id. at 24-25).
Accordingly, the ALJ concluded Prim was no longer disabled as of July 1, 2019.
(Id. at 26).
After exhausting her administrative remedies, Prim appealed pro se to this
court on December 16, 2021. (Doc. 1). The complaint does not state any issues or
assert any arguments. After the Commissioner answered (Doc. 8), the Clerk of Court
entered a briefing letter (Doc. 9) establishing briefing deadlines. Prim never filed a
brief in support of her complaint.
Likewise, Prim did not reply to the
Commissioner’s brief in support of the decision. (Doc. 13). All deadlines for
submitting briefs have passed, and this matter is ripe for adjudication.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
A district court’s role in reviewing claims brought under the Social Security
Act is narrow. The scope of its review is limited to determining (1) whether there is
substantial evidence in the record as a whole to support the findings of the
Commissioner and (2) whether the correct legal standards were applied. See Stone
v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 544 F. App’x 839, 841 (11th Cir. 2013) (citing Crawford v.
Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004)). A court gives deference
to the factual findings of the Commissioner, provided those findings are supported
by substantial evidence, but applies close scrutiny to the legal conclusions. See Miles
v. Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996). A district court reviews the
Commissioner’s legal conclusions de novo. Davis v. Shalala, 985 F.2d 528, 531
(11th Cir. 1993). “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 v. Sullivan, 936
F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).
Nonetheless, a court may not decide facts, weigh evidence, or substitute its
judgment for that of the Commissioner. Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210
(11th Cir. 2005) (quoting Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1240 n.8 (11th Cir.
2004)). “The substantial evidence standard permits administrative decision makers
to act with considerable latitude, and ‘the possibility of drawing two inconsistent
conclusions from the evidence does not prevent an administrative agency’s finding
from being supported by substantial evidence.’” Parker v. Bowen, 793 F.2d 1177,
1181 (11th Cir. 1986) (Gibson, J., dissenting) (quoting Consolo v. Fed. Mar.
Comm’n, 383 U.S. 607, 620 (1966)). Indeed, even if a court finds that the proof
preponderates against the Commissioner’s decision, it must affirm if the decision is
supported by substantial evidence. Miles, 84 F.3d at 1400 (citing Martin v. Sullivan,
894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990)). Substantial evidence is “such relevant
evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Id. It is “more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Bloodsworth v.
Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983).
No decision is automatic, for “despite th[e] deferential standard [for review of
claims], it is imperative that th[is] Court scrutinize the record in its entirety to
determine the reasonableness of the decision reached.” Bridges v. Bowen, 815 F.2d
622, 624 (11th Cir. 1987) (citing Arnold v. Heckler, 732 F.2d 881, 883 (11th Cir.
1984)). Moreover, failure to apply the correct legal standards is grounds for reversal.
See Bowen v. Heckler, 748 F.2d 629, 635 (11th Cir. 1984).
An ALJ may terminate a claimant's benefits if substantial evidence shows
medical improvement in the claimant's impairments related to her ability to work,
and the claimant is now able to engage in substantial gainful activity. 42 U.S.C. §
423(f)(1); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(a). As noted above, Prim failed to submit any brief,
argument, list of authorities, or statement in support of her claims. Prim has failed
to point to any errors in the ALJ’s opinion despite having three opportunities to do
so: (1) the complaint; (2) an initial brief in support of her claim; and (3) a reply to
the Commissioner’s brief.
Nonetheless, and considering the standard applicable to pro se filings, the
court has thoroughly reviewed both the ALJ’s opinion and the entire evidentiary
record. The court concludes the ALJ applied the proper legal standards and his
decision is supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the ALJ did not err
when he concluded that Prim was no longer disabled as of July 1, 2019.
Having reviewed the administrative record and considered all the arguments
presented, the court finds the Commissioner’s decision is due to be affirmed. A
separate order will be entered.
DONE this 19th day of January, 2023.
STACI G. CORNELIUS
U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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