Hastings v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge L Scott Coogler on 8/16/12. (KGE, )
2012 Aug-16 AM 11:40
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
ANGIE LEAH HASTINGS,
Social Security Administration,
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION
The claimant, Angie Leah Hastings, appeals from the decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying her
applications for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”).
Hastings timely pursued and exhausted her administrative remedies, and the decision
of the Commissioner is ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).
Hastings was forty-seven years old at the time of the Administrative Law
Judge’s (“ALJ”) decision, and she has at least a high school education. (Tr. at 134.)
Her past work experiences include employment as a cashier, sales clerk, and sales
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supervisor. (Id. at 45.) Hastings claims that she became disabled on June 1, 2008, due
to symptoms and limitations caused by or associated with a degenerative disc, her right
foot, high cholesterol, and acid reflux. (Id. at 128.)
When evaluating the disability of individuals over the age of eighteen, the
regulations prescribe a five-step sequential evaluation process. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520, 416.920; see also Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001). The
first step requires a determination of whether the claimant is “doing substantial gainful
activity.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). If he or she is, the
claimant is not disabled and the evaluation stops. Id. If he or she is not, the
Commissioner next considers the effect of all of the physical and mental impairments
combined. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). These impairments
must be severe and must meet the durational requirements before a claimant will be
found to be disabled. Id. The decision depends on the medical evidence in the record.
See Hart v. Finch, 440 F.2d 1340, 1341 (5th Cir. 1971). If the claimant’s impairments
are not severe, the analysis stops. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii).
Otherwise, the analysis continues to step three, which is a determination of whether
the claimant’s impairments meet or equal the severity of an impairment listed in 20
C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, Appendix 1.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii),
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416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the claimant’s impairments fall within this category, he or she
will be found disabled without further consideration.
If they do not, a
determination on the claimant’s residual functional capacity (“RFC”) will be made
and the analysis proceeds to the fourth step. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e), 416.920(e).
The fourth step requires a determination of whether the claimant’s impairments
prevent him or her from returning to past relevant work.
20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant can still do his or her past
relevant work, the claimant is not disabled and the evaluation stops. Id. If the claimant
cannot do past relevant work, then the analysis proceeds to the fifth step. Id. Step five
requires the court to consider the claimant’s RFC, as well as the claimant’s age,
education, and past work experience in order to determine if he or she can do other
work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v). If the claimant can do other
work, the claimant is not disabled. Id.
Applying the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that Hastings meets
the nondisability requirements for a period of disability and DIB and was insured
through June 30, 2011. (Tr. at 14.) He further determined that Hastings has not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset of her disability. (Id.)
According to the ALJ, Plaintiff’s “degenerative disc disease status post anterior
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retroperitoneal exposure and anterior interbody fusion” are considered “severe”
based on the requirements set forth in the regulations. (Id.) However, he found that
these impairments neither meet nor medically equal any of the listed impairments in
20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Id. at 15.) The ALJ determined that
Hastings “has the residual functional capacity to perform the full range of sedentary
work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a).” (Id.)
Using the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ determined that Hastings
would not be able to perform her past relevant work, but considering Plaintiff’s age,
education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist
in significant numbers in the national economy that Hastings can perform. (Tr. at 1819.) The ALJ concluded his findings by stating that Plaintiff “has not been under a
disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from June 1, 2008, through the date
of this decision.” (Id. at 19.)
Standard of Review.
The Court’s role in reviewing claims brought under the Social Security Act is
a narrow one. 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
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Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390, 401 (1971); Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219,
1221 (11th Cir. 2002). The Court approaches the factual findings of the Commissioner
with deference, but applies close scrutiny to the legal conclusions. See Miles v. Chater,
84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996). The Court may not decide facts, weigh evidence,
or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Id. “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 this Court finds that the evidence preponderates against the
Commissioner’s decision, the Court must affirm if the decision is supported by
substantial evidence. Miles, 84 F.3d at 1400. No decision is automatic, however, for
“[d]espite this deferential standard [for review of claims] it is imperative that the
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). Moreover,
failure to apply the correct legal standards is grounds for reversal. See Bowen v.
Heckler, 748 F.2d 629, 635 (11th Cir. 1984).
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Hastings filed the instant action on August 16, 2011, asking for judicial review
of the ALJ’s decision. (Doc. 1.) However, Hastings failed to submit any brief,
argument, list of authorities, or statement in support of her appeal.
Commissioner submitted a brief (Doc. 8), and Hastings did not submit a reply.
Deadlines for submissions have passed, and the issues in this case are ripe for decision.
Hastings has failed to point to any errors in the ALJ’s opinion, despite the fact that he
had three opportunities to do so: (1) the complaint, (2) an initial brief in support of his
claim, and (3) a reply to the Commissioner’s brief.
This Court, however, has thoroughly reviewed both the ALJ’s opinion and the
entire evidentiary record. Based upon that evaluation, the Court concludes that the
ALJ’s decision applies the proper legal standards and is supported by substantial
evidence. The ALJ did not err when he concluded that Carson is not disabled.
Because the Court finds that the Commissioner’s final decision applies the
proper legal standards and is supported by substantial evidence, the decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration will be affirmed by separate
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Done this 16th day of August 2012.
L. SCOTT COOGLER
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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