United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
JOHN D. CRAWFORD, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA, District Judge.
Plaintiff, John D. Crawford, brings this action pursuant to the provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the Commissioner) on his application for disability insurance benefits and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) entered a partially favorable decision finding Crawford disabled beginning December 16, 2006, but not before. Crawford timely pursued and exhausted his administrative remedies available before the Commissioner. Accordingly, this case is now ripe for judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Based on the court's review of the record and the briefs submitted by the parties, the court finds that the decision of the Commissioner is due to be affirmed.
I. STANDARD OF REVIEW
The sole function of this court is to determine whether the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence and whether proper legal standards were applied. Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983). To that end this court "must scrutinize the record as a whole to determine if the decision reached is reasonable and supported by substantial evidence." Id. (citations omitted). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. This court may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Id. Even if the court finds that the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's decision, the court must affirm if the decision is supported by substantial evidence. Id.
Unlike the deferential review standard applied to the Commissioner's factual findings, the Commissioner's conclusions of law are not presumed to be valid. Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990). Therefore, 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). This includes the Commissioner's application of the proper legal standards in evaluating Crawford's claim. Martin, 894 F.2d at 1529.
II. STATUTORY AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK
To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must be unable "to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months...." 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). A "physical or mental impairment" is defined as "an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques." 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(3), 1382c(a)(3)(D).
Social Security regulations outline a five-step process that is used to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v), 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v). The Commissioner must determine in sequence:
(1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity;
(2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment or combination of impairments;
(3) whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals the severity of an impairment in the Listing of Impairments;
(4) whether the claimant can perform any of his or her past work; and
(5) whether there are significant numbers of jobs in the national economy that the claimant can perform.
Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec,
631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011). The evaluation process continues until the Commissioner can determine whether the claimant is ...