United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Western Division
JOHN E. OTT, Chief Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Ruby Cheeks ("Cheeks") seeks review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 205(g) of the Social Security Act, of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner"), denying her application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits. Cheeks timely pursued and exhausted her administrative remedies. The case is therefore ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). The undersigned has carefully considered the record and, for the reasons stated below, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.
I. Factual and Procedural History
Cheeks was a fifty year old female at the time of her hearing before the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on January 18, 2011. (Tr. 19). Cheeks has a high school education, (tr. 36), and previously worked as a sewing machine operator, but has not been employed for fifteen years prior to the ALJ hearing. (Tr. 50-51).
Cheeks applied for SSI on August 10, 2009, alleging an initial onset date of November 14, 2006. (Tr. 99). Cheeks application was denied, (tr. 64), and Cheeks requested a hearing before an ALJ. (Tr. 72). After a hearing, the ALJ denied Cheeks' claim on March 25, 2011. (Tr. 19). Cheeks sought review by the Appeals Council, but the council denied her request on November 1, 2011. (Tr. 1-8). On that date, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. Cheeks then initiated this action on January 2, 2013. (Doc. 1)
II. Standard of Review
The court's review of the Commissioner's decision is narrowly circumscribed. The 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. See Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002). This court must "scrutinize the record as a whole to determine if the decision reached is reasonable and supported by substantial evidence." Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983) (citations omitted). This court will determine that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence if it finds "such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. Substantial evidence is "more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance." Id. Factual findings that are supported by substantial evidence must be upheld by the court. The ALJ's legal conclusions, however, are reviewed de novo, "because no presumption of validity attaches to the [ALJ's] determination of the proper legal standards to be applied." Davis v. Shalala, 985 F.2d 528, 531 (11th Cir. 1993). If the court finds an error in the ALJ's application of the law, or if the ALJ fails to provide the court with sufficient reasoning for determining the proper legal analysis has been conducted, the ALJ's decision must be reversed. See Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).
III. Statutory and Regulatory Framework
To qualify for SSI, as well as establish entitlement for a period of disability, a claimant must be disabled as defined by the Social Security Act and the Regulations promulgated thereunder. The Regulations define "disabled" as the "inability to do 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 12 months." 20 C.F.R. § 416.905(a). To establish entitlement to disability benefits, a claimant must provide evidence of a "physical or mental impairment which "must result from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which can be shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques." 20 C.F.R. § 416.908.
The Regulations provide a five-step process for determining whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 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;
(3) whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals an impairment ...