United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA, District Judge.
On October 22, 2007, the claimant, Mary Lynn Matthews, applied for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. (R. 15). According to Ms. Matthews, she became disabled on March 2, 2003 because of panic attacks and anxiety. The Commissioner of Social Security denied Ms. Matthews's claim both initially and on reconsideration. Ms. Matthews filed a timely request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge, and the ALJ held a hearing on October 16, 2009. (R. 15, 146). In a decision dated April 13, 2010, the ALJ found that Ms. Matthews was not disabled as defined by the Social Security Act and, thus, was ineligible for supplemental security income. (R. 23). On December 15, 2011, the Appeals Council denied Ms. Matthews's request for review, so that the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration. (R. 1-3). The claimant has exhausted her administrative remedies, and this Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). For the reasons stated below, this Court reverses the decision of the Commissioner and remands this case for further consideration.
II. ISSUES PRESENTED
Ms. Matthews presents the following issues for review: (1) whether the ALJ properly discredited the opinion of treating physician Dr. Tuck; (2) whether the ALJ fulfilled his duty to develop the record; and (3) whether the ALJ adequately considered the opinion of Dr. Beidleman.
III. STANDARD OF REVIEW
The scope of review in this matter is limited. "When, as in this case, the ALJ denies benefits and the Appeals Council denies review, " the Court "review[s] the ALJ's "factual findings with deference" and her "legal conclusions with close scrutiny."" Riggs v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 522 Fed.Appx. 509, 510-11 (11th Cir. 2013) (quoting Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001)).
The Court must determine whether there is substantial evidence in the record to support the ALJ's findings. "Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004). In making this evaluation, the Court may not "reweigh the evidence or decide the facts anew, " and the Court must "defer to the ALJ's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence even if the evidence may preponderate against it." Gaskin v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 533 Fed.Appx. 929, 930 (11th Cir. 2013).
With respect to the ALJ's legal conclusions, the Court must determine whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards. If the Court finds an error in the ALJ's application of the law, or if the Court finds that the ALJ failed to provide sufficient reasoning to demonstrate that the ALJ conducted a proper legal analysis, then the Court must reverse the ALJ's decision. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).
IV. LEGAL STANDARD
Under 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A), a person is entitled to disability benefits when the person cannot "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 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). To determine whether an individual is entitled to disability benefits, the Commissioner employs a five step, sequential evaluation process:
(1) is the person presently unemployed?; (2) is the person's impairment severe?; (3) does the person's impairment meet or equal one of the specific impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1?; (4) is the person unable to perform his or her former occupation?; and (5) is the person unable to perform any other work within the economy? An affirmative answer to any of the above questions leads either to the next question, or, on steps three and five, to a finding of disability. A negative answer to any question, other than step three, leads to a determination of "not disabled."
McDaniel v. Bowen,
800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir. 1986); 20 C.F.R. §§ ...