United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
SHARON LOVELACE BLACKBURN, District Judge.
Plaintiff Therese Vonboeckman brings this action pursuant 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits ["DIB"]. (Doc. 6.) Upon review of the record, the submissions of the parties, and the relevant law, the court is of the opinion that the Commissioner's decision is due to be remanded for further proceedings.
I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff initially filed a Title II application for a period of disability and DIB on December 29, 2010, (R. 60), alleging a disability onset date of June 21, 2008, (R. 18, 39). The Social Security Administration ["SSA"] denied her application on March 24, 2011. (R. 65.) Thereafter, she requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ["ALJ"], which was held on April 24, 2012. (R. 32.) After the hearing, the ALJ found that plaintiff did not have an impairment or a combination of impairments listed in, or medically equivalent to one listed in, the Listings of Impairments. (R. 21.) The ALJ also found that plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy and in Alabama. (R. 24-25.) In light of these findings, the ALJ denied plaintiff's request for a period of disability and DIB on June 6, 2012.
Plaintiff then petitioned the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision. (R. 12.) The Appeals Council found no reason under its rules to review the ALJ's decision and denied plaintiff's request for review. (R. 1.)
Following the denial of review by the Appeals Council, plaintiff filed an appeal in this court. (Doc. 1.) She requests that this court reverse the Commissioner's decision and award benefits or, in the alternative, remand the case for further consideration. (Doc. 6 at 13.)
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
In reviewing claims brought under the Social Security Act, this court "is limited to an inquiry into whether there is substantial evidence to support the findings of the Commissioner, and whether the correct legal standards were applied." Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002); see also Lamb v. Bowen, 847 F.2d 698, 701 (11th Cir. 1988). The court gives deference to factual findings and reviews questions of law de novo. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145 (11th Cir. 1991). The court "may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the [Commissioner]; rather [it] must scrutinize the record as a whole to determine if the decision reached is reasonable and supported by substantial evidence." Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990) (quoting Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983)) (internal quotations and other citation omitted). "The Commissioner's factual findings are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence." Wilson, 284 F.3d at 1221 (citing Martin, 894 F.2d at 1529; Allen v. Bowen, 816 F.2d 600, 602 (11th Cir. 1987)). "Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (internal quotations and citations omitted).
The court reviews the Commissioner's conclusions of law de novo. Cornelius, 936 F.2d at 1145. "[N]o... presumption of validity attaches to the [Commissioner's] conclusions of law." Wiggins v. Schweiker, 679 F.2d 1387, 1389 (11th Cir. 1982).
A. THE FIVE-STEP EVALUATION
The regulations require the Commissioner to follow a five-step sequential evaluation to determine whether a claimant is eligible for a period of disability and/or DIB. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(1)-(2); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(1)-(2); Bowen v. City of New York, 476 U.S. 467, 470 (1986). "[A]n individual shall be considered to be disabled for purposes of [determining eligibility for DIB] if [she] is 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. § 1382c(a)(3)(A); see also § 416(i)(1); § 423(d)(1)(A). The specific steps in the evaluation process are as follows:
1. Substantial Gainful Employment
First, the Commissioner must determine whether the claimant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity." Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 137 (1987). If the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, the Commissioner will find that the claimant is not disabled, regardless of the claimant's medical condition or age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b); § 416.920(b). "Under the first step, the claimant has the burden to show that she is not currently engaged in substantial gainful activity." Reynolds-Buckley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 457 F.Appx. 862, 863 (11th Cir. 2012).
The ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in any substantial gainful activity since June 21, 2008, ...