United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
JOHN H. ENGLAND, III, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Tracie Flannery ("Flannery") 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 a period of disability, disability insurance benefits ("DIB"), and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). Flannery 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 due to be REVERSED and REMANDED for further proceedings.
I. Factual and Procedural History
Flannery was a forty-nine year old female at the time of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") decision. (Tr. 29, 222). Flannery has limited education and previously worked as a cashier. (Tr. 28).
Flannery filed her application for a period of disability, DIB, and SSI on July 17, 2006, alleging an initial onset date of December 31, 2002. (Tr. 217-26). The Commissioner initially denied Flannery's application, and Flannery requested a hearing before an ALJ. (Tr. 105). On August 18, 2009, the ALJ found she was not disabled. (Tr. 102-16). Flannery filed subsequent claims for SSI and DIB on August 18, 2009 and September 1, 2009, respectively, and, on October 15, 2009, the state agency found Flannery disabled beginning August 14, 2009. (Tr. 119). Noting the discrepancy between these two decisions, the Appeals Council consolidated the cases and remanded them to an ALJ to consider additional evidence and to issue another decision. (Tr. 117-21). After the hearing, the ALJ denied Flannery's claim on June 11, 2012. (Tr. 29). Flannery sought review by the Appeals Council, but, despite accepting her new evidence into the record, it declined her request for review on September 19, 2013. (Tr. 1-3). On that date, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. On November 15, 2013, Flannery initiated this action. ( See 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. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1422 (1971); 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). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. It is "more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance." Id.
This Court must uphold factual findings supported by substantial evidence. However, it reviews the ALJ's legal conclusions 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, it must reverse the ALJ's decision. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).
III. Statutory and Regulatory Framework
To qualify for disability benefits and establish his or her 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 twelve (12) months." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(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. § 404.1508.
The Regulations provide a five-step process for determining whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i-v). The Commissioner must determine, in sequence:
(1) whether the claimant is currently employed;
(2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment;
(3) whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals an impairment listed by ...