United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
JOHN E. OTT, Chief Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Mark Clough brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his applications for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income ("SSI"). (Doc. 1). He has also filed a motion to remand pursuant to sentence four of § 405(g). (Doc. 11). The case has been assigned to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to this court's general order of reference dated January 14, 2013. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of this court for disposition of this matter. (Doc. 12). See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), FED. R. CIV. P. 73(a). Upon review of the record and the relevant law, the undersigned finds that the Commissioner's decision is due to be affirmed and that Clough's motion to remand is due to be denied.
I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Clough filed applications for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and SSI in April 2010, alleging disability beginning April 7, 2010, due to seizures, anxiety, a back injury, and leg problems. (R. 143, 147, 166). His claim was denied initially. (R. 114-15). He then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), which was held on May 22, 2012. (R. 81-113). Clough was represented by counsel at the hearing. (R. 81). On June 15, 2012, the ALJ issued his decision finding that Clough was not disabled. (R. 31-42).
Clough requested the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision and submitted additional evidence regarding his alleged disability. (R. 15, 255-61). The Appeals Council denied Clough's request for review on November 12, 2013. (R. 1-7). On that date, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. Clough then filed this action for judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Doc. 1).
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
The court's review of the Commissioner's decision is narrowly circumscribed. The function of the 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.
The court must uphold factual findings that are 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 that 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) and 416.920(a)(4)(i-v). The Commissioner must determine in sequence:
(1) Is the claimant presently unemployed;
(2) Is the claimant's impairment severe;
(3) Does the claimant's impairment meet or equal one of the specific impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1 [the "Listings"];
(4) Is the claimant unable to perform his or her former occupation;
(5) Is the claimant unable to perform any other work within the economy?
McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir.1986). An affirmative answer to any of the above questions leads either to the next question or, at 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." Id.; see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 and 416.920.
IV. EVIDENCE BEFORE THE ALJ
Clough was 34 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. (R. 84). He has a 9th grade education. (Id. ) His work history includes work as a sheetrock hanger, plumber's helper, carpenter, and lathe operator. (R. 84-87). He also has experience installing metal roofs. (R. 88). Clough alleges that he became unable to work due to seizures, anxiety, a back injury, and leg problems. (R. 166).
Clough has a history of suffering from seizures. (R. 88, 196). In a Seizure Questionnaire he completed in August 2010 in connection with his application for disability benefits, he reported that he experienced one seizure per month. (R. 196). He further reported that he was not taking his seizure medication-Dilantin-regularly because he could not afford it. (R. 197). At the hearing in May 2012, Clough testified that he had resumed taking Dilantin two months earlier and had experienced two bad seizures and maybe a couple of seizures in his sleep since going back on the medication. (R. 89-90). He also testified that he had been averaging about four seizures a month before resuming the medication. (R. 91). Clough said that he loses consciousness during his seizures and that all of his muscles are sore when he comes out of them. (R. 90). He has no warning as to when the seizures will occur. (Id. )
Clough testified that he was injured in a motor vehicle accident in 2000. (R. 95). He provided no medical records regarding the extent of his injuries, but testified that he broke both of his legs in the accident and has a steel rod in his right leg and a plate and six screws in his left ankle. (Id. ) Clough said that his right hip hurts "pretty good" and that his left ankle swells and ...