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Lucas v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

March 19, 2015

WILLIE KILPATRICK LUCAS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

SHARON LOVELACE BLACKBURN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Willie Kilpatrick Lucas brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), [1] seeking review of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying his application for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits ["DIB"], and supplemental security income ["SSI"]. Upon review of the record 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

Mr. Lucas protectively filed an application for a period of disability, DIB, and SSI on April 21, 2011. (Doc. 6-3 at R.27.)[2] His claims were denied initially. (Doc. 6-4 at R.84, R.85.) Thereafter, he requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ["ALJ"], which was held on June 29, 2012. (Doc. 6-5 at R.95-R.96; doc. 6-3 at R.63.) After the hearing, the ALJ found that Mr. Lucas was able to perform his past relevant work of small business owner as performed. (Doc. 6-3 at R.34.) Therefore, she denied Mr. Lucas's application for a period of disability, DIB, and SSI on July 27, 2012. ( Id. )

Mr. Lucas then requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council. ( Id. at R.23.) The Appeals Council "found no reason under [its] rules to review the [ALJ]'s decision, " and it denied Mr. Lucas's request for review. (Doc. 6-3 at R.1.) Therefore, the ALJ's decision is the final decision of the Commissioner. ( See id. )

Following denial of review by the Appeals Council, Mr. Lucas filed an appeal in this court. (Doc. 1.)

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

In reviewing claims brought under the Social Security Act, this court's role is a narrow one: "Our review of the Commissioner's decision 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 Cor. 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 v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990); 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. Commissioner of Social Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011)(internal quotations and citations omitted)

Conclusions of law made by the Commissioner are reviewed de novo. Cornelius, 936 F.2d at 1145. "No... presumption of validity attaches to the [Commissioner's] conclusions of law." Wiggins v. Schweiker, 679 F.2d 1387, 1389 (11th Cir. 1982).

III. DISCUSSION

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, DIB, and/or SSI. 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 and SSI benefits] if he 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)(C)(1); see also 42 U.S.C. § 416(i)(1); 42 U.S.C. § 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). The regulations define "substantial gainful activity" as "work activity that is both substantial and gainful."[3] 20 C.F.R. § 404.1572; 20 C.F.R. § 416.972. If the claimant is working and that work is substantial gainful activity, the Commissioner will find that the claimant is not disabled, regardless of the claimant's medical condition or his age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(b). "Under the first step, the claimant has the ...


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