United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
SHARON LOVELACE BLACKBURN, District Judge.
Plaintiff Linda Marie Ivy brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying her application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits ["DIB"]. Upon review of the record and the relevant law, the court is of the opinion that the Commissioner's decision is due to be reversed and remanded for further proceedings.
I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Ms. Ivy initially filed an application for a period of disability and DIB on February 10, 2011. (Doc. 5-3 at R.21.) Her claims were denied initially. ( Id. ) Thereafter, she requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ["ALJ"], which was held on August 6, 2012. ( Id. at R.37.) After the hearing, the ALJ found that, while Ms. Ivy was unable to perform any past relevant work, she was capable of performing "other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy." ( Id. at R.30.) In light of this finding, the ALJ denied Ms. Ivy's request for a period of disability and DIB on September 28, 2012. ( Id. at R.31.)
Ms. Ivy then asked the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision. ( Id. at R.15.) The Appeals Council "found no reason under [its] rules to review the Administrative Law Judge's decision. Therefore, [it] denied [Ms. Ivy's] request for review." ( Id. at R.1.) Therefore, the ALJ's decision is the final decision of the Commissioner. ( Id. )
Following denial of review by the Appeals Council, Ms. Douthard 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).
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 DIB. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(1)-(2); Bowen v. City of New York, 476 U.S. 467, 470 (1986). "The term disability' means - (A) [the] inability 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 12 months...." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); see also 42 U.S.C. § 416(i)(1). 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." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1572. 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 her age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). "Under the first step, the claimant has the burden to show that ...