United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
JOHN E. OTT, Chief Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Michael Wayne Overton 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 application for disability insurance benefits. (Doc. 1). He has also filed a motion to remand pursuant to sentence six of § 405(g). (Doc. 19). 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. Upon review of the record and the relevant law, the undersigned finds that the Commissioner's decision is due to be affirmed and that Overton's motion to remand is due to be denied.
I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Overton filed applications for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income on May 17, 2010, alleging disability beginning December 31, 2004. (R. 119-30). His applications were denied initially. (R. 62-70). Overton then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), which was held on February 22, 2012. (R. 33-53). He was represented by counsel at the hearing. (R. 33). On June 12, 2012, the ALJ issued her decision finding that Overton was disabled as of June 14, 2011 and granting his claim for supplemental security income, but finding that he was not disabled at any time through June 30, 2010, his date last insured, and denying his claim for disability insurance benefits. (R. 15-28).
Overton requested the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision and submitted additional evidence regarding his alleged disability. (R. 9-11, 13-14). The Appeals Council denied Overton's request for review on June 28, 2013. (R. 1-7). On that date, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner.
Overton then filed this action for judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Doc. 1). After the issues had been briefed by the parties, Overton filed a motion to remand the action pursuant to sentence six of § 405(g) and submitted new evidence along with the motion. (Docs. 19, 19-1, 19-2, 19-3).
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. Once a finding is made that a claimant cannot return to prior work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show other work the claimant can do. Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1559 (11th Cir. 1995) (citation omitted). The Commissioner must further show that such work exists in the national economy in significant numbers. Id.
IV. EVIDENCE BEFORE THE ALJ
Overton was 34 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. (R. 119). He completed the 12th grade but did not graduate. (R. 39) His work experience includes work as an installer, laborer, and roofer. (R. 155). He was last insured for disability insurance benefits on June 30, 2010. (R. 21, 150).
The medical evidence reflects that Overton was examined by Dr. Henry Beeler on August 18, 2001. (R. 250). Dr. Beeler observed lesions on Overton's scalp and removed a skin specimen for evaluation. ( Id. ) The skin condition was diagnosed as dissecting cellulitis. ( Id. )
On September 27, 2002, Overton was examined by Dr. Steven Seidel. (R. 238). Dr. Seidel noted that Overton reported "six or seven years of a progressive problem with pustular abscess-like areas of break-out on his scalp and then draining." ( Id. ) Dr. Seidel observed that Overton had "chronic indurated process involving the vast area of his scalp" but "no other involved areas anywhere else on his body." ( Id. ) Dr. Seidel recommended debridement and skin grafting, noting that Overton's other medical therapies had not helped his condition. ( Id. )
On January 13, 2003, Dr. Seidel performed a radical excision of the dissecting cellulitis of Overton's scalp, followed by skin grafting. (R. 235-36). At follow-up office visits Dr. Seidel noted that Overton was doing well, and by May 9 his head was "completely healed." (R. 226). That same day, Dr. Seidel excised a cyst under Overton's left axilla. ( Id. ) Dr. Seidel observed that the cyst did not appear to be similar to Overton's scalp problems. ( Id. )
In July 2010, after Overton applied for disability benefits and SSI, he was interviewed by Dr. John Haney, a consultative psychologist. (R. 267-68). Dr. Haney noted that Overton "was unable to subtract serial sevens but was able to count forward by threes and had difficulty with other simple problems in change making and arithmetic." (R. 267). He also noted that Overton "recalled one of three objects after five minutes" but that his "[r]ecent and remote memory appeared intact." ( Id. ) Dr. Haney diagnosed Overton with a learning disability and determined that Overton's "[a]bility to function in most jobs appeared moderately impaired by his physical and vocational limitations." (R. 268).
Overton was also examined by Dr. Marlin Gill, a consultative physician. (R. 270-71). Dr. Gill assessed Overton with a "[h]istory of recurrent cellulitis of the scalp, " noting that Overton had undergone "extensive surgery with excision of the posterior scalp and skin grafting" and that Overton subsequently ...