United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Jasper Division
SHARON LOVELACE BLACKBURN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Plaintiff Denise Talley Morgan 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. Morgan protectively filed an application for a period of disability and DIB on July 2, 2009. (Doc. 6-3 at R.20.) Her claims were denied initially. (Doc. 6-5 at R.104, R.109.) Thereafter, she requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge [“ALJ”], which was held on June 29, 2012. (Doc. 6-5 at R.112; doc. 6-3 at R.20, R.51.) After the hearing, the ALJ found that Ms. Morgan was able to perform her past relevant work as care coordinator as she actually performed the job. (Doc. 6-3 at R.44.) Therefore, he denied Ms. Morgan’s application for a period of disability and DIB on April 14, 2011. (Id. at 44-45.)
Ms. Morgan then requested review of the ALJ’s decision by the Appeals Council and submitted additional evidence. (Id. at R.15.) The Appeals Council “found no reason under [its] rules to review the [ALJ]’s decision, ” and it denied Ms. Morgan’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, Ms. Morgan 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). An individual is considered to be disabled for purposes of determining eligibility for DIB if she 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 has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. § 416 (i)(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.”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 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 she is not currently engaged in substantial gainful activity.” Reynolds-Buckley v. Commissioner of Social Sec., 457 Fed.Appx. 862, 863 (2012).
The ALJ found “[t]here is no evidence that [Ms. Morgan] has engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged date of onset of disability of ...