United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
M. BORDEN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Cathy Diane Qualls commenced this action on June 15, 2015,
seeking judicial review of a final adverse decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security denying her application for a
period of disability, disability insurance benefits,
widow's disability benefits, and supplemental disability
insurance benefits under Titles II and XVI of the Social
Security Act. Doc. 1. The case is ripe for review pursuant to
42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). The parties
have consented to the entry of a final judgment by the
undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 636(b) and Rule 73.1 of the Local Rules for the
United States District Court for the Middle District of
Alabama. Docs. 16 & 17. Based upon a review of the
parties' briefs, the evidentiary record, and the relevant
authority, the court finds that, for the reasons explained
below, the Commissioner's decision is due to be AFFIRMED.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
court reviews a social security case to determine whether the
Commissioner's decision “is supported by
substantial evidence and based upon proper legal
standards.” Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436,
1439 (11th Cir. 1997). The court “may not decide the
facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute its judgment
for that of the Commissioner, ” but rather it
“must defer to the Commissioner's decision if it is
supported by substantial evidence.” Miles v.
Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1997) (internal
quotation marks omitted). Indeed, the court must affirm the
Commissioner's decision “if it is supported by
substantial evidence and the correct legal standards were
applied.” Kelly v. Apfel, 185 F.3d 1211, 1213
(11th Cir. 1999) (citing Graham v. Apfel, 129 F.3d
1420, 1422 (11th Cir. 1997)).
evidence is more than a scintilla-i.e., the evidence must do
more than merely create a suspicion of the existence of a
fact, and must include such relevant evidence as a reasonable
person would accept as adequate to support the
conclusion.” Jones ex rel. T.J.J. v. Astrue,
2011 WL 1706465, at *1 (M.D. Ala. May 5, 2011) (citing
Lewis, 125 F.3d at 1440). The court must scrutinize
the entire record to determine the reasonableness of the
decision reached. Hale v. Bowen, 831 F.2d 1007, 1010
(11th Cir. 1987). “If the Commissioner's decision
is supported by substantial evidence, the district court will
affirm, even if the court would have reached a contrary
result as a finder of fact, and even if the court finds that
the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's
decision.” Jones, 2011 WL 1706465 at *2
(citing Edwards v. Sullivan, 937 F.2d 580, 584 n.3
(11th Cir. 1991)). The court will reverse the
Commissioner's decision on plenary review if the decision
applies incorrect law, or if the decision fails to provide
the court with sufficient reasoning to determine that the
Commissioner properly applied the law. Cornelius v.
Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991);
Jones, 2011 WL 1706465 at *2 (citing Keeton v.
Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 21 F.3d 1064,
1066 (11th Cir. 1994)). There is no presumption that the
Commissioner's conclusions of law are valid. Id.
STATUTORY AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK
qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must show 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.
§§ 416(i) & 423(d)(1)(A). A physical or mental
impairment is “an impairment that results from
anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities
which are demonstrated by medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(3). Qualls bears the burden of proving that she is
disabled, and she is responsible for producing evidence to
support her claim. Ellison v. Barnhart, 355 F.3d
1272, 1276 (11th Cir. 2003).
of disability under the Social Security Act requires a
five-step analysis. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a).
Specifically, 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?
(4) Is the claimant unable to perform his or her former
(5) Is the claimant unable to perform any other work within
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, on 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. at 1030 (quoting 20 C.F.R. §§
416.920(a)-(f)). “Once the finding is made that a
claimant cannot return to prior work the burden of proof
shifts to the Secretary to show other work the claimant can
do.” Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1559 (11th
Cir. 1995) (citing Gibson v. Heckler, 762 F.2d 1516
(11th Cir. 1985)).
Factual and ...