United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
M. BORDEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
January 9, 2013, Plaintiff Stephen Allen Dial applied for
supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the
Social Security Act, alleging a disability onset date of
January 1, 2013 due to schizophrenia. Dial's claim was
denied at the initial administrative level. Dial requested
and received a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). On June 18, 2014, the ALJ held a hearing
and, on September 25, 2014, denied Dial's claim. Dial
requested a review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals
Council, and that request was denied on July 14, 2015. As a
result, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security (the
“Commissioner”) as of July 14, 2015.
case is now before the court for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 1383(c)(3). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1) and
Rule 73.1 of the Local Rules for the United States District
Court Middle District of Alabama, the parties have consented
for the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge to conduct
all proceedings in this case and to enter a final judgment.
Based on the court's review of the record, the
parties' briefs, and the relevant case law, the court
finds that the decision of the Commissioner is due to be
REVERSED and REMANDED, as set forth below.
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 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. §
423(d)(1)(A); 42 U.S.C. § 416(i). A physical or mental
impairment is “an impairment that results from
anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities
which are demonstrated by medially acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(3). Dial bears the burden of proving that he is
disabled, and he is responsible for producing evidence to
support his claim. See 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) (2012).
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