United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS, United States District Judge
Brandi Lewis (“Ms. Lewis”) brings this action
under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Section 205(g) of the Social
Security Act. She seeks review of a final adverse decision of
the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”),  who denied her application for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). Ms. Lewis
timely pursued and exhausted her administrative remedies
available before the Commissioner. The case is thus ripe for
review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Lewis was 31-years old at the time of her hearing before the
administrative law judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 43). She
has completed twelfth grade. (Tr. 46). Her past work
experience includes employment as: (1) an inventory control
worker at WalMart; (2) an assembly worker; (3) an overnight
stocker; (4) a cashier; (5) a coupon machine installer and
restocker; and (6) a waitress. (Tr. 77-82). Ms. Lewis claims
that she became disabled on September 24, 2012. (Tr. 14). Her
last period of work ended on September 24, 2012. (Tr. 16).
October 1, 2012, Ms. Lewis protectively filed a Title II
application for a period of disability and DIB. (Tr. 14,
195-196). On December 13, 2012, the Commissioner initially
denied her claims. (Tr. 126-130). Ms. Lewis timely filed a
written request for a hearing on February 1, 2013. (Tr.
132-3). The ALJ conducted a hearing on May 1, 2014, in
Birmingham, Alabama. (Tr. 14); (see also Tr. 36-91).
On June 13, 2014, the ALJ issued a fully unfavorable decision
concluding that Ms. Lewis was not disabled and denying her
DIB claim. (Tr. 11, 14-28). Ms. Lewis then on June 25, 2014,
timely petitioned the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's
decision that was adverse to her. (Tr. 7-9). On December 11,
2015, the Appeals Council issued a denial of review on her
claim. (Tr. 1-3).
Lewis filed a Complaint with this court on January 31, 2016,
seeking review of the Commissioner's determination. (Doc.
1). The Commissioner answered on May 5, 2016. (Doc. 8). Ms.
Lewis filed a supporting brief (Doc. 10) on June 17, 2016,
and the Commissioner responded with her own (Doc. 11) on July
13, 2016. With the parties having fully briefed the matter,
the court has carefully considered the record and remands the
decision of the Commissioner for further development.
court's review of the Commissioner's decision is
narrowly circumscribed. The function of this 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 (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). This court will determine that
the ALJ's opinion is supported by substantial evidence if
it finds “such relevant evidence as a reasonable person
would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Id. Substantial evidence is “more than a
scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Id.
Factual findings that are supported by substantial evidence
must be upheld by the court. The ALJ's legal conclusions,
however, are reviewed 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, the ALJ's
decision must be reversed. Cornelius v. Sullivan,
936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).
AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK
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 an entitlement to disability benefits, a claimant
must provide evidence about a “physical or mental
impairment” that “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.
Regulations provide a five-step process for determining
whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i-v). The Commissioner must determine in
(1) whether the claimant is currently employed;
(2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment;
(3) whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals an
impairment listed by the [Commissioner];
(4) whether the claimant can perform his or her past work;
(5) whether the claimant is capable of performing any work in
the national economy.
Pope v. Shalala, 998 F.2d 473, 477 (7th Cir. 1993)
(citing to formerly applicable C.F.R. section), overruled
on other grounds by Johnson v. Apfel, 189 F.3d 561,
562-63 (7th Cir. 1999); accord McDaniel v. Bowen,
800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir. 1986). The sequential analysis
goes as follows:
Once the claimant has satisfied steps One and Two, she will
automatically be found disabled if she suffers from a listed
impairment. If the claimant does not have a listed impairment
but cannot perform her work, the burden shifts to the
[Commissioner] to show that the claimant can perform some
Pope, 998 F.2d at 477; accord Foote v.
Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1559 (11th Cir. 1995).
Commissioner must further show that such work exists in the
national economy in significant numbers. Id.
OF THE ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE
consideration of the entire record, the ALJ made the
1. Ms. Lewis met the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through June 20, 2017. (Tr. 16).
2. She had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since
September 24, 2012, the alleged onset date. Id.
3. She has the following severe impairments: degenerative
disc disease at four lower levels with right sided
protrusions at ¶ 4-5 and L5-S1; obesity; bipolar