United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
F. MOORER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
administrative denial of her application for disability
insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act,
42 U.S.C.§§ 401, et seq., Bonita Jordan
(“Jordan” or “Plaintiff”) received a
requested hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”) who rendered an unfavorable decision.
When the Appeals Council rejected review, the ALJ's
decision became the final decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security (“Commissioner”). See Chester
v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986). Judicial
review proceeds pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 28
U.S.C. § 636(c), and for reasons herein explained, the
Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision.
Nature of the Case
seeks judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security
Administration's decision to deny her application for
disability insurance benefits. United States district courts
may conduct limited review of such decisions to determine
whether they comply with applicable law and are supported by
substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405 (2006). The court
may affirm, reverse and remand with instructions, or reverse
and render a judgment. Id.
Standard of Review
review of the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits is
narrowly circumscribed. The court reviews a social security
case to determine whether the Commissioner's decision is
supported by substantial evidence and based upon proper legal
standards. Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631
F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011). The court “may not
decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute
[its] judgment for that of the Commissioner, ” but
rather “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) (quoting
Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th
Cir. 1983)); see also Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178
(stating the court should not re-weigh the evidence). This
court must find the Commissioner's decision conclusive
“if it is supported by substantial evidence and the
correct legal standards were applied.” Kelley v.
Apfel, 185 F.3d 1211, 1213 (11th Cir. 1999); see
also Kosloff v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 581 Fed.Appx.
811, 811 (11th Cir. 2015) (citing Kelley).
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.
Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178 (quoting Crawford v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir.
2004)); Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1440
(citing Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91
S.Ct. 1420, 1427, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971)). 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 finder of fact, and
even if the court finds that the evidence preponderates
against the Commissioner's decision. Edwards v.
Sullivan, 937 F.2d 580, 584 n.3 (11th Cir. 1991);
see also Henry v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.,
802 F.3d 1264, 1267 (11th Cir. 2015) (“even if the
evidence preponderates against the
Commissioner's findings, we must affirm if the decision
reached is supported by substantial evidence.”)
(citation omitted). The district court must view the record
as a whole, taking into account evidence favorable as well as
unfavorable to the decision. Foote v. Chater, 67
F.3d 1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1995) (citing Chester v.
Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986)).
district court will reverse a Commissioner's decision on
plenary review if the decision applies incorrect law, or if
the decision fails to provide the district court with
sufficient reasoning to determine that the Commissioner
properly applied the law. Keeton v. Department of Health
and Human Services, 21 F.3d 1064, 1066 (11th Cir. 1994)
(internal citations omitted). There is no presumption that
the Secretary's conclusions of law are valid.
Id.; Brown v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d 1233, 1236
(11th Cir. 1991).
Background and Proceedings
claims disability because of degenerative disc disease,
arthritis, depression, and low back pain. (R. 78-80, 97,
110). Following initial administrative denial of her claim,
Jordan requested a hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”) (R. 11). ALJ Walter V. Lassiter
(“the ALJ”) convened a video evidentiary hearing
on September 16, 2013. (R. 66-108). On May 19, 2104, the ALJ
convened a second hearing in person. (R. 33). The ALJ
convened the second hearing because the ALJ had sent Jordan
for a consultative examination and wanted to review the
results plus Jordan's attorney had additional medical
evidence she wanted the ALJ to consider. (R. 33). At each
hearing, the ALJ received direct testimony from Jordan. The
remaining evidentiary record consisted of medical reports
from treating sources and residual functional capacity
assessments from those who examined Jordan and/or reviewed
Jordan's medical records upon request of Alabama
Disability Determination Services. The ALJ rendered an
unfavorable verdict on June 24, 2014. (R. 11-25). On October
16, 2015, the Appeals Council denied Jordan's request for
review (R. 1-6). This Social Security Appeal was filed on
December 16, 2015. See Doc. 1, Complaint.
Sequential Evaluation Process
Commissioner utilizes a five-step, burden-shifting analysis
to determine when claimants are disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520; Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d
1232, 1237 (11th Cir. 2004); O'Neal v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 614 Fed.Appx. 456, 458 (11th Cir. 2015). The
(1) Whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial
(2) Whether the claimant has a severe impairment or
combination of impairments;
(3) Whether the impairment meets or exceeds one of the