United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
GARY R. DEMENT, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security,  Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION 
Wallace Capel, Jr. CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Dement (“Plaintiff”) filed an application for
disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social
Security Act (“the Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§
401, et seq., on August 21, 2013, alleging
disability beginning on March 20, 2012. Plaintiff's
application for benefits was denied at the initial
administrative level on December 27, 2013. Plaintiff then
requested and received a hearing before an Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”). Following the hearing, the ALJ
issued a decision finding Plaintiff had not been under a
disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from March
20, 2012, through the date of the decision on August 25,
2015. Plaintiff appealed to the Appeals Council on September
11, 2015, and while the appeal was pending, Plaintiff
presented additional evidence for the Appeals Council's
review. The Appeals Council denied review on February 24,
2016. Accordingly, the ALJ's decision consequently became
the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”). See Chester v. Bowen,
792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986). The case is now before
the court for review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Pursuant
to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), both parties have consented to
the conduct of all proceedings and entry of a final judgment
by the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. Pl.'s
Consent to Jurisdiction (Doc. 13); Def.'s Consent to
Jurisdiction (Doc. 14). Based on the court's review of
the record and the briefs of the parties, the court REVERSES
the decision of the Commissioner and REMANDS the matter for
STANDARD OF REVIEW
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A), a person is entitled to
benefits when the person 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 which has lasted or can
be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).
this determination, the Commissioner employs a five-step,
sequential evaluation process. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520, 416.920.
(1) Is the person presently unemployed?
(2) Is the person's impairment severe?
(3) Does the person's impairment meet or equal one of the
specific impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt.
P, App. 1 [the Listing of Impairments]?
(4) Is the person unable to perform his or her former
(5) Is the person unable to perform any other work within the
economy? 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
McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir.
burden of proof rests on a claimant through Step Four.
See Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1237-39
(11th Cir. 2004). A claimant establishes a prima facie case
of qualifying disability once they have carried the burden of
proof from Step One through Step Four. At Step Five, the
burden shifts to the Commissioner, who must then show there
are a significant number of jobs in the national economy the
claimant can perform. Id.
perform the fourth and fifth steps, the ALJ must determine
the claimant's Residual Functional Capacity
(“RFC”). Id. at 1238-39. The RFC is what
the claimant is still able to do despite the claimant's
impairments and is based on all relevant medical and other
evidence. Id. It may contain both exertional and
nonexertional limitations. Id. at 1242-43. At the
fifth step, the ALJ considers the claimant's RFC, age,
education, and work experience to determine if there are jobs
available in the national economy the claimant can perform.
Id. at 1239. To do this, the ALJ can either use the
Medical Vocational Guidelines (“grids”) or call a
vocational expert (“VE”). Id. at
grids allow the ALJ to consider factors such as age,
confinement to sedentary or light work, inability to speak
English, educational deficiencies, and lack of job
experience. Each factor can independently limit the number of
jobs realistically available to an individual. Id.
at 1240. Combinations of these factors yield a
statutorily-required finding of “Disabled” or
“Not Disabled.” Id.
court's review of the Commissioner's decision is a
limited one. This court must find the Commissioner's
decision conclusive if it is supported by substantial
evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Graham v. Apfel,
129 F.3d 1420, 1422 (11th Cir. 1997). “Substantial
evidence is more than a scintilla, but less than a
preponderance. It is such relevant evidence as a reasonable
person would accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 401 (1971); see also Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004) (“Even
if the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's
findings, [a reviewing court] must affirm if the decision
reached is supported by substantial evidence.”). A
reviewing court may not look only to those parts of the
record which support the decision of the ALJ, but instead
must view the record in its entirety and take account of
evidence which detracts from the evidence relied on by the
ALJ. Hillsman v. Bowen, 804 F.2d 1179 (11th Cir.
[The court must] . . . scrutinize the record in its entirety
to determine the reasonableness of the [Commissioner's] .
. . factual findings. . . . No similar presumption of
validity attaches to the [Commissioner's] . . . legal
conclusions, including ...