United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS, United States District Judge
William Rudder (“Mr. Rudder”) brings this action
under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Section 205(g) of the Social
Security Act. He seeks review of a final adverse decision of
the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”),  who denied his applications for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and
Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”). Mr. Rudder timely pursued and exhausted
his administrative remedies available before the
Commissioner. The case is thus ripe for review under 42
U.S.C. § 405(g).
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Rudder was 61 years old at the time of his hearing before the
administrative law judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 49). He
has completed the twelfth grade. (Tr. 49). His past work
experience includes employment as: (1) a grocery store
merchandiser; (2) a merchandiser at Walmart; (3) a sales
attendant at Home Depot; and (4) a jewelry salesperson. (Tr.
44-58). Mr. Rudder originally claimed that he became disabled
on November 12, 2012, but he later amended his onset date to
November 20, 2012. (Tr. 39). His last period of work ended on
November 20, 2012. (Tr. 40).
January 8, 2013, Mr. Rudder protectively filed a Title II
application for a period of disability, DIB, and SSI. (Tr.
17, 126-27). On May 15, 2013, the Commissioner initially
denied his claims. (Tr. 126-127). Mr. Rudder timely filed a
written request for a hearing on May 21, 2013. (Tr. 140). The
ALJ conducted a hearing on June 25, 2014, in Birmingham,
Alabama. (Tr. 34). On October 29, 2014, the ALJ issued a
fully unfavorable decision concluding that Mr. Rudder was not
disabled and denying both his DIB and SSI claims. (Tr.
17-29). Mr. Rudder then timely petitioned the Appeals Council
to review the decision on November 15, 2014. (Tr. 9-11). On
March 9, 2016, the Appeals Council issued a denial of review
on his claim. (Tr. 1-3).
Rudder filed a Complaint with this court on May 3, 2016,
seeking review of the Commissioner's determination. (Doc.
1). The Commissioner answered on August 17, 2016. (Doc. 8).
Mr. Rudder filed a supporting brief (Doc. 10) on September
30, 2016, and the Commissioner responded with her own (Doc.
11) on October 31, 2016. With the parties having fully
briefed the matter, the court has carefully considered the
record and remands the decision of the Commissioner.
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). The
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. Mr. Rudder met the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through December 31, 2016. (Tr. 20).
2. He has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since
November 20, 2012, the amended alleged onset date.
3. He has the following severe impairments: chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”),
asbestosis, fatigue, diabetes, peripheral neuropathy,
obesity, and obstructive sleep apnea. Id.
4. Mr. Rudder does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that met or medically equals the severity of one
of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1. (Tr. 23).
5. He has the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform medium work as defined in 20
C.F.R. § 404.1567(c) and § 416.967(c), which allows for
temperature controlled environment with no excessive exposure
to dust, fumes, or gases; no operation of hazardous
machinery; no unprotected ...