United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
M. BORDEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
August 6, 2012, Plaintiff James Ferguson applied for
supplemental security benefits under Title XVI of the Social
Security Act, alleging a disability onset date of July 31,
2012. Ferguson's claim was denied at the initial
administrative level. Ferguson then requested and received a
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). The ALJ held a hearing on April 2, 2014,
and denied Ferguson's claims on June 23, 2014. Ferguson
requested a review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals
Council, and that request was denied on August 21, 2015. As a
result, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of
the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the
“Commissioner”) as of August 21, 2015.
case is now before the court for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(c)(1) and Rule 73 of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure, the parties have consented to the full
jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate
Judge. Based on a careful review of the parties'
arguments, the relevant case law, and the record as a whole,
the court concludes that the decision of the Commissioner is
supported by substantial evidence and based upon the proper
legal standards, and is therefore due to be AFFIRMED.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
court reviews a Social Security appeal 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 will reverse the
Commissioner's decision if it is convinced that the
decision was not supported by substantial evidence or that
the proper legal standards were not applied. Carnes v.
Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1215, 1218 (11th Cir. 1991). 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).
“Even if the evidence preponderates against the
Secretary's factual findings, [the court] must affirm if
the decision reached is supported by substantial
evidence.” Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520,
1529 (11th Cir. 1990). Moreover, reversal is not warranted
even if the court would have reached a result contrary to
that of the factfinder. See Edwards v. Sullivan, 937
F.2d 580, 584 n.3 (11th Cir. 1991).
substantial evidence standard is met “if a reasonable
person would accept the evidence in the record as adequate to
support the challenged conclusion.” Holladay v.
Bowen, 848 F.2d 1206, 1208 (11th Cir. 1988) (quoting
Boyd v. Heckler, 704 F.2d 1207, 1209 (11th Cir.
1983)). The requisite evidentiary showing has been described
as “more than a scintilla, but less than a
preponderance.” Bloodsworth, 703 F.2d at 1239.
The court must scrutinize the entire record to determine the
reasonableness of the decision reached and cannot “act
as [an] automaton in reviewing the [Commissioner's]
decision.” Hale v. Bowen, 831 F.2d 1007, 1010
(11th Cir. 1987). Thus, the court must consider evidence both
favorable and unfavorable to the Commissioner's decision.
Swindle v. Sullivan, 914 F.2d 222, 225 (11th Cir.
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. Id.
(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 medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(3). Ferguson 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).
determination of disability under the Social Security Act
requires a five-step analysis. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a).
The Commissioner must determine in sequence:
(1) Is the claimant presently unable to engage in substantial
(2) Is the claimant's impairment(s) severe?
(3) Does the claimant's impairment(s) satisfy or
medically 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 former occupation?
(5) Is the claimant unable to perform other work given his
residual functional capacity, age, education, and work
See Frame v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 596 F.
App'x 908, 910 (11th Cir. 2015). “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 ‘not
disabled.'” McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d
1026, 1030 (11th Cir. 1986) (quoting 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)-(f)). “Once the finding is made that a
claimant cannot return to prior work the burden of proof
shifts to the Secretary to show other work the ...