United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Jasper Division
VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS United States District Judge.
Gary Watkins (“Mr. Watkins”) 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 application for
supplemental security income (“SSI”) and
disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”).,  Mr. Watkins filed an application for DIB
on November 26, 2012, and SSI on February 27, 2013.
Thereafter, Mr. Watkins pursued and exhausted the
administrative remedies available before the Commissioner.
Accordingly, this case is now ripe for judicial review
pursuant to the provisions of section 205(g) of the Social
Security Act (the “Act”), 42 U.S.C. §
sole 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.
Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th
Cir. 1983). To that end this court “must scrutinize the
record as a whole to determine if the decision reached is
reasonable and supported by substantial evidence.”
Id. Substantial evidence is “such relevant
evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Id. The court has
carefully reviewed the entire record in this case and is of
the opinion that the Commissioner's decision is not
supported by substantial evidence and that proper legal
standards were not applied in reaching that decision.
Accordingly, the decision of the Commissioner must be
REVERSED and REMANDED.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Watkins filed a Title II application for DIB on November 26,
2012. (Tr. 29). He filed a Title XVI application for SSI on
February 27, 2013. Id. In both applications, Mr.
Watkins alleged disability beginning October 15, 2011 (Tr.
29), which was subsequently amended to February 12, 2013.
(Tr. 167). The applications were denied administratively on
May 16, 2013, and Mr. Watkins timely requested a hearing
before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr.
29). That hearing was held on September 12, 2014, and the ALJ
denied both claims. Id. Mr. Watkins filed a
complaint on July 5, 2016, which asks this court to review
the ALJ's decision. (Doc. 1).
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, 703 F.2d at 1239. 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).
sequential analysis goes as follows:
Once a claimant has satisfied steps One and Two, [he] will
automatically be found disabled if [he] suffers from a listed
impairment. If the claimant does not have a listed impairment
but cannot perform [his] 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
OF THE ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE
consideration of the entire record, the ALJ made the
1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through December 31, 2014. (Tr. 12).
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since February 12, 2013, the amended alleged onset
date. (20 C.F.R. § 404.1517 et seq., and
416.971 et seq.). (Tr. 12).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairment:
depression, and history of substance abuse. (20 C.F.R. §
404.152(c) and § 416.920(c)). (Tr. 12).
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart
P, Appendix 1. (20 C.F.R. § 404.1525, § 404.1526,