United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MELBORNE R. SHEPHERD, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security,  Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
WILLIAM E. CASSADY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Security Claimant/Plaintiff Melborne R. Shepherd brought this
action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3)
seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Defendant
Commissioner of Social Security (the
“Commissioner”) denying his applications for a
period of disability (“PoD”) and disability
insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq.
The parties have consented to the exercise of jurisdiction by
the Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c),
for all proceedings in this Court. (Doc. 21 (“In
accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and
Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, the parties in this case consent to have a
United States Magistrate Judge conduct any and all
proceedings in this case, including the trial, order the
entry of a final judgment, and conduct all post-judgment
consideration of the briefs of the parties, (Docs. 9 &
15), and the administrative record, (Doc. 8), (hereinafter
cited as “(R. [page number(s) in lower-right corner of
transcript])”), it is determined that the
Commissioner's decision is due to be
was born on June 15, 1954. (R. 169 [SSA Ex. 1E]). The highest
grade of school Shepherd attained was twelfth grade. (R. 174
[SSA Ex. 2E]). Shepherd worked as a pumper from 1977 to 1999,
handyman and farm operator from 2000 to 2002, bander operator
from 2003 to 2005, and facilities maintenance supervisor from
2006 to 2010. (R. 181 [SSA Ex. 4E]).
filed applications for a PoD and DIB with the Social Security
Administration (the “SSA”),  alleging
disability beginning October 15, 2010. (R. 19). After
Shepherd's claim was denied, he requested a hearing,
which was held before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) for the SSA on April 16, 2014. (R. 19).
On August 25, 2014, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on
Shepherd's claim, finding him “not disabled”
under sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act.
requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals
Council for the SSA's Office of Disability Adjudication
and Review. (R. 7-8). The Appeals Council denied
Shepherd's request for review on February 2, 2016, which
made the ALJ's the final decision of the Commissioner.
(R. 1-6). On March 17, 2016, Shepherd filed this action
pursuant to § 405(g) and § 1382(c)(3)5 to review the
final decision of the Commissioner. (Doc. 1).
Standard of Review
Social Security appeals, [the Court] must determine whether
the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial
evidence and based on proper legal standards. Substantial
evidence is more than a scintilla and is such relevant
evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Winschel v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011)
(citations and internal quotations omitted). The Court
“may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence,
or substitute [its] judgment for that of the
[Commissioner].” Id. (citations omitted).
“Even if the evidence preponderates against the
Commissioner's 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) (citing Sewell v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 1065, 1067
(11th Cir. 1986); MacGregor v. Bowen, 786 F.2d 1050,
1053 (11th Cir. 1986); and Bloodsworth v. Heckler,
703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983)). “Yet, within
this narrowly circumscribed role, [the Court does] not
‘act as automatons.'” Bloodsworth,
703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983) (citing Ware v.
Schweiker, 651 F.2d 408, 411 (5th Cir. 1981), cert.
denied, 455 U.S. 912, 102 S.Ct. 1263, 71 L.Ed.2d 452
(1982)). The Court “must scrutinize the record as a
whole, [Ware, 651 F.2d at 411]; Lewis v.
Weinberger, 515 F.2d 584, 586-87 (5th Cir. 1975), to
determine if the decision reached is reasonable, Simmons
v. Harris, 602 F.2d 1233, 1236 (5th Cir. 1979), and
supported by substantial evidence, Scharlow v.
Schweiker, 655 F.2d 645, 648 (5th Cir. 1981).”
Bloodsworth, 703 F.2d at 1239.
contrast to the deferential review accorded to the
[Commissioner's] findings of fact, the
[Commissioner's] conclusions of law, including applicable
review standards are not presumed valid.”
Martin, 894 F.2d at 1529 (citing MacGregor,
786 F.2d at 1053; Smith v. Heckler, 707 F.2d 1284,
1285 (11th Cir. 1983), Wiggins v. Schweiker, 679
F.2d 1387, 1389 (11th Cir. 1982); Smith v.
Schweiker, 646 F.2d 1075, 1076 (5th Cir. Unit A June
1981). “The [Commissioner's] failure to apply the
correct legal standard or to provide the reviewing court with
sufficient basis for a determination that proper legal
principles have been followed mandates reversal.”
Martin, 894 F.2d at 1529 (citing Gibson v.
Heckler, 779 F.2d 619, 622 (11th Cir. 1986); Bowel
v. Heckler, 748 F.2d 629, 635-36 (11th Cir. 1984);
Smith, 707 F.2d at 1285; Wiggins, 679 F.2d
at 1389; Ambers v. Heckler, 736 F.2d 1467, 1470
(11th Cir. 1984)).
The Social Security Regulations outline a five-step,
sequential evaluation process used to determine whether a
claimant is disabled: (1) whether the claimant is currently
engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the
claimant has a severe impairment or combination of
impairments; (3) whether the impairment meets or equals the
severity of the specified impairments in the Listing of
Impairments; (4) based on a residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) assessment, whether the claimant can
perform any of his or her past relevant work despite the
impairment; and (5) whether there are significant numbers of
jobs in the national economy that the claimant can perform
given the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work
Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178 (citing 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v), 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v);
Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, at 1237-39
(11th Cir. 2004)).
Claims on Judicial Review
“The [ALJ] committed reversible error by giving
‘significant weight' to the opinion of a
non-acceptable non-medical source in determining
[Shepherd's RFC] and by disregarding the opinions of
[Shepherd's] treating physician.” (Doc. 9, at 2).
the first step, the ALJ must consider the claimant's
current working situation. If the claimant is ‘doing
substantial gainful activity, [the ALJ] will find that [the
claimant is] not disabled.'” Phillips, 357
F.3d at 1237 (alterations in original) (quoting 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i) & (b). “If however, the
claimant is not currently ‘doing gainful activity'
then the ALJ moves on to the second step.”
Phillips, 357 F.3d at 1237. At the first step, the
ALJ determined that Shepherd had “not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since October 15, 2010, the
alleged onset date.” (R. 21).
At the second step, the ALJ is to “consider the medical
severity of [the claimant's] impairment(s).” 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). When considering the
severity of the claimant's medical impairments, the ALJ
must determine whether the impairments, alone or in
combination, “significantly limit” the
claimant's “physical or mental ability to do basic
work skills.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). If the ALJ
concludes that none of the claimant's impairments are
medically severe, the ALJ is to conclude that the claimant is
not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § ...