United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS, United States District Judge
Cherri Annette Hill (“Ms. Hill”) brings this
action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Section 205(g) of the
Social Security Act. She seeks review of a final adverse
decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (“Commissioner”),  who denied her
Title II application for Widow's Insurance Benefits and
her Title XVI application for Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”). Ms. Hill timely pursued and exhausted her
administrative remedies available before the Commissioner.
This case is thus ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. §
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Hill was 51 years old at the time of her hearing before the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 38). She
has completed the tenth grade and received her general
education degree (“GED”). (Tr. 38-39). Her past
relevant work experience includes employment as a cashier and
an electronics assembler. Id. Ms. Hill initially
claimed she became disabled beginning February 15, 2005. (Tr.
165). Her last period of work ended in 2002. (Tr. 38).
26, 2009, Ms. Hill protectively filed a Title II application
for a period of disability and Widow's Insurance
Benefits. (Tr. 69). She also protectively filed a Title XVI
application for SSI on that date. Id. The ALJ
reached a decision on July 14, 2011. Id. That
decision was appealed and review was denied by the Appeals
Council on January 17, 2013. (Tr. 81). Ms. Hill did not
appeal from the July 14, 2011, ALJ decision. On April 18,
2013, Ms. Hill protectively filed her second Title II
application for a period of disability and Widow's
Insurance Benefits. (Tr. 165). She also protectively filed
her second Title XVI application for SSI on that date. (Tr.
173). Ms. Hill amended the onset date of her disability to
April 1, 2010. (Tr. 13). On May 23, 2013, the Commissioner
initially denied these claims. Id. Ms. Hill timely
filed a written request for a hearing on June 25, 2013.
Id. On August 6, 2014, the ALJ conducted a video
hearing. Id. The ALJ presided over the hearing from
Franklin, Tennessee while Ms. Hill appeared in Decatur,
Alabama. Id. On September 16, 2014, the ALJ issued
an unfavorable decision concluding that Ms. Hill was not
disabled and denying her claims. (Tr. 13-27). Ms. Hill timely
petitioned the Appeals Council to review the decision on
October 8, 2014. (Tr. 8). On February 10, 2016, the Appeals
Council issued a denial of review on Ms. Hill's claims.
Hill filed a Complaint with this court on April 13, 2016,
seeking review of the Commissioner's determination. (Doc.
1). The Commissioner answered on July 27, 2016. (Doc. 6). Ms.
Hill filed a supporting brief (doc. 8) on September 9, 2016,
and the Commissioner responded with an opposing brief (doc.
9) on October 11, 2016. Ms. Hill then followed with a reply
(doc. 10) to the Commissioner's brief on October 25,
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). Substantial evidence is
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Id. It is “more than a scintilla, but less
than a preponderance.” Id.
court must uphold factual findings that are supported by
substantial evidence. However, it reviews the ALJ's legal
conclusions 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, it must reverse the ALJ's decision.
Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th
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.
qualify for benefits as a disabled widow under the
Regulations of the Social Security Act, the claimant must
meet the definition of “disabled, ” and must
establish that she is at least 50 years of age and the widow
of a wage earner who died fully insured. Sullivan v.
Weinberger, 493 F.2d 855, 857 (5th Cir. 1974) (citations
omitted). The prescribed period of eligibility to receive
benefits as a disabled widow under the Social Security Act is
seven years from the month of the insured wage earner's
OF THE ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE
consideration of the entire record, the ALJ made the
was previously found that [Ms. Hill] is the unmarried widow
of the deceased-insured worker and has attained the age of
50. [Ms. Hill] met the non-disability requirements for
disabled widow's benefits set forth in section 202(e) of
the Social Security Act. (Tr. 16).
prescribed period ends on July 31, 2019. Id.
Hill] has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since
April 1, 2010, the amended alleged onset date (20 C.F.R.