United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
LASTISHA F. MERRITT, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security,  Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
M. BORDEN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Latisha F. Merritt filed this action on February 25, 2016,
seeking judicial review of a final adverse decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security denying her application for a
period of disability and disability insurance benefits under
Title II of the Social Security Act. Doc. 1. The case is ripe
for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The parties
consented to the entry of an opinion and final judgment by
the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 636(b), Rule 73 of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure, and Rule 73.1 of the Local Rules for the United
States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama.
Docs. 9 & 10. Based upon a review of the parties'
briefs, the evidentiary record, and the relevant authority,
the court finds that, for the reasons explained below, the
Commissioner's decision is due to be REVERSED and this
case REMANDED to the Commissioner for further proceedings
consistent with this opinion.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
court reviews a social security case 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 “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). Indeed, the court must affirm the
Commissioner's decision “if it is supported by
substantial evidence and the correct legal standards were
applied.” Kelly v. Apfel, 185 F.3d 1211, 1213
(11th Cir. 1999) (citing Graham v. Apfel, 129 F.3d
1420, 1422 (11th Cir. 1997)).
evidence is more than a scintilla-i.e., the evidence must do
more than merely create a suspicion of the existence of a
fact, and must include such relevant evidence as a reasonable
person would accept as adequate to support the
conclusion.” Jones ex rel. T.J.J. v. Astrue,
2011 WL 1706465, at *1 (M.D. Ala. May 5, 2011) (citing
Lewis, 125 F.3d at 1440). The court must scrutinize
the entire record to determine the reasonableness of the
decision reached. Hale v. Bowen, 831 F.2d 1007, 1010
(11th Cir. 1987). “If the Commissioner's decision
is supported by substantial evidence, the district court will
affirm, even if the court would have reached a contrary
result as a finder of fact, and even if the court finds that
the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's
decision.” Jones, 2011 WL 1706465, at *2
(citing Edwards v. Sullivan, 937 F.2d 580, 584 n.3
(11th Cir. 1991)). The 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. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936
F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991); Jones, 2011 WL
1706465, at *2 (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). Merritt bears the burden of proving that she is
disabled, and she is responsible for producing evidence to
support her claim. See Ellison v. Barnhart, 355 F.3d
1272, 1276 (11th Cir. 2003).
of disability under the Social Security Act requires a
five-step analysis. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a).
Specifically, the Commissioner must determine in sequence:
(1) Is the claimant presently unemployed?
(2) Is the claimant's impairment severe?
(3) Does the claimant's impairment meet or 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 or her former
(5) Is the claimant unable to perform any other work within
McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir.
1986). “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.'”
Id. at 1030 (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 claimant can
do.” Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1559 (11th
Cir. 1995) (citing Gibson v. Heckler, 762 F.2d 1516
(11th Cir. 1985)).