United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
OWEN BOWDRE CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
April 16, 2013, the claimant, Janice Ward Chancey,
protectively applied for supplemental social security income
and disability insurance benefits because of her multiple
sclerosis and affective mood disorder. The Commissioner
denied the claims initially on July 18, 2013, because of lack
of evidence. The claimant timely requested a hearing before
an Administrative Law Judge, and that hearing took place on
October 28, 2014. (R. 55, 109, 129).
decision dated January 30, 2015, the ALJ found the claimant
disabled under Title XVI and entitled to supplemental
security income effective April 16, 2013. However, the ALJ
found the claimant not disabled under Title II because she
was not disabled prior to her last insured date of September
30, 2009. The claimant filed a timely request for a hearing
before the Appeals Council on March 31, 2015. The Appeals
Council denied the claimant's appeal because
counsel's new evidence did not provide a basis for
changing the ALJ's decision. Thus, the ALJ's decision
became the final decision of the Commissioner on January 30,
claimant has exhausted her administrative remedies, and this
court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§
405(g) and 1383(c)(3). For the reasons stated below, this
court reverses the decision of the Commissioner and remands
the case to the Commissioner for further proceedings. (R.
1-6, 14-16, 43).
claimant presents the following issue for review: whether the
ALJ committed reversible error in failing to obtain a medical
advisor at the hearing to establish the date of the
plaintiff's onset of disability pursuant to SSR 83-20.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
standard for reviewing the Commissioner's decision is
limited. This court must affirm the Commissioner's
decision if the Commissioner applied the correct legal
standards and if the factual conclusions are supported by
substantial evidence. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Graham v. Apfel, 129 F.3d 1420, 1422 (11th Cir.
1997); Walker v. Bowen, 826 F.2d 996, 999 (11th Cir.
. . . presumption of validity attaches to the
[Commissioner's] legal claims.” Walker,
826 F.2d at 999. This court does not review the
Commissioner's factual determinations de novo.
The court will affirm those factual determinations that are
supported by substantial evidence. “Substantial
evidence” is “more than a mere scintilla. It
means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).
court must keep in mind that opinions such as whether a
claimant is disabled, the nature and extent of a
claimant's residual functional capacity, and the
application of vocational factors “are not medical
opinions, . . . but are, instead, opinions on issues reserved
to the Commissioner because they are administrative findings
that are dispositive of a case; i.e., that would direct the
determination or decision of disability.” 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1527(d), 416.927(d). Whether the claimant
meets the listing and is qualified for Social Security
disability benefits is a question reserved for the ALJ, and
the court “may not decide facts anew, reweigh the
evidence, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the
Commissioner.” Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d
1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005). Thus, even if the court were to
disagree with the ALJ about the significance of certain
facts, the court has no power to reverse that finding as long
as substantial evidence in the record supports it.
court must “scrutinize the record in its entirety to
determine the reasonableness of the [Commissioner]'s
factual findings.” Walker, 826 F.2d at 999. A
reviewing court must not look only to those parts of the
record that support the decision of the ALJ, but also must
view the record in its entirety and take account of evidence
that detracts from the evidence relied on by the ALJ.
Hillsman v. Bowen, 804 F.2d 1179, 1180 (11th Cir.
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A), a person is entitled to
disability benefits when the person cannot “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 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). To make this
determination, the Commissioner employs a five-step,
sequential evaluation process:
(1) Is the person presently unemployed?
(2) Is the person's impairment severe?
(3) Does the person'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 person unable to perform his or her former
(5) Is the person unable to perform any other work within the
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
McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir.
1986); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.
ALJ finds a claimant disabled, he must determine the onset
date of that disability. Caces v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec.
Admin., 560 Fed. App'x 936, 939 (11th Cir. 2014).
The onset date must have a “legitimate medical
basis.” See Titles II & XVI: Onset of
Disability, SSR 83-20 (S.S.A. 1983). A claimant's
disability onset must happen before the date the claimant was
“last insured” to be entitled to disability
benefits under Title II. The claimant's date last insured
is the date that the claimant is eligible to receive Social
Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and depends on the date
the claimant last worked. See 20 C.F.R. §
ALJ must “infer” the onset date, because the
medical record pre-dating the date last insured is sparse, he
“should call on the services of a medical
advisor” at the hearing to help determine the onset
date. See SSR 83-20; see also Caces, 560 F.
App'x at 939. (citing March v. Massanari, 265
F.3d 1065 (11th Cir. 2001)) (if the medical evidence is
inadequate or ambiguous, then the ALJ must infer the onset
date and adhere to SSR 83-20). When an ALJ fails to consult a
medical advisor as required by SSR ...