United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
OWEN BOWDRE CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
26, 2013, the claimant, Amanda Grace Roper, protectively
applied for disability and disability insurance benefits
under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. (R. 136,
138, 176). In both applications, the claimant alleged
disability beginning on June 26, 2013, because of neck and
back pain, nerve damage, irritable bowel syndrome, and
depression. (R. 69). The Commissioner denied the claims on
September 5, 2013. (R. 68). The claimant filed a timely
request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge, and
the ALJ held a hearing on April 9, 2014. (R. 33).
decision dated October 2, 2014, the ALJ found the claimant
was not disabled under the Social Security Act and thus not
entitled to social security benefits. (R. 22). On March 14,
2016, the Appeals Council denied the claimant's request
for review. (R. 1). The ALJ's decision thus became the
final decision of the Commissioner. The 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
and remands the decision of the Commissioner.
the ALJ's decision to assign little weight to treating
source Dr. Gerald M. Machen's medical assessment lacks
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.
good cause, the ALJ must give “substantial or
considerable weight” to a treating physician's
opinion. Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631
F.3d 1176, 1179 (11th Cir. 2011); see also Lewis v.
Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1440 (11th Cir. 1997). The ALJ
must “clearly articulate” reasons for failing to
give a treating physician substantial weight. Philips v.
Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1240-41 (11th Cir. 2004).
claimant was thirty-two years old at the time of the
ALJ's final decision (R. 30); had completed tenth grade
(R. 42); had past relevant work as a stocker and cashier (R.
56); and alleges disability based on pain in the neck and
back, nerve damage in the arms and legs, neuropathy,
irritable bowel syndrome, and depression. (R. 43-45, 69).
and Mental Impairments
claimant presented to Cullman Primary Care Neurology on March
14, 2012 complaining of a one-and-a-half-month history of
pain. She described the pain as primarily in her right
shoulder, extending down the right arm to the hand with
“numbness and tingling in all digits” that
worsened at night waking her from sleep. Dr. Sheri Swader
conducted electrophysiological testing that indicated the
claimant had right C8 radiculopathy with evidence of chronic
motor axonal loss and reinnervation; however, she had no
irritation of the paraspinal muscle area and no ...