United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
F. MOORER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
August 30, 2012, Lisa Gaynell Harris ("Plaintiff or
"Harris") applied for disability insurance benefits
under Title II of the Social Security Act ("the
Act") alleging a disability date of May 8, 2012. (Tr.
172, 174). The application was initially denied on December
13, 2012. (Tr. 70-80). Thereafter, Harris filed a request for
a hearing and on April 4, 2014, the ALJ held a video hearing.
(Tr. 47-70). Although Plaintiff appears pro se before the
Court now, she was represented by counsel at the hearing.
(Tr. 46). The ALJ rendered an unfavorable decision on April
24, 2014. (Tr. 39). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs
request for review. (Tr. 1). As a result, the ALJ's
decision became the final decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security ("Commissioner"). Id.
Judicial review proceeds pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g),
and 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). After careful scrutiny of the
record and briefs, for reasons herein explained, the Court
concludes that the Commissioner's decision is to be
REVERSED and REMANDED.
NATURE OF THE CASE
seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's decision
denying her application for disability insurance benefits and
social security income. United States District Courts may
conduct limited review of such decisions to determine whether
they comply with applicable law and are supported by
substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405. The Court may
affirm, reverse and remand with instructions, or reverse and
render a judgment. Id.
Standard of Review
Court's review of the Commissioner's decision is a
limited one. The Court's sole function is to determine
whether the ALJ's opinion is supported by substantial
evidence and whether the proper legal standards were applied.
See Jones v. Apfel, 190 F.3d 1224, 1228 (11th Cir.
1999); Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239
(11th Cir. 1983).
Social Security Act mandates that 'findings of the
Secretary as to any fact, if supported by substantial
evidence, shall be conclusive.'" Foote v.
Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1995) (quoting 42
U.S.C. §405(g)). Thus, this Court must find the
Commissioner's decision conclusive if it is supported by
substantial evidence. Graham v. Apfel, 129 F.3d
1420, 1422 (11th Cir. 1997). Substantial 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. Lewis
v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1440 (11th Cir. 1997)
(citing Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91
S.Ct. 1420, 1427, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971)); Foote, 67
F.3d at 1560 (citing Walden v. Schweiker, 672 F.2d
835, 838 (11th Cir. 1982)).
Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial
evidence, the district court will affirm, even if the court
would have reached a contrary result as finder of fact, and
even if the evidence preponderates against the
Commissioner's findings. Ellison v. Barnhart,
355 F.3d 1272, 1275 (11th Cir. 2003); Edwards v.
Sullivan, 937 F.2d 580, 584 n.3 (11th Cir. 1991)
(quoting MacGregor v. Bowen, 786 F.2d 1050, 1053
(11th Cir. 1986)). The Court must view the evidence as a
whole, taking into account evidence favorable as well as
unfavorable to the decision. Foote, 67 F.3d at 1560
(citing Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th
Cir. 1986). The Court "may not decide 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) (quoting Bloodsworth,
703 F.2d at 1239).
Court will also reverse a Commissioner's decision on
plenary review if the decision applies incorrect law, or if
the decision fails to provide the district court with
sufficient reasoning to determine that the Commissioner
properly applied the law. Keeton v. Dep 't of Health
and Human Servs., 21 F.3d 1064, 1066 (11th Cir. 1994)
(citing Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145
(11th Cir. 1991)). There is no presumption that the
Commissioner's conclusions of law are valid. Id.;
Brown v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d 1233, 1236 (11th Cir. 1991)
(quoting MacGregor, 786 F.2d at 1053).
Statutory and Regulatory Framework
Social Security Act's general disability insurance
benefits program ("DIB") provides income to
individuals who are forced into involuntary, premature
retirement, provided they are both insured and disabled,
regardless of indigence. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(a).
The Social Security Act's Supplemental Security Income
("SSI") is a separate and distinct program. SSI is
a general public assistance measure providing an additional
resource to the aged, blind, and disabled to assure that
their income does not fall below the poverty
line. Eligibility for SSI is based upon proof of
indigence and disability. See 42 U.S.C. §§
1382(a), 1382c(a)(3)(A)-(C). However, despite the fact they
are separate programs, the law and regulations governing a
claim for DIB and a claim for SSI are identical; therefore,
claims for DIB and SSI are treated identically for the
purpose of determining whether a claimant is disabled.
Pattersonv. Bowen, 799F.2d 1455, 1456 n. 1 (llthCir.
1986). Applicants under DIB and SSI must provide
"disability" within the meaning of the Social
Security Act which defines disability in virtually identical
language for both programs. See 42 U.S.C.
§§ 423(d), 1382c(a)(3), 1382c(a)(3)(G); 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1505(a), 416.905(a). A person is entitled to
disability benefits when the person is unable 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
U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). A
"physical or mental impairment" is one resulting
from anatomical, physiological, or psychological
abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable
clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. 42 U.S.C.
§§ 423(d)(3), 1382c(a)(3)(D).
Commissioner of Social Security employs a five-step,
sequential evaluation process to determine whether a claimant
is entitled to benefits. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520, 416.920 (2010).
(1) Is the person presently unemployed?
(2) Is the person's impairment(s) severe?
(3) Does the person's impairment(s) meet or equal one of
the specific impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. Pt. ...