United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
OWEN BOWDRE CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
October 30, 2012, the claimant, Jack Marshall Knight, Jr.,
applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental
security income under Titles II and XVI of the Social
Security Act. He alleged disability beginning June 10, 2010,
because of severe neck and cervical spine injuries; anxiety
disorder; and depression. The Commissioner denied the
claimant's applications on March 5, 2013. The claimant
filed a timely request for a hearing before an Administrative
Law Judge, and the ALJ held a hearing on March 20, 2014. (R.
1-8, 141-49, 219).
decision dated July 10, 2014, the ALJ found that the claimant
was not disabled as defined by the Social Security Act and
was, therefore, ineligible for social security benefits. On
September 11, 2015, the Appeals Council denied the
claimant's request for review. Consequently, the
ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Social
Security Administration. The claimant has exhausted his
administrative remedies, and this court has jurisdiction
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). (R.
5-8, 9-24). For the reasons stated below, this court will
reverse and remand the decision of the Commissioner.
the ALJ's reasons for discrediting the claimant's
statements regarding the intensity and limiting effects of
his pain lack substantial evidence.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
standard for reviewing the Commissioner's decision is
limited. This court must affirm the ALJ's decision if he
applied the correct legal standards and if substantial
evidence supports his factual conclusions. 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. 1987).
... presumption of validity attaches to the
[Commissioner's] legal conclusions, including
determination of the proper standards to be applied in
evaluating 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, 402 (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 a 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 only look 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 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 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.
evaluating pain and other subjective complaints, the
Commissioner must consider whether the claimant demonstrated
an underlying medical condition, and either (1)
objective medical evidence that confirms the severity of the
alleged pain arising from that condition or (2) that
the objectively determined medical condition is of such a
severity that it can reasonably be expected to give rise to
the alleged pain. Holt v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d 1221,
1223 (11th Cir. 1991). The ALJ may consider the
claimant's daily activities in evaluating and
discrediting complaints of disabling pain. Harwell v.
Heckler, 735 F.2d 1292, 1293 (11th Cir. 1984).
ALJ decides to discredit the claimant's testimony
regarding his pain and other symptoms, he must articulate
explicit and adequate reasons for that decision. Foote v.
Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1561-62 (11th Cir. 1995). If
substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's
credibility finding, the ALJ commits reversible error.
Foote, 67 F.3d at 1562.
claimant was fifty-nine years old at the time of the
ALJ's final decision. He graduated from high school,
completed one year of college, and has past relevant work as
a customer service representative and a sales attendant. He
alleges disability based on severe neck and cervical spine
injuries; anxiety disorder; and depression. (R. 219-20).
and Mental Impairments
claimant's back issues began in 1995 when he underwent a
cervical fusion at ¶ 6-C7; he had another cervical
fusion in 1999 at ¶ 5-C6 at St. Vincent's Hospital.
(R. 499). Then, in June 2003, the claimant was involved in a
motor vehicle accident in which he fractured his cervical
spine at ¶ 3. Dr. Katherine Medley at UAB Hospital
treated the claimant and noted that his hardware from his
previous surgeries were in tact; he had left knee tenderness
but no effusion; x- rays showed no hand, knee, or leg
fractures; and he had no soft tissue swelling. Dr. Medley
treated the claimant with narcotic medications for pain and a
hard cervical collar.
follow-up at UAB Health Centers with Dr. Amy LeJeune on July
24, 2003, she noted that the claimant had been taking Ativan
for some withdrawal symptoms he had while trying to
discontinue the narcotic medications prescribed after his
June car accident. Dr. LeJeune noted that the claimant
indicated hip pain, but had full range of motion in his hip
with no tenderness. At another follow-up with Dr. LeJeune on
October 6, 2003, the claimant's main complaint was his
increased anxiety, ...