United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Western Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION 
H. ENGLAND, III UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Tracey Richardson (“Richardson”) seeks review,
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), § 205(g) of the
Social Security Act, of a final decision of the Commissioner
of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”), denying her request for
reconsideration of the cessation of her supplemental security
income (“SSI”) benefits. Richardson timely pursued
and exhausted her administrative remedies. This case is
therefore ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The
undersigned has carefully considered the record and, for the
reasons stated below, the Commissioner's decision is
Factual and Procedural History
protectively filed for SSI on February 19, 2003, alleging
disability on that date. (Tr. 72). On May 7, 2004, the
Commissioner found Richardson disabled and issued a fully
favorable decision. (Tr. 69-71). On November 29, 2011, the
Commissioner determined Richardson's disability had
ceased as of November 1, 2011. (Tr. 87). On January 11, 2012,
Richardson requested the agency reconsider the termination of
her benefits, and, after review, the agency denied
Richardson's claim on March 27, 2013. (Tr. 107).
Richardson requested a hearing, where she appeared on
February 27, 2014. (Tr. 36-65). After the hearing, the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) denied
Richardson's claim on November 20, 2014. (Tr. 20-31).
Richardson sought review by the Appeals Council, but it
declined her request on May 16, 2016. (Tr. 1-7). On that
date, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the
Commissioner. On July 11, 2016, Richardson initiated this
action. (See doc. 1). At the date on which
Richardson's disability allegedly ceased, she was
thirty-three years old with a ninth-grade education and no
past relevant work. (Tr. 30, 50). She alleges she is unable
to work due to mental retardation. (Tr. 93).
Standard of Review
court's review of the Commissioner's decision is
narrowly circumscribed. The function of this Court is to
determine whether the decision of the Commissioner is
supported by substantial evidence and whether proper legal
standards were applied. Richardson v. Perales, 402
U.S. 389, 390 (1971); Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d
1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002). This Court must
“scrutinize the record as a whole to determine if the
decision reached is reasonable and supported by substantial
evidence.” Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d
1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983). Substantial evidence is
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Id. It is “more than a scintilla, but less
than a preponderance.” Id.
Court must uphold factual findings supported by substantial
evidence. “Substantial evidence may even exist contrary
to the findings of the ALJ, and [the reviewing court] may
have taken a different view of it as a factfinder. Yet, if
there is substantially supportive evidence, the findings
cannot be overturned.” Barron v. Sullivan, 924
F.2d 227, 230 (11th Cir. 1991). However, the Court reviews
the ALJ's legal conclusions de novo because no
presumption of validity attaches to the ALJ's
determination of the proper legal standards to be applied.
Davis v. Shalala, 985 F.2d 528, 531 (11th Cir.
1993). If the court finds an error in the ALJ's
application of the law, or if the ALJ fails to provide the
court with sufficient reasoning for determining the proper
legal analysis has been conducted, it must reverse the
ALJ's decision. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d
1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).
Statutory and Regulatory Framework
qualify for disability benefits and establish his or her
entitlement for a period of disability, a claimant must be
disabled as defined by the Social Security Act and the
Regulations promulgated thereunder. The Regulations define
“disabled” as “the inability to do 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
twelve (12) months.” 20 C.F.R § 404.1505(a). To
establish entitlement to disability benefits, a claimant must
provide evidence of a “physical or mental
impairment” which “must result from anatomical,
physiological, or psychological abnormalities which can be
shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory
diagnostic techniques.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1508.
disability has previously been established, the Regulations
provide a seven-step process for determining whether a
claimant continues to be disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
416.994(b)(5)(i-vii). The Commissioner must determine in
(1) Whether the claimant has an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals one of the
impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix
1. If the claimant does, the claimant's disability
continues. If not, the evaluation proceeds to step two.
(2) Whether the claimant has experienced medical improvement.
If the claimant has, the evaluation proceeds to step three;
if not, the evaluation proceeds to step four.
(3) Whether the claimant's medical improvement is related
to her ability to work. If it is, the evaluation proceeds to
step five; if not, the evaluation proceeds to step four.
(4) Whether an exception under 20 C.F.R. §§
416.994(b)(3)-(4) applies. If no exception applies, the
claimant's disability continues. If an exception in
(b)(3) applies, the evaluation proceeds to step five. If an
exception in (b)(4) applies, the claimant is not disabled.
(5) Whether the claimant has a medically severe impairment or
combination of impairments. If the claimant does, the
evaluation proceeds to step six; if not, the claimant is not
(6) Whether the claimant is unable to perform any past
relevant work. If the claimant is unable to perform past
relevant work, the evaluation proceeds to step seven; if not,
the claimant is not disabled.
(7) Whether the claimant is unable to perform any other work
within the national economy. If the claimant is unable to do
so, the claimant is disabled; if not, the claimant is no
Allen v. Astrue, No. 3:11-CV-04322-KOB, 2013 WL
5519646, at *2 (N.D. Ala. Sept. 30, 2013) (citing 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.994(b)(5)). Medical improvement is defined as:
any decrease in the medical severity of [the claimant's]
impairment(s) which was present at the time of the most
recent favorable medical decision that [he] w[as] disabled or
continued to be disabled. A determination that there has been
a decrease in medical severity must be based on changes
(improvement) in the symptoms, signs and/or laboratory
findings associated with [the claimant's] impairments.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(b). To terminate benefits, the
Commissioner may not focus only on current evidence of
disability, but must also “evaluate the medical
evidence upon which [the claimant] was originally found to be
disabled.” Solomon v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec.
Admin., 532 F.App'x 837, 839 (11th Cir. 2013)
(quoting Vaughn v. Heckler, 727 F.2d 1040, 1043
(11th Cir.1984) (per curiam)). To that end, “[a]
comparison of the original medical evidence and the new
medical evidence is necessary to make a finding of
improvement.” McAulay v. Heckler, 749 F.2d
1500, 1500 (11th Cir. 1985) (per curiam) (citation omitted).
The Commissioner's decision is based on the weight of the
evidence, with “no initial inference as to the presence
or absence of disability being drawn from the fact that [the
claimant has] previously been determined to be
disabled.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(b)(6).
Findings of the Administrative Law Judge
consideration of the entire record and application of the
sequential evaluation process, the ...