United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c), plaintiff Christopher Hearn
seeks judicial review of a final adverse decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security. The Commissioner denied Mr.
Hearn's claim for supplemental security income. For the
reasons stated below, the Court remands this matter for
Hearn filed his first application for supplemental security
income on December 1, 2008. (Doc. 7-3, p. 22). The
Commissioner denied the application on February 25, 2009.
(Doc. 7-3, p. 22). Mr. Hearn requested a hearing before an
administrative law judge, and the ALJ issued an unfavorable
decision on January 24, 2011. (Doc. 7-3, p. 22). The Appeals
Council declined Mr. Hearn's request for review on
September 18, 2012. (Doc. 7-3, p. 22).
Hearn appealed the Commissioner's decision to federal
district court on November 16, 2012. (Doc. 1 in Case
4:12-cv-03892-AKK). The district court affirmed the
Commissioner's decision on September 26, 2014. (Doc. 15
in Case 4:12-cv-03892-AKK; Doc. 16 in Case
4:12-cv-03892-AKK). On November 19, 2014, Mr. Hearn appealed
the district court's decision to the Eleventh Circuit
Court of Appeals. (Doc. 17 in Case 4:12-cv-03892-AKK). On
July 31, 2015, the Eleventh Circuit issued a decision
affirming the Commissioner's denial of Mr. Hearn's
claim. See Hearn v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin.,
619 Fed.Appx. 892 (11th Cir. 2015). In this opinion, the
Court refers to proceedings associated with Mr. Hearn's
December 1, 2008 application as Hearn I.
Hearn protectively filed a second application for
supplemental security income on September 26, 2012. (Doc.
7-4, p. 13; Doc. 7-7, p. 2). Mr. Hearn completed his second
application on October 1, 2012. (Doc. 7-6, pp. 2-7). The
Court will refer to proceedings associated with Mr.
Hearn's October 1, 2012 application as Hearn II.
In Hearn II, Mr. Hearn alleges that his disability
began on September 26, 2012, eight days after the Appeals
Council declined review in Hearn I. (Doc. 7-6, p. 2;
see Doc. 7-3, p. 22). The Commissioner initially
denied Mr. Hearn's second application on November 30,
2012. (Doc. 7-5, p. 2). Mr. Hearn requested a hearing before
an ALJ. (Doc. 7-5, p. 9). The ALJ issued an unfavorable
decision on April 9, 2014. (Doc. 7-3, p. 19). On September
10, 2015, the Appeals Council declined Mr. Hearn's
request for review (Doc. 7-3, p. 2), making the
Commissioner's decision in Hearn II final and a
proper candidate for this Court's judicial review.
See 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
scope of review in this matter is limited. “When, as in
this case, the ALJ denies benefits and the Appeals Council
denies review, ” the Court “review[s] the
ALJ's ‘factual findings with deference' and
[his] ‘legal conclusions with close
scrutiny.'” Riggs v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 522 Fed.Appx. 509, 510-11 (11th Cir. 2013)
(quoting Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th
Court must determine whether there is substantial evidence in
the record to support the ALJ's factual findings.
“Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is
such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Crawford v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir.
2004). In evaluating the administrative record, the Court may
not “decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence,
” or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ.
Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 631 F.3d
1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (internal quotations and citation
omitted). If substantial evidence supports the ALJ's
factual findings, then the Court “must affirm even if
the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's
findings.” Costigan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.
Admin., 603 Fed.Appx. 783, 786 (11th Cir. 2015) (citing
Crawford, 363 F.3d at 1158).
respect to the ALJ's legal conclusions, the Court must
determine whether the ALJ applied the correct legal
standards. If the Court finds an error in the ALJ's
application of the law, or if the Court finds that the ALJ
failed to provide sufficient reasoning to demonstrate that
the ALJ conducted a proper legal analysis, then the Court
must reverse the ALJ's decision. Cornelius v.
Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).
SUMMARY OF THE ALJ'S DECISION
determine whether a claimant has established that he is
disabled, the ALJ follows a five-step sequential evaluation
process. The ALJ considers:
(1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial
gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a severe
impairment or combination of impairments; (3) whether the
impairment meets or equals the severity of the specified
impairments in the Listing of Impairments; (4) based on a
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) assessment,
whether the claimant can perform any of his or her past
relevant work despite the impairment; and (5) whether there
are significant numbers of jobs in the national economy that
the claimant can perform given the claimant's RFC, age,
education, and work experience.
Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178.
case, the ALJ found that Mr. Hearn has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since September 26, 2012, the
alleged onset date. (Doc. 7-3, p. 24). The ALJ determined
that Mr. Hearn suffers from the following medically
determinable impairments: hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and
coronary artery disease. (Doc. 7-3, p. 24). Although Mr.
Hearn claimed that he was disabled because of bipolar
disorder, seizures, and schizophrenia (Doc. 7-3, p. 25), the
ALJ found that there was no finding “from any
acceptable source to support [Mr. Hearn's] allegations of
bipolar disorder, seizures, or schizophrenia from September
26, 2012, through the date of this decision.” (Doc.
7-3, pp. 26-27). Therefore, the ALJ concluded that those
“alleged impairments are not medically determined
impairments.” (Doc. 7-3, p. 27).
on a review of the limited medical evidence post-dating
September 26, 2012, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Hearn does not
have a severe impairment or combination of impairments. (Doc.
7-3, p. 24). Therefore, the ALJ found that Mr. Hearn is not
disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (Doc.
7-3, pp. 27-28); see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c)
(“You must have a severe impairment. If you do not have
any impairment or combination of impairments which
significantly limits your physical or mental ability to do
basic work activities, we will ...