United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
DEBORAH C. HARGROVE, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,  Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER 
Russ Walker United States Magistrate Judge
Deborah C. Hargrove commenced this action on December 10,
2015, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial
review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner
denying her application for disability and disability
insurance benefits. See Doc. 1; Doc. 13; Doc. 14.
Plaintiff applied for benefits on September 30, 2013, and she
alleged disability onset as of August 31, 2013 due to a brain
tumor (removed), difficulty concentrating, and emotional and
anger impairments. Doc. 15-2 at 21; Doc. 15-5 at 2; Doc. 15-6
at 6. On May 26, 2015, Administrative Law Judge Walter V.
Lassiter, Jr. (the “ALJ”) issued an adverse
decision. See Doc. 15-2 at 21-35. The
Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review,
and the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the
Commissioner. See Id. at 2-3.
instant appeal, the plaintiff requests that the court award
the plaintiff benefits or, alternatively, remand this cause
to the Commissioner under sentence four of § 405(g).
See Doc. 13 at 15. This case is ripe for review
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). The
parties have consented to entry of final judgment by the
Magistrate Judge. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).
See Doc. 7, 8. For the reasons stated herein, and
based upon its review of the record, the court finds that the
Commissioner's decision is due to be remanded.
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. A reviewing court
“may not decide facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or
substitute [its] decision for that of the
[Commissioner].” Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d
1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005). In other words, this court is
prohibited from reviewing the Commissioner's findings of
fact de novo, even where a preponderance of the
evidence supports alternative conclusions.
the court must uphold factual findings that are supported by
substantial evidence, it 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 that the proper legal analysis has
been conducted, it must reverse the ALJ's decision.
Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th
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 an entitlement to disability benefits, a claimant
must provide evidence about a “physical or mental
impairment” that “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.
Regulations provide a five-step process for determining
whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i-v). The Commissioner must determine in
(1) whether the claimant is currently employed;
(2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment;
(3) whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals an
impairment listed by the Commissioner;
(4) whether the claimant can perform his or her past work;
(5) whether the claimant is capable of performing any work in
the national economy.
Pope v. Shalala, 998 F.2d 473, 477 (7th Cir. 1993)
(citing to a formerly applicable C.F.R.section),
overruled on other grounds by Johnson v. Apfel, 189
F.3d 561, 562-63 (7th Cir.1999); accord McDaniel v.
Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir. 1986). The
sequential analysis goes as follows:
Once the claimant has satisfied steps One and Two, she will
automatically be found disabled if she suffers from a listed
impairment. If the claimant does not have a listed impairment
but cannot perform her work, the burden shifts to the
[Commissioner] to show that the claimant can perform some
Pope, 998 F.2d at 477; accord Foote v.
Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1559 (11th Cir. 1995). The
Commissioner must further show that such work exists in the
national economy in significant numbers. Id.
appeal, the plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred because his
RFC “was not rooted in the medical record, ” he
misclassified the plaintiff's mental impairments as
non-severe, and plaintiff cannot perform her past relevant
work. See Doc. 13 at 7-17. The plaintiff also
maintains that the ALJ improperly rejected the
plaintiff's subjective testimony regarding the intensity
and extent of her mental impairments, that the ALJ's
decision misstates the record and is not based on substantial
evidence, and that the ALJ impermissibly conducted an
adversarial proceeding. The court holds that the ALJ s
classification of the plaintiff's mental impairments was
not based on substantial evidence, and the ALJ's
credibility determination was not consistent with correct
legal standards and is not based on substantial evidence. For
these reasons, this cause is due to be remanded for
additional proceedings. The court does not reach the merits
of the plaintiffs remaining arguments.
plaintiff was gainfully employed from 1971 until the end of
December 2013 -that is, approximately 42 years. Doc. 15-5 at
4-5. It is undisputed that, in late August 2013, the
plaintiff fell and cut her head when she was tailgating and
drinking a beer. Doc. 15-2 at 24. The plaintiffs husband took
her to an emergency room. While she was there, the hospital
ordered imaging tests of plaintiff s brain, and discovered
that the plaintiff had a large brain tumor. See R.
239-55; 422-32. The plaintiff was transferred first from a
hospital in Troy, Alabama, to Baptist Medical Center South in
Montgomery, Alabama, for a neurological consultation and
evaluation. Shortly thereafter, the plaintiff was sent to UAB
Medical Center in Birmingham, Alabama, where she underwent
brain surgery to remove the tumor in early September 2013.
The plaintiff testified that her surgery took place four days
after the fall. See Doc. 15-2 at 51.
the surgery, the plaintiff experienced paralysis on her left
side. See R. 286. For the remainder of 2013,
plaintiff underwent rehabilitative therapy, and she regained
significant use of her left side, but with ongoing
complications. See R. 312-402. The plaintiff's
neurologist prohibited her from driving after ...