United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division
DONNA I. BICE, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Social Security Commissioner, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
KATHERINE P. NELSON, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) Plaintiff Donna I. Bice
(“Bice” or “Plaintiff”) seeks
judicial review of an adverse social security ruling denying
disability benefits under the Supplemental Security Income
Program. (Docs. 1, 9). With the consent of the parties, the
Court has designated the undersigned Magistrate Judge to
conduct all proceedings and order the entry of judgment in
this civil action, in accordance with 28 U.S.C. §
636(c), Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73, and S.D. Ala.
GenLR 73. (See Docs. 16-17). The parties requested that oral
argument be waived, and their request was granted. (Docs.
19-20). After considering the administrative record and the
memoranda of the parties, the Court finds that the decision
of the Commissioner due to be AFFIRMED.
March 7, 2014, Plaintiff protectively filed a Title II
application for a period of disability and disability
insurance benefits beginning September 30, 2003. (Docs. 9 at
1, 14 at 1). Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of
September 30, 2003. (Doc. 9 at 6 (Fact Sheet)). Her
application was initially denied on April 22, 2014, after
which she requested a hearing. (Doc. 14 at 1). On November
15, 2015, a hearing was held hearing before an Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) and the ALJ rendered an
unfavorable decision on December 22, 2015. (Doc. 8 at 17-29).
time of the administrative hearing, Plaintiff was 52 years
old, had graduated from high school, and had previous
employment experience as a customer service representative.
(Doc. 9). Plaintiff alleges she is disabled due to major
depressive disorder (“MDD”) and attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”). (Docs. 8 at 25;
9 at 3). On December 22, 2015, an ALJ denied benefits after
determining that “through the date last insured,
[Plaintiff] did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that significantly limited the ability to perform
basic work-related activities for 12 consecutive months;
therefore [Plaintiff] did not have a severe impairment or
combination of impairments (20 CFR 404.1451 et
seq.)”. (Doc. 8 at 25). On December 26, 2016, the
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of
the ALJ's hearing decision. (Doc. 8 at 4-9).
brief summarizes her claim on appeal as follows, “The
Administrative Law Judge reversibly erred under Social
Security Ruling 83-20 and HALLEX I-2-6-70(A) by failing to
call on the services of a medical expert to determine the
onset of Plaintiff's impairments.” (Doc. 9 at 1).
Plaintiff also raised a claim that the ALJ erred when she
determined Plaintiff's impairment was not severe. (Doc. 9
at 3). Defendant has responded to-and denies-these claims.
(Doc. 14, generally).
Social Security appeals, [the Court] must determine whether
the Commissioner's decision is ‘ “supported
by substantial evidence and based on proper legal standards.
Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is such
relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” ‘ “
Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176,
1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (quoting Crawford v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004) (per
curiam) (internal citation omitted) (quoting Lewis v.
Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1439 (11th Cir. 1997))).
However, the Court “ ‘may not decide the facts
anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute our judgment for
that of the [Commissioner].' “ Id.
(quoting Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1240
n.8 (11th Cir. 2004) (alteration in original) (quoting
Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th
Cir. 1983))). “‘Even if the evidence
preponderates against the [Commissioner]'s factual
findings, [the Court] must affirm if the decision reached is
supported by substantial evidence.' “ Ingram v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 496 F.3d 1253, 1260
(11th Cir. 2007) (quoting Martin v. Sullivan, 894
F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990)).
within this narrowly circumscribed role, [courts] do not act
as automatons. [The Court] must scrutinize the record as a
whole to determine if the decision reached is reasonable and
supported by substantial evidence[.]”
Bloodsworth, 703 F.2d at 1239 (citations and
quotation omitted). See also Owens v. Heckler, 748
F.2d 1511, 1516 (11th Cir. 1984) (per curiam) (“We are
neither to conduct a de novo proceeding, nor to rubber stamp
the administrative decisions that come before us. Rather, our
function is to ensure that the decision was based on a
reasonable and consistently applied standard, and was
carefully considered in light of all the relevant
facts.”). “In determining whether substantial
evidence exists, [a court] must…tak[e] into account
evidence favorable as well as unfavorable to the
[Commissioner's] decision.” Chester v.
Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986).
the “substantial evidence” “standard of
review applies only to findings of fact. No similar
presumption of validity attaches to the [Commissioner]'s
conclusions of law, including determination of the proper
standards to be applied in reviewing claims.”
MacGregor v. Bowen, 786 F.2d 1050, 1053 (11th Cir.
1986) (quotation omitted). Accord, e.g., Wiggins
v. Schweiker, 679 F.2d 1387, 1389 (11th Cir. 1982)
(“Our standard of review for appeals from the
administrative denials of Social Security benefits dictates
that ‘(t)he findings of the Secretary as to any fact,
if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive
....' 42 U.S.C.A. s 405(g) … As is plain from the
statutory language, this deferential standard of review is
applicable only to findings of fact made by the Secretary,
and it is well established that no similar presumption of
validity attaches to the Secretary's conclusions of law,
including determination of the proper standards to be applied
in reviewing claims.” (some quotation marks omitted)).
This Court “conduct[s] ‘an exacting
examination' of these factors.” Miles v.
Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996) (per curiam)
(quoting Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529
(11th Cir. 1990)). “‘The [Commissioner]'s
failure to apply the correct law or to provide the reviewing
court with sufficient reasoning for determining that the
proper legal analysis has been conducted mandates
reversal.'” Ingram, 496 F.3d at 1260
(quoting Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143,
1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991)). Accord Keeton v. Dep't of
Health & Human Servs., 21 F.3d 1064, 1066 (11th Cir.
courts “review the Commissioner's factual findings
with deference and the Commissioner's legal conclusions
with close scrutiny.” Doughty v. Apfel, 245
F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001). See also Moore v.
Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211 (11th Cir. 2005) (per
curiam) (“In Social Security appeals, we review de
novo the legal principles upon which the
Commissioner's decision is based. Chester v.
Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986). However, we
review the resulting decision only to determine whether it is
supported by substantial evidence. Crawford v. Comm'r
of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158-59 (11th Cir.
Eligibility for DIB and SSI requires that the claimant be
disabled. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(a)(1)(E),
1382(a)(1)-(2). A claimant is disabled if she is unable
“to engage in any substantial gainful activity by
reason of a medically determinable physical or mental
impairment ... 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), 1382c(a)(3)(A).
Thornton v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 597 F.
App'x 604, 609 (11th Cir. 2015) (per curiam)
The Social Security Regulations outline a five-step,
sequential evaluation process used to determine whether a
claimant is disabled: (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 ...