United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
K. KALLON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Presley brings this action pursuant to Section 405(g) of the
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review
of the Administrative Law Judge's denial of disability
insurance benefits, which has become the final decision of
the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“SSA”). For the reasons explained below, the
court reverses and remands for further consideration.
worked as a designer for an engineering firm from 1994 until
2012, when he retired due to chronic back pain. Docs. 6-8 at
6; 11 at 2. He filed an application for disability insurance
benefits (“DIB”), and the SSA denied his
application on August 19, 2015. Doc. 6-5 at 4. Presley then
requested a hearing before an ALJ, who affirmed the denial on
January 19, 2016. Doc. 6-3 at 8-21. The SSA Appeals Council
denied his request for review on March 9, 2017. Doc. 6-3 at
2-5. Presley timely filed this petition for review on May 4,
2017. Doc. 1.
Standard of Review
federal district courts review the SSA's findings of fact
under the “substantial evidence” standard of
review. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c); Martin v.
Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990). The
district court may not reconsider the facts, reevaluate the
evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the
Commissioner; instead, it must review the final decision as a
whole and determine if the decision is “reasonable and
supported by substantial evidence.” See
Martin, 894 F.2d at 1529 (citing Bloodsworth v.
Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983)).
Substantial evidence falls somewhere between a scintilla and
a preponderance of evidence; “[i]t is such relevant
evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Id. (internal citations
omitted). If supported by substantial evidence, the court
must affirm the Commissioner's factual findings, even if
the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner.
determinations are the province of the ALJ. Moore v.
Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1212 (11th Cir. 2005). However,
“[t]he testimony of a treating physician must
ordinarily be given substantial or considerable weight unless
good cause is shown to the contrary, ” and the failure
of the Secretary “to specify what weight is given to a
treating physician's opinion and any reason for giving it
no weight” constitutes reversible error. MacGregor
v. Bowen, 786 F.2d 1050, 1053 (11th Cir. 1986). Courts
have found good cause to discount a treating physician's
report when it is “not accompanied by objective medical
evidence, . . . wholly conclusory, ” or
“inconsistent with [the physician's] own medical
records.” Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436,
1440 (11th Cir. 1997); Edwards v. Sullivan, 937 F.2d
580, 583 (11th Cir. 1991). In contrast to the opinion of a
treating physician, “the opinion of a nonexamining
physician is entitled to little weight if it is contrary to
the opinion of the claimant's treating physician.”
Broughton v. Heckler, 776 F.2d 960, 962 (11th Cir.
federal courts review the SSA's conclusions of law de
novo, see Bridges v. Bowen, 815 F.2d 622, 624 (11th
Cir.1987), and “[f]ailure to apply the correct legal
standards is grounds not for remand but, for reversal.”
Lamb v. Bowen, 847 F.2d 698, 701 (11th Cir. 1988).
No. presumption attaches to either the ALJ's choice of
legal standard or to the ALJ's application of the correct
legal standard to the facts. Id.
reviewing courts have the power “to enter, upon the
pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming,
modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a
rehearing.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (emphasis added).
Statutory and Regulatory Framework
individual applying for DIB bears the burden of proving that
she is disabled. Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208,
1211 (11th Cir. 2005). To qualify, a claimant must show
“the inability 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 twelve months.” 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(d)(1)(A); 42 U.S.C. § 416(i)(I)(A). A
physical or mental impairment is “an impairment that
results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological
abnormalities which are demonstrated by medically acceptable
clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(3).
of disability under the Act requires a five step analysis. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)-(f). Specifically, the Commissioner
must determine, in sequence:
(1) whether the claimant is doing substantial gainful