United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northern Division
K. KALLON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Davidson filed a petition under Section 205(g) of the Social
Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the
Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”) 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 affirms.
a 26 year old woman, filed an application for disability
insurance benefits (DIB) on April 1, 2013, alleging a
disability beginning January 26, 2013. Doc. 7-6 at 2. SSA
issued an initial denial letter on August 22, 2013, doc. 7-4
at 22-31, and Davidson timely requested a hearing before an
ALJ, which was held on April 29, 2015. Doc. 7-3 at 16-40. The
ALJ issued an unfavorable opinion, doc. 7-4 at 36-48, and the
SSA Appeals Council denied Davidson's request for review,
doc. 7-3 at 2. Davidson timely filed this petition for
review. 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.” Martin, 849 F.2d at
1529 (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. See id.
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). Reports filed by physicians
“who do not examine the claimant, taken alone, do not
constitute substantial evidence on which to base an
administrative decision, ” Spencer on Behalf of
Spencer v. Heckler, 765 F.2d 1090, 1094 (11th Cir.
1985), and, as such, are “entitled to little weight if
[they are] contrary to the opinion of the claimant's
treating physician.” Broughton v. Heckler, 776
F.2d 960, 962 (11th Cir. 1985). Likewise, the opinion of a
“one-time examiner” is also not entitled to any
deference. McSwain v. Bowen, 814 F.2d 617, 619 (11th
federal courts review the SSA's conclusions of law de
novo, Bridges v. Bowen, 815 F.2d 622 (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).
Statutory and Regulatory Framework
the ALJ has a duty to develop a full and fair record,
“the claimant bears the burden of proving that he is
disabled, and, consequently, he is responsible for producing
evidence in support of his claim.” Ellison v.
Barnhart, 355 F.3d 1272, 1276 (11th Cir. 2003). To
qualify for DIB, 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. §§ 416(i)(I)(A),
423(d)(1)(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.” Id. at § 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