United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Eastern Division
F. MOORER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
administrative denial of his application for disability
insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act,
42 U.S.C.§§ 401, et seq., Stephen Todd
Wood (“Wood” or “Plaintiff”) received
a r hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”) who rendered an unfavorable decision.
When the Appeals Council rejected review, the ALJ's
decision became the final decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security (“Commissioner”). See Chester
v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986). Judicial
review proceeds pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), 42
U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3), and 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), and
for reasons herein explained, the Court
AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision
denying disability insurance benefits.
Nature of the Case
seeks judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security
Administration's decision denying his application for
disability insurance benefits and supplemental security
income benefits. United States district courts may conduct
limited review of such decisions to determine whether they
comply with applicable law and are supported by substantial
evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405 (2006). The court may affirm,
reverse and remand with instructions, or reverse and render a
Standard of Review
review of the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits is
narrowly circumscribed. The court reviews a social security
case solely to determine whether the Commissioner's
decision is supported by substantial evidence and based upon
proper legal standards. Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011). The court
“may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence,
or substitute [its] judgment for that of the Commissioner,
” but rather “must defer to the
Commissioner's decision if it is supported by substantial
evidence.” Miles v. Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400
(11th Cir. 1997) (quoting Bloodsworth v. Heckler,
703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983)); see also
Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178 (stating the court should not
re-weigh the evidence). This court must find the
Commissioner's decision conclusive “if it is
supported by substantial evidence and the correct legal
standards were applied.” Kelley v. Apfel, 185
F.3d 1211, 1213 (11th Cir. 1999); see also Kosloff v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 581 Fed.Appx. 811, 811 (11th
Cir. 2015) (citing Kelley).
evidence is more than a scintilla - i.e., the evidence must
do more than merely create a suspicion of the existence of a
fact, and must include such relevant evidence as a reasonable
person would accept as adequate to support the conclusion.
Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178 (quoting Crawford v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir.
2004)); Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1440
(citing Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91
S.Ct. 1420, 1427, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971)). If the
Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial
evidence, the district court will affirm, even if the court
would have reached a contrary result as finder of fact, and
even if the court finds that the evidence preponderates
against the Commissioner's decision. Edwards v.
Sullivan, 937 F.2d 580, 584 n.3 (11th Cir. 1991);
see also Henry v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 802 F.3d
1264, 1267 (11th Cir. 2015) (“even if the evidence
preponderates against the Commissioner's
findings, we must affirm if the decision reached is supported
by substantial evidence.”) (citation omitted). The
district court must view the record as a whole, taking into
account evidence favorable as well as unfavorable to the
decision. Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1560 (11th
Cir. 1995) (citing Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129,
131 (11th Cir. 1986)).
district court will reverse a Commissioner's decision on
plenary review if the decision applies incorrect law, or if
the decision fails to provide the district court with
sufficient reasoning to determine that the Commissioner
properly applied the law. Keeton v. Department of Health
and Human Services, 21 F.3d 1064, 1066 (11th Cir. 1994)
(internal citations omitted). There is no presumption that
the Secretary's conclusions of law are valid.
Id.; Brown v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d 1233, 1236
(11th Cir. 1991).
Statutory and Regulatory Framework
Social Security Act's general disability insurance
benefits program (“DIB”) provides income to
individuals who are forced into involuntary, premature
retirement, provided they are both insured and disabled,
regardless of indigence. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(a).
The Social Security Act's Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) is a separate and distinct program. SSI
is a general public assistance measure providing an
additional resource to the aged, blind, and disabled to
assure that their income does not fall below the poverty
line. However, despite the fact they are
separate programs, the law and regulations governing a claim
for DIB and a claim for SSI are identical; therefore, claims
for DIB and SSI are treated identically for the purpose of
determining whether a claimant is disabled. Patterson v.
Bowen, 799 F.2d 1455, 1456 n. 1 (11th Cir. 1986).
Applicants under DIB and SSI must provide
“disability” within the meaning of the Social
Security Act which defines disability in virtually identical
language for both programs. See 42 U.S.C.
§§ 423(d), 1382c(a)(3), 1382c(a)(3)(G); 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1505(a), 416.905(a). A person is entitled to
disability benefits when the person is unable 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
42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A); 1382c(a)(3)(A). A
“physical or mental impairment” is one resulting
from anatomical, physiological, or psychological
abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable
clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. 42 U.S.C.
§§ 423(d)(3), 1382c(a)(3)(D).
Commissioner utilizes a five-step, burden-shifting analysis
to determine when claimants are disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520; Phillips v. Barnhart, 357
F.3d 1232, 1237 (11th Cir. 2004); O'Neal v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 614 Fed.Appx. 456, 2015 U.S.
App. LEXIS 9640, 2015 WL 3605682 (11th Cir. June 10, 2015).
The ALJ determines:
(1) Whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial
(2) Whether the claimant has a severe impairment or