United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
F. MOORER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
April 21, 2014, Joanne Blakely (“Plaintiff” or
“Blakely”) applied for disability insurance
benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act
(“the Act”) alleging a disability date of
November 13, 2013. (R. 173-76). The application was initially
denied and she timely requested a hearing. (R. 100-13,
115-122). A hearing was held before the Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”). (R. 72-99). The ALJ rendered an
unfavorable decision on December 24, 2015. (R. 50-71). The
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review.
(R. 1). As a result, the ALJ's decision became the final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”). Id. Judicial review
proceeds pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(c). After careful scrutiny of the record and
briefs, for reasons herein explained, the Court concludes
that the Commissioner's decision is
Nature of the Case
seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's decision
denying her application for disability insurance 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. The Court may affirm, reverse and remand
with instructions, or reverse and render a judgment.
Standard of Review
Court's review of the Commissioner's decision is a
limited one. The Court's sole function is to determine
whether the ALJ's opinion is supported by substantial
evidence and whether the proper legal standards were applied.
See Jones v. Apfel, 190 F.3d 1224, 1228 (11th Cir.
1999); Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239
(11th Cir. 1983).
Social Security Act mandates that ‘findings of the
Secretary as to any fact, if supported by substantial
evidence, shall be conclusive.'” Foote v.
Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1995) (quoting 42
U.S.C. § 405(g)). Thus, this Court must find the
Commissioner's decision conclusive if it is supported by
substantial evidence. Graham v. Apfel, 129 F.3d
1420, 1422 (11th Cir. 1997). Substantial 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. Lewis
v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1440 (11th Cir. 1997)
(citing Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91
S.Ct. 1420, 1427, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971)); Foote, 67
F.3d at 1560 (citing Walden v. Schweiker, 672 F.2d
835, 838 (11th Cir. 1982)).
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 evidence preponderates against the
Commissioner's findings. Ellison v. Barnhart,
355 F.3d 1272, 1275 (11th Cir. 2003); Edwards v.
Sullivan, 937 F.2d 580, 584 n.3 (11th Cir. 1991)
(quoting MacGregor v. Bowen, 786 F.2d 1050, 1053
(11th Cir. 1986)). The Court must view the evidence as a
whole, taking into account evidence favorable as well as
unfavorable to the decision. Foote, 67 F.3d at 1560
(citing Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th
Cir. 1986). The Court “may not decide facts anew,
reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its] judgment for that
of the [Commissioner], ” but rather it “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, 703 F.2d at 1239).
Court will also 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. Dep't of Health
and Human Servs., 21 F.3d 1064, 1066 (11th Cir. 1994)
(citing Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145
(11th Cir. 1991)). There is no presumption that the
Commissioner's conclusions of law are valid.
Id.; Brown v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d 1233, 1236
(11th Cir. 1991) (quoting MacGregor, 786 F.2d at
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. Eligibility for SSI is based upon proof of
indigence and disability. See 42 U.S.C. §§
1382(a), 1382c(a)(3)(A)-(C). 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 of Social Security employs a five-step,
sequential evaluation process to determine whether a claimant
is entitled to benefits. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520, 416.920 (2010).
(1) Is the person presently unemployed?
(2) Is the person's impairment(s) severe?
(3) Does the person's impairment(s) meet or equal one of
the specific impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404,
Subpt. P, App. 1?
(4) Is the person unable to perform his or her former
(5) Is the person unable to perform any other work within the