United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division
TASHA R. HOOKS, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
KATHERINE P. NELSON, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Tasha R. Hooks (“Hooks”) brought this action
under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) seeking
judicial review of a final decision of the Defendant
Commissioner of Social Security (“the
Commissioner”) denying his applications for a period of
disability and disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security
Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq. Upon
consideration of the parties' briefs (Docs. 9, 12) and
those portions of the administrative record (Doc. 8)
(hereinafter cited as “(Tr. [page number(s) in
lower-right corner of transcript])”) relevant to the
issues raised, and with the benefit of oral argument held
January 4, 2018, the Court finds that the Commissioner's
final decision is due to be AFFIRMED under
sentence four of § 405(g).
9, 2016, Hooks filed a Title II application for a period of
disability, with the Social Security Administration
(“SSA”), alleging disability beginning October
21, 2010. (Tr. 145-146). After her application
was initially denied, Hooks requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) with the
SSA's Office of Disability Adjudication and Review. A
hearing was held December 5, 2016, and on December 23, 2016,
the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on Hooks'
application, finding that Hooks “was not under a
disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act from
October 21, 2010, through the date last insured.” (Tr.
April 26, 2017, the Commissioner's decision on Hooks'
application became final when the Appeals Council for the
Office of Disability Adjudication and Review denied
Hooks' request for review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr.
20-25). Hooks subsequently filed this action under §
405(g) for judicial review of the Commissioner's final
decision. (See Doc. 1); 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3)
(“The final determination of the Commissioner of Social
Security after a hearing [for SSI benefits] shall be subject
to judicial review as provided in section 405(g) of this
title to the same extent as the Commissioner's final
determinations under section 405 of this title.”); 42
U.S.C. § 405(g) (“Any individual, after any final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security made after a
hearing to which he was a party, irrespective of the amount
in controversy, may obtain a review of such decision by a
civil action commenced within sixty days after the mailing to
him of notice of such decision or within such further time as
the Commissioner of Social Security may allow.”);
Ingram v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 496 F.3d
1253, 1262 (11th Cir. 2007) (“The settled law of this
Circuit is that a court may review, under sentence four of
section 405(g), a denial of review by the Appeals
Standards of Review
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)(internal
citations and quotations omitted). However, the Court may not
decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute
our judgment for that of the [Commissioner]. Id.
(internal citations and quotations omitted).
“‘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, 496 F.3d at 1260
(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 significant numbers of
jobs in the national economy that the claimant can perform
given the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work
Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178 (citing 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v), 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v);
Phillips, 357 ...