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Shakeel v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division

April 18, 2018

LINDA SHAKEEL, as wife of Raasheem Khalfani Aarif Shakeel, the deceased wage earner, Plaintiff,



         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Linda Shakeel brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) on behalf of her now-deceased husband, Raasheem Khalfani Aarif Shakeel (“Shakeel”). Linda Shakeel seeks a review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”), who denied her husband's application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). Mr. and Ms. Shakeel exhausted the administrative remedies available before the Commissioner. This case is now ripe for judicial review under section 205(g) of the Social Security Act (the "Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         The Court carefully reviewed the record in this case and REVERSES and REMANDS the ALJ's decision.

         II. Relevant Background

         The alleged onset date is September 7, 2012. (Tr. 12). Mr. Shakeel suffered from the severe impairments of “cervical degenerative disc disease and coronary artery disease.” (Id. at 14) (emphasis omitted). On June 14, 2013, Mr. Shakeel filed an application for Social Security benefits. (Id. at 12). The Social Security Administration denied that application on September 10, 2013. (Id.). Unfortunately, Mr. Shakeel passed away on September 18, 2013. (Id.). On January 26, 2015, Administrative Law Judge Cynthia G. Weaver held a hearing. (Id. at 12, 21). The ALJ issued her decision on August 21, 2015, which was unfavorable to Ms. Shakeel. (Id. at 21). In that opinion, the ALJ found that Mr. Shakeel did not meet the disability standard at Steps Three and Five. (Id. at 15, 20). Ms. Shakeel requested the Appeals Council review the claim. (Id. at 1-3). They refused. (Id.).

         III. Standards

         The court's review of the Commissioner's decision is narrowly circumscribed. The function of this court is to determine whether the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence and whether proper legal standards were applied. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971); Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002). This court must “scrutinize the record as a whole to determine if the decision reached is reasonable and supported by substantial evidence.” Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983). This court will determine that the ALJ's opinion is supported by substantial evidence if it finds “such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. Substantial evidence is “more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Id. Factual findings that are supported by substantial evidence must be upheld by the court.

         The ALJ's legal conclusions, however, are reviewed de novo, because no presumption of validity attaches to the ALJ's determination of the proper legal standards to be applied. Davis v. Shalala, 985 F.2d 528, 531 (11th Cir. 1993). If the court finds an error in the ALJ's application of the law, or if the ALJ fails to provide the court with sufficient reasoning for determining that the proper legal analysis has been conducted, the ALJ's decision must be reversed. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).

         IV. Statutory and Regulatory Framework

         To qualify for disability benefits and establish his or her entitlement for a period of disability, a claimant must be disabled as defined by the Social Security Act and the Regulations promulgated thereunder.[1] The Regulations define “disabled” as “the inability to do 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 (12) months.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a). To establish an entitlement to disability benefits, a claimant must provide evidence about a “physical or mental impairment” that “must result from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which can be shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1508.

         The Regulations provide a five-step process for determining whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i-v). The Commissioner must determine in sequence:

(1) whether the claimant is currently employed;
(2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment;
(3) whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals an impairment listed by the [Commissioner];
(4) whether the claimant can perform his or her past work; and
(5) whether the claimant is capable of performing any work in the ...

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