United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
M. BORDEN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
March 25, 2014, Plaintiff Flossie Denise Peterson applied for
disability insurance benefits and supplemental security
income under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act,
alleging a disability onset date of September 1, 2013.
Peterson's applications were denied at the initial
administrative level. Peterson then requested a hearing
before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). The
ALJ held a hearing on August 17, 2015, and on January 28,
2016 he denied Peterson's claims. Peterson requested a
review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council,
which denied her request on February 17, 2017. The ALJ's
decision thus became the final decision of the Commissioner
of the Social Security Administration (the
“Commissioner”) as of February 17, 2017.
case is now before the court for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). Under 28 U.S.C. §
636(c)(1) and Rule 73 of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure, the parties have consented to the full
jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate
Judge. Based on a careful review of the parties'
submissions, the relevant law, and the record as a whole, the
court concludes that the decision of the Commissioner is due
to be REVERSED and this matter REMANDED to the Administrative
Law Judge for proceedings consistent with this opinion.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
court reviews a Social Security appeal to determine whether
the Commissioner's decision “is supported by
substantial evidence and based upon proper legal
standards.” Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436,
1439 (11th Cir. 1997). The court will reverse the
Commissioner's decision if it is convinced that the
decision was not supported by substantial evidence or that
the proper legal standards were not applied. Carnes v.
Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1215, 1218 (11th Cir. 1991). 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) (citation and internal quotation marks
omitted). “Even if the evidence preponderates against
the Secretary's factual findings, [the court] must affirm
if the decision reached is supported by substantial
evidence.” Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520,
1529 (11th Cir. 1990). Moreover, reversal is not warranted
even if the court itself would have reached a result contrary
to that of the factfinder. See Edwards v. Sullivan,
937 F.2d 580, 584 n.3 (11th Cir. 1991).
substantial evidence standard is met “if a reasonable
person would accept the evidence in the record as adequate to
support the challenged conclusion.” Holladay v.
Bowen, 848 F.2d 1206, 1208 (11th Cir. 1988) (quoting
Boyd v. Heckler, 704 F.2d 1207, 1209 (11th Cir.
1983)). The requisite evidentiary showing has been described
as “more than a scintilla, but less than a
preponderance.” Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703
F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983). The court must scrutinize
the entire record to determine the reasonableness of the
decision reached and cannot “act as [an] automaton in
reviewing the [Commissioner's] decision.” Hale
v. Bowen, 831 F.2d 1007, 1010 (11th Cir. 1987). Thus,
the court must consider evidence both favorable and
unfavorable to the Commissioner's decision. Swindle
v. Sullivan, 914 F.2d 222, 225 (11th Cir. 1990).
court will reverse the Commissioner's decision on plenary
review if the decision applies incorrect law or fails to
provide the court with sufficient reasoning to determine that
the Commissioner properly applied the law. Id.
(citing Keeton v. Dep't of Health & Human
Servs., 21 F.3d 1064, 1066 (11th Cir. 1994)). There is
no presumption that the Commissioner's conclusions of law
are valid. Id.
STATUTORY AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK
qualify for disability benefits, 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 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A); 42 U.S.C. § 416(i). 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.” 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(3). Peterson bears the burden of proving that she is
disabled, and she is therefore responsible for producing
evidence sufficient to support her claim. See Ellison v.
Barnhart, 355 F.3d 1272, 1276 (11th Cir. 2003).
determination of disability under the Social Security Act
requires a five-step analysis. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a).
The Commissioner must determine in sequence:
(1) Is the claimant presently unable to engage in substantial
(2) Is the claimant's impairment(s) severe?
(3) Does the claimant's impairment(s) satisfy or
medically equal one of the specific impairments set forth in
20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1?
(4) Is the claimant unable to perform her former occupation?
(5) Is the claimant unable to perform other work given her
residual functional capacity, age, education, and work
See Frame v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 596
Fed.Appx. 908, 910 (11th Cir. 2015). “An affirmative
answer to any of the above questions leads either to the next
question, or, on steps three and five, to a finding of
disability. A negative answer to any question, other than
step three, leads to a determination of ‘not
disabled.'” McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d
1026, 1030 (11th Cir. 1986) (quoting 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)-(f)). “Once the finding is made that a
claimant cannot return to prior work the burden of proof
shifts to the Secretary to show other work the ...