United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
M. BORDEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
October 17, 2011, Plaintiff Tina Marie Kelly applied for
supplemental security income and disability insurance
benefits under the Social Security Act, alleging a disability
onset date of February 23, 2001. Kelly's claim was denied
at the initial administrative level so she requested a
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). This hearing was rescheduled several
times. On February 5, 2014, the ALJ held a hearing, and on
May 16, 2014 denied Kelly's claims. Kelly requested a
review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council, and
that request was granted. The Appeals Council remanded the
case to the ALJ on December 28, 2015. The Appeals Council
remanded the case with instructions that the ALJ evaluate
Kelly's mental impairments and provide specific findings
and appropriate rationale for each of the functional areas
described in the regulations, give further consideration to
Kelly's maximum residual functional capacity and provide
specific references in support of the assessed limitations,
and obtain warranted supplemental evidence from a vocational
expert to clarify the effect of the assessed limitations on
Kelly's occupational base. R. 194.
hearing was held on April 20, 2016, and Kelly appeared
without counsel. She received an unfavorable decision on May
9, 2016. The Appeals Council denied review of the hearing
decision on December 15, 2016. Therefore, the hearing
decision became the final decision of the Commission of
Social Security. Kelly subsequently filed a complaint seeking
review of the Commissioner's final decision in this
case is now before the court for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). Pursuant to 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. After thoroughly reviewing the record and the
parties' arguments, and for the reasons stated herein,
the court finds that the ALJ applied proper legal standards
and that her decision is supported by substantial evidence.
Therefore, the ALJ's decision will be affirmed, as set
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 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) (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, 703 F.2d at 1239.
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.
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). A claimant bears the burden of proving that he is
disabled, and he is responsible for producing evidence to
support his 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 performing substantial gainful activity?
(2) Does she have a severe impairment?
(3) Does she have a severe impairment that equals one of the
specific impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Sub pt.
P, App. 1?
(4) Is the claimant able to perform past relevant work?
(5) Is the claimant unable to perform other work given her
residual functional capacity, age, education, ...