United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
ANGELA T. BARBEE, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.
VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
case is back before the Court following a remand. Plaintiff
Angela T. Barbee brings this action under 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). Ms. Barbee seeks a review of a final adverse decision
of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”), who denied her application for
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). Ms. Barbee
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).
Court carefully reviewed the record in this case and
AFFIRMS in part, REVERSES
in part, and REMANDS the ALJ's decision.
alleged onset date is January 10, 2010. (Tr. 624). Ms. Barbee
suffers from numerous severe impairments, but the ALJ found
that none rendered her disabled. (Id. at 626, 639).
Ms. Barbee filed an application for Social Security benefits
on August 18, 2011. (Id. at 708). The Social
Security Administration denied that application on December
30, 2011. (Id.). Administrative Law Judge Cynthia G.
Weaver held a hearing on February 20, 2013. (Id.).
The ALJ issued her first decision on May 17, 2013, which was
unfavorable to Ms. Barbee. (Id. at 743). Ms. Barbee
requested the Appeals Council review the claim. (Id.
at 750). They refused. (Id.).
Barbee then filed her complaint in the Northern District of
Alabama on January 30, 2015. (Doc. 1). Before the
Commissioner filed an answer, she filed an unopposed motion
to remand the case based on Sentence 6. (Doc. 7). The reason
for the remand was that there was not a good recording of the
hearing. (Id. at 2-3). The case went back down, and
the ALJ held a new hearing on September 21, 2016. (Tr. 624).
The ALJ then issued another decision, which was still
unfavorable to Ms. Barbee. (Id. at 639). Ms. Barbee
asked the Appeals Council to review her case. (See
Id. at 615-16). The Appeals Council refused to
“assume jurisdiction.” (Id.). Ms. Barbee
moved to reopen her case before the Court, and the Court
granted the request. (Docs. 9, 10). Briefing was completed on
March 23, 2018. (Docs. 16, 17, 18). The matter accordingly is
ripe for determination.
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.
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).
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. 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.
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
(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 national economy.
Pope v. Shalala, 998 F.2d 473, 477 (7th Cir. 1993)
(citing to formerly applicable C.F.R. section), overruled
on other grounds by Johnson v. Apfel, 189 F.3d 561,
562-63 (7th Cir. 1999); accord McDaniel v. Bowen,
800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir. 1986). The sequential analysis
goes as follows:
Once the claimant has satisfied steps One and Two, she will
automatically be found disabled if she suffers from a listed
impairment. If the claimant does not have a listed impairment
but cannot perform her work, the burden shifts to the
[Commissioner] to show that the claimant can perform some
Pope, 998 F.2d at 477; accord Foote v.
Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1559 (11th Cir. 1995). The
Commissioner must further show that such work exists in the
national economy in significant numbers. Id.
Finding of the Administrative Law Judge
considering the record, the ALJ made the following findings:
1. The claimant last met the insured status requirements of
the Social Security Act on December 31, 2012.
2. The claimant did not engage in substantial gainful
activity during the period from her alleged onset date of
January 10, 2010[, ] through her date last insured of
December 31, 2012 (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq.).
3. Through the date last insured, the claimant had the
following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease,
migraine headaches, anxiety and depression (20 CFR
4. Through the date last insured, the claimant did not have
an impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, ...