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Henderson v. Commissioner Social Security

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

September 20, 2018

TERRY HENDERSON, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION [1]

          JOHN H. ENGLAND, III UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Terry Henderson (“Henderson”) seeks review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 205(g) of the Social Security Act, of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”), denying his application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). (Doc. 1). Henderson timely pursued and exhausted his administrative remedies. This case is therefore ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The undersigned has carefully considered the record and, for the reasons stated below, the Commissioner's decision is REVERSED and this action is REMANDED for further proceedings.

         I. Factual and Procedural History

         Henderson filed an application for DIB on July 3, 2013, alleging disability beginning on April 24, 2009. (Tr. 167-75). However, due to a prior unfavorable decision, Henderson amended his onset date to January 15, 2011. (Tr. 36, 200-02, 234). The Commissioner initially denied Henderson's claim, (tr. 94), and Henderson requested a hearing before an ALJ, (tr. 107-10). After an October 21, 2015 hearing, the ALJ denied Henderson's claim on December 8, 2015. (Tr. 19-29). Henderson sought review by the Appeals Council, but it denied his request for review on November 8, 2016. (Tr. 1-6). On that date, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. On January 9, 2017, Henderson initiated this action. (Doc. 1).

         Henderson was forty-two years old on December 31, 2013, his date last insured. (Tr. 27). Henderson has a high school education and has previously worked as a retail store manager, tank truck driver, sales route driver, and construction worker. (Tr. 27, 38-40, 55).

         II. Standard of Review [2]

         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, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1422 (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). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. It is “more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Id.

         This Court must uphold factual findings that are supported by substantial evidence. However, it reviews the ALJ's legal conclusions 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 the proper legal analysis has been conducted, it must reverse the ALJ's decision. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).

         III. 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.[3] 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 entitlement to disability benefits, a claimant must provide evidence of a “physical or mental impairment” which “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 ...

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