United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
M. BORDEN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Dekalb Barker applied for disability insurance benefits under
Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”)
alleging a disability date of February 15, 2012. R. 23 &
141. The application was initially denied. R. 71. A hearing
was held before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). R. 39-56. The ALJ rendered an
unfavorable decision on December 23, 2015. R. 33. The Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. R. 5-8. As
a result, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”). R. 5-8. Judicial review
proceeds pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(c). After careful scrutiny of the record and
briefs, and for the reasons explained below, the court
concludes that the Commissioner's decision is to be
REVERSED and REMANDED.
NATURE OF THE CASE
seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's decision
denying his application for disability insurance benefits.
United States District Courts may conduct limited review of
such decisions to determine whether they comply with
applicable law and are supported by substantial evidence. 42
U.S.C. § 405. This court may affirm, reverse and remand
with instructions, or reverse and render a judgment.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
court's review of the Commissioner's decision is a
limited one. The court's sole function is to determine
whether the ALJ's opinion is supported by substantial
evidence and whether the proper legal standards were applied.
See Jones v. Apfel, 190 F.3d 1224, 1228 (11th Cir.
1999); Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239
(11th Cir. 1983). “The Social Security Act mandates
that ‘findings of the Secretary as to any fact, if
supported by substantial evidence, shall be
conclusive.'” Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d
1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1995) (quoting 42 U.S.C. §405(g)).
Thus, this Court must affirm the Commissioner's decision
if it is supported by substantial evidence. Graham v.
Apfel, 129 F.3d 1420, 1422 (11th Cir. 1997). Substantial
evidence is more than a scintilla-i.e., the evidence
must do more than merely create a suspicion of the existence
of a fact, and must include such relevant evidence as a
reasonable person would accept as adequate to support the
conclusion. Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1440
(11th Cir. 1997) (citing Richardson v. Perales, 402
U.S. 389, 401 (1971)); Foote, 67 F.3d at 1560
(citing Walden v. Schweiker, 672 F.2d 835, 838 (11th
Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial
evidence, the district court will affirm, even if the court
would have reached a contrary result as the finder of fact,
and even if the evidence preponderates against the
Commissioner's findings. Ellison v. Barnhart,
355 F.3d 1272, 1275 (11th Cir. 2003); Edwards v.
Sullivan, 937 F.2d 580, 584 n.3 (11th Cir. 1991)
(quoting MacGregor v. Bowen, 786 F.2d 1050, 1053
(11th Cir. 1986)). The Court must view the evidence as a
whole, taking into account evidence favorable as well as
unfavorable to the decision. Foote, 67 F.3d at 1560
(citing Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th
Cir. 1986). The court “may not decide 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) (quoting
Bloodsworth, 703 F.2d at 1239).
district court also will reverse a Commissioner's
decision on plenary review if the decision applies incorrect
law or fails to provide the district court with sufficient
reasoning to determine that the Commissioner properly applied
the law. Keeton v. Dep't of Health & Human
Servs., 21 F.3d 1064, 1066 (11th Cir. 1994) (citing
Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145 (11th
Cir. 1991)). There is no presumption that the
Commissioner's conclusions of law are valid.
Id.; Brown v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d 1233, 1236
(11th Cir. 1991) (quoting MacGregor, 786 F.2d at
STATUTORY AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK
Social Security Act's general disability insurance
benefits program (“DIB”) provides income to
individuals who are forced into involuntary, premature
retirement, provided they are both insured and disabled,
regardless of indigence. See 42 U.S.C. §
423(a). The Social Security Act's Supplemental Security
Income (“SSI”) is a separate and distinct
program. SSI is a general public assistance measure providing
an additional resource to the aged, blind, and disabled to
assure that their income does not fall below the poverty
line. Eligibility for SSI is based upon proof of indigence
and disability. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 1382(a)
& 1382c(a)(3)(A)-(C). However, despite the fact they are
separate programs, the law and regulations governing claims
for DIB and SSI are the same. Therefore, claims for DIB and
SSI are treated identically for the purpose of determining
whether a claimant is disabled. Patterson v. Bowen,
799 F.2d 1455, 1456 n.1 (11th Cir. 1986). Applicants under
DIB and SSI must prove “disability” within the
meaning of the Social Security Act, which defines disability
in virtually identical language for both programs.
See 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d), 1382c(a)(3) &
1382c(a)(3)(G); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a) &
416.905(a). A person is entitled to disability benefits when
the person is unable 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
42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A) & 1382c(a)(3)(A). A
“physical or mental impairment” is one resulting
from anatomical, physiological, or psychological
abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable
clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. 42 U.S.C.
§§ 423(d)(3) & 1382c(a)(3)(D).
Commissioner of Social Security employs a five-step,
sequential evaluation process to determine whether a claimant
is entitled to benefits. See 20 ...