United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
M. BORDEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Scott applied for disability insurance benefits under Title
II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”) on
September 21, 2013, alleging a disability date of November 2,
2008. (R. 20). The application was denied at the lower levels
of determination. (R. 82-116). A hearing was held before the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (R. 38-74). The
ALJ rendered an unfavorable decision on August 25, 2015. (R.
17-33). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request
for review. (R. 1-6). As a result, the ALJ's decision
became the final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security (“Commissioner”). (R. 1-6). 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, for reasons herein explained, the court concludes
that the Commissioner's decision is to be AFFIRMED.
NATURE OF THE CASE
seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's decision
denying her 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. The 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 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
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 find the
Commissioner's decision conclusive 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; Walden v.
Schweiker, 672 F.2d 835, 838 (11th Cir. 1982)).
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 and consider 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).
court also will reverse a Commissioner's decision on
plenary review if the decision applies incorrect law, or if
the decision fails to provide the district court with
sufficient reasoning to determine that the Commissioner
properly applied the law. Keeton v. Dept. 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 that they
are separate programs, the law and regulations governing a
claim for DIB and a claim for SSI are identical, so 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
[e]ngage 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 employs a five-step, sequential evaluation
process to determine whether a claimant is entitled to
benefits. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 &
(1) Is the person presently unemployed?
(2) Is the person's impairment(s) severe?
(3) Does the person's impairment(s) meet or equal one of
the specific impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404,
Subpt. P, App. 1?
(4) Is the person unable to perform his or her former
(5) Is the person unable to perform any other work within the