United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
K. KALLON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Kay Pannell brings this action pursuant to Section 405(g) of
the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking
review of the Administrative Law Judge's
(“ALJ's”) denial of disability insurance
benefits, which has become the final decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“SSA”). For the reasons explained below, the
court finds that the ALJ applied the correct legal standard
and that her decision-which has become the final decision of
the Commissioner-is supported by substantial evidence.
Therefore, the court affirms the decision denying benefits.
filed an application for a period of disability, disability
insurance benefits, and supplemental security income on
November 27, 2012, alleging that she suffered from a
disability, beginning September 29, 2012 due to back and neck
pain, depression, and anxiety. R. 125, 286, 293. After the
SSA denied her applications, R. 188-93, Pannell requested a
hearing before an ALJ, R. 203. Following an initial hearing,
the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision. R. 161-80. The SSA
Appeals Council granted Pannell's request for review,
vacated the ALJ's decision, and remanded the case for
further action. R. 181-84. Ultimately, after a second
hearing, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision finding that
Pannell was not disabled. R. 8-23. The SSA Appeals Council
denied Pannell's second request for review, rendering the
ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. R.
2. Having exhausted her administrative remedies, Pannell
timely filed this petition for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§§ 1383(c)(3) and 405(g). Doc. 1.
Standard of Review
only issues before this court are whether the record contains
substantial evidence to sustain the ALJ's decision,
see 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Walden v.
Schweiker, 672 F.2d 835, 838 (11th Cir. 1982), and
whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards, see
Lamb v. Bowen, 847 F.2d 698, 701 (11th Cir. 1988);
Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir.
1986). Title 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)
mandate that the Commissioner's “factual findings
are conclusive if supported by ‘substantial
evidence.'” Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d
1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990). The district court may not
reconsider the facts, reevaluate the evidence, or substitute
its judgment for that of the Commissioner; instead, it must
review the final decision as a whole and determine if the
decision is “‘reasonable and supported by
substantial evidence.'” Id. (quoting
Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th
evidence falls somewhere between a scintilla and a
preponderance of evidence; “‘[i]t is such
relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.'”
Martin, 894 F.2d at 1529 (quoting
Bloodsworth, 703 F.2d at 1239). If supported by
substantial evidence, the court must affirm the
Commissioner's factual findings even if the preponderance
of the evidence is against those findings. See Id.
While judicial review of the ALJ's findings is limited in
scope, it “does not yield automatic affirmance.”
Lamb, 847 F.2d at 701.
contrast to the deferential review accorded the
Commissioner's factual findings, “conclusions of
law, including applicable review standards, are not presumed
valid” and are subject to de novo review.
Martin, 894 F.2d at 1529. The Commissioner's
failure to “apply the correct legal standards or to
provide the reviewing court with sufficient basis for a
determination that proper legal principles have been
followed” requires reversal. 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 twelve months.” 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(d)(1)(A); 42 U.S.C. § 416(i)(1). 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).
of disability under the Social Security Act requires a
five-step analysis. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a).
Specifically, the ALJ must determine in sequence:
(1) whether the claimant is currently unemployed;
(2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment;
(3) whether the impairment meets or equals one listed by the