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Ware v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

March 25, 2019




         Plaintiff Tammie Sherell Ware (“Ware”) seeks review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), § 205(g) of the Social Security Act, of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying her application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). (Doc. 1). Ware timely pursued and exhausted her 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

         I. Factual and Procedural History

         Ware protectively filed an application for a period of disability and DIB on August 14, 2012, alleging an onset date of March 10, 2008.[2] (Tr. 314-17). On November 2, 2012, the Commissioner denied Ware's claim. (Tr. 190-94). On November 21, 2012, Ware requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 198-99). On December 6, 2013, the ALJ held a hearing. (Tr. 75-116). At the hearing, Ware amended her alleged onset date to February 27, 2010, (tr. 78). The ALJ denied Ware's claim on April 29, 2014. (Tr. 152-74). Ware sought review by the Appeals Council, which vacated the decision and remanded the case to the ALJ to reconsider Ware's residual functional capacity (“RFC”)[3] and obtain new testimony from a vocational expert. (Tr. 177-79).

         On remand, the ALJ held a new hearing on April 5, 2016. (Tr. 33-74). The ALJ denied Ware's claim again on July 6, 2016. (Tr. 10-32). Ware again sought review by the Appeals Council, but this time it denied her request. (Tr. 1-6). On July 11, 2017, the date on which the Appeals Council denied review, the ALJ's second decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. On September 8, 2017, Ware initiated this action. (Doc. 1).

         On the date of the ALJ's second decision, Ware was forty-seven years old, with previous work as certified nurse's assistant and a cleaner/housekeeper. (Tr. 24).

         II. Standard of Review[[4]]

         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 her entitlement for a period of disability, a claimant must be disabled as defined by the Social Security Act and the Regulations promulgated thereunder.[5] 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 ...

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