United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
STEPHEN DOYLE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Hill (“Plaintiff”) applied for disability
insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act
in February 2014, alleging a disability date of August 27,
2013. (R. 110). Plaintiff's application was initially
denied in July 2014. Id. Plaintiff filed a written
request for a hearing, which was held in July 2015; following
this hearing, the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) denied Plaintiff's claim. (R.
110-118). Plaintiff requested a review of the decision, which
was granted, and the Appeals Council remanded the case to the
ALJ. (R. 125-27). The ALJ held a second hearing in January
2017, (R. 30-67), and ultimately denied Plaintiff's
claim. (R. 10-19). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's
second request for review. (R. 1-3). As a result, the
ALJ's decision became the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”).
Id. 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 the reasons below, the
Court concludes that the Commissioner's decision is to be
REVERSED and REMANDED.
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).
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)). 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, 91 S.Ct.
1420, 1427, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971)); Foote, 67 F.3d
at 1560 (citing 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 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).
is no presumption that the Commissioner's conclusions of
law are valid, and the Court may reverse the ALJ's
decision if it fails to provide sufficient reasoning to
determine that the Commissioner properly applied the law.
Keeton v. Dep't of Health and Human Servs., 21
F.3d 1064, 1066 (11th Cir. 1994) (citing Cornelius v.
Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145 (11th Cir. 1991));
Brown v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d 1233, 1236 (11th Cir.
1991) (quoting MacGregor, 786 F.2d at 1053).
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). Applicants under DIB must prove
“disability” within the meaning of the Social
Security Act. 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 12
months.” 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 the below five-step,
sequential evaluation process to determine whether a claimant
is entitled to benefits. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520, 416.920 (2010).
(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