United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
H. ENGLAND, III UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Gary Mercer (“Mercer”) 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). Mercer
timely pursued and exhausted his administrative remedies.
This case is therefore ripe for review under 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). The undersigned has
carefully considered the record and, for the reasons stated
below, the Commissioner's decision is REVERSED
Factual and Procedural History
filed an application for a period of disability and DIB on
December 21, 2012, alleging he became unable to work
beginning February 1, 2012. (Tr. 191, 339-43). The Agency
initially denied Mercer's application (tr. 225-29), and
Mercer requested a hearing. A hearing was held before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on June 23,
2014. (Tr. 156-88). By decision dated July 28, 2014, the ALJ
found Mercer not disabled. (Tr. 203-19). On September 16,
2014, Mercer requested the Appeals Council review the
ALJ's decision. (Tr. 285).
October 30, 2015, the Appeals Council remanded Mercer's
claim for a new hearing and decision. (Tr. 220-22). A second
hearing was held before an ALJ on April 18, 2016. (Tr.
87-109). By decision dated August 31, 2016, the ALJ found
Mercer not disabled. (Tr. 68-86). Mercer requested review by
the Appeals Council (tr. 336-38), but it denied review on
October 23, 2017 (tr. 1-7). On that date, the ALJ's
decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. On
December 22, 2017, Mercer initiated this action.
(See doc. 1).
1952, Mercer was sixty-one-years-old at his date of last
insured. He has a college education (tr. 92) and past
relevant work as a certified financial officer, a certified
public accountant, and a material sales person (tr. 105-06).
Mercer alleges disability due to hypertension, cardiovascular
disease, other cardiovascular disorder, brittle diabetes
impairment, and diabetic neuropathy. (Tr. 339, 429). Mercer
further contends that his “diabetes with multiple
complications” is the primary cause of his alleged
disability. (Doc. 13 at 3).
Standard of Review
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 (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.
Court must uphold factual findings supported by substantial
evidence. “Substantial evidence may even exist contrary
to the findings of the ALJ, and [the reviewing court] may
have taken a different view of it as a factfinder. Yet, if
there is substantially supportive evidence, the findings
cannot be overturned.” Barron v. Sullivan, 924
F.2d 227, 230 (11th Cir. 1991). However, the Court 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).
Statutory and Regulatory Framework
qualify for disability benefits and establish his or her
entitlement for a period of disability, a claimant must be
disabled as defined by the Social Security Act and the
Regulations promulgated thereunder. 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.
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
(1) whether the claimant is currently employed;
(2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment;
(3) whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals an
impairment listed by the [Commissioner];
(4) whether the claimant can perform his or her past work;
(5) whether the claimant is capable of performing any work in
the national economy.
Pope v. Shalala, 998 F.2d 473, 477 (7th Cir. 1993)
(citing to the formerly applicable C.F.R. section),
overruled on other grounds by Johnson v. Apfel, 189
F.3d 561, 562-63 (7th Cir. 1999); accord McDaniel v.
Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir. 1986). “Once
the claimant has satisfied steps One and Two, she will
automatically be found disabled if she suffers from a listed
impairment. If the claimant does not have a listed impairment
but cannot perform her work, the burden shifts to the
[Commissioner] to show that the claimant can perform some
other job.” Pope, 998 F.2d at 477; accord
Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1559 (11th Cir. 1995).
The Commissioner must further show such work exists in the
national economy in significant numbers. Id.
Findings of the ...