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Mercer v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

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

March 29, 2019

GARY MERCER, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION[1]

          JOHN H. ENGLAND, III UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff 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 AND REMANDED.

         I. Factual and Procedural History

          Mercer 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).

         On 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).

         Born in 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).

         II. Standard of Review[2]

         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 (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 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).

         III. Statutory and Regulatory Framework

         To 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.[3] 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 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; and
(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.

         IV. Findings of the ...


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