United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
M. BORDEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
February 11, 2015, Michael Shane Griggs applied for
Supplemental Security Income benefits and Disability
Insurance Benefits alleging that he became disabled on
December 1, 2013. R. 15, 286-93 & 304. His applications
initially were denied. R. 136- 53 & 157-66. After two
hearings, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
issued a decision on June 16, 2017 finding Plaintiff not to
be disabled. R. 12-31.
the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for
review. R. 1-6 & 284-85. As a result, the ALJ's
decision became the final decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security (“Commissioner”). 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, the court concludes that the Commissioner's
decision is to be AFFIRMED.
NATURE OF THE CASE
seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's decision
denying his application for disability insurance benefits.
United States District Courts may conduct limited review of
such decisions to determine whether they comply with
applicable law and are supported by substantial evidence. 42
U.S.C. § 405. The court may affirm, reverse and remand
with instructions, or reverse and render a judgment.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
court's review of the Commissioner's decision is a
limited one. In fact, the court's sole function is to
determine whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's
opinion and whether the ALJ applied the proper legal
standards. 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)). Thus, this court must find the
Commissioner's decision conclusive if it is supported by
substantial evidence. Graham v. Apfel, 129 F.3d
1420, 1422 (11th Cir. 1997). Substantial evidence is more
than a scintilla -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 (1971));
Foote, 67 F.3d at 1560 (citing Walden v.
Schweiker, 672 F.2d 835, 838 (11th Cir. 1982)).
substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's
decision, 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).
court also will reverse a Commissioner's decision on
plenary review if the decision applies incorrect law, or if
the decision fails to provide the district court with
sufficient reasoning to determine that the Commissioner
properly applied the law. Keeton v. Dep 't of Health
& Human Servs., 21 F.3d 1064, 1066 (11th Cir. 1994)
(citing Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145
(11th Cir. 1991)). There is no presumption that the
Commissioner's conclusions of law are valid. Id.;
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). The Social Security Act's Supplemental Security
Income (“SSI”) is a separate and distinct
program. SSI is a general public assistance measure providing
an additional resource to the aged, blind, and disabled to
assure that their income does not fall below the poverty
line. Eligibility for SSI is based upon proof of indigence
and disability. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 1382(a)
& 1382c(a)(3)(A)-(C). However, the law and regulations
governing a claim for DIB and a claim for SSI are identical,
and therefore claims for DIB and SSI are treated identically
for the purpose of determining whether a claimant is
disabled. Patterson v. Bowen, 799 F.2d 1455, 1456 n.
1 (11th Cir. 1986). Applicants under DIB and SSI must prove
“disability” within the meaning of the Social
Security Act which defines disability in virtually identical
language for both programs. 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
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 ...