United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
M. BORDEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Alonza Marshall applied for disability insurance benefits
under Title II of the Social Security Act and supplemental
security income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act on
October 25, 2012, alleging a disability date in both claims
of October 31, 2011. R. 20, 149, 251 & 253. The
application was denied at the lower levels of determination
and after a hearing by an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”). R. 37-65, 146- 167 & 174-84.
Plaintiff requested review, and the Appeals Council vacated
the decision and remanded for further proceedings. R. 168-70.
The ALJ held an additional hearing, and on August 31, 2016,
the ALJ issued a new decision denying Plaintiff's
applications. R. 17-36 & 66-111. Plaintiff requested
review of the ALJ's decision, but the Appeals Council
denied the request. R. 1-6. As a result, the ALJ's
decision became the final decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security (“Commissioner”). R. 1-6.
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, and for the reasons that follow, the court
concludes that the Commissioner's decision is to be
NATURE OF THE CASE
seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's decision
denying her 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. The 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
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 affirm the
Commissioner's decision 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-that is, 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)).
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).
court also will reverse a Commissioner's decision on
plenary review if the decision applies incorrect law or 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, despite the fact that they
are separate programs, the law and regulations governing a
claim for DIB and a claim for SSI are identical, so 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
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 techniques. 42 U.S.C.
§§ 423(d)(3) & 1382c(a)(3)(D).
Commissioner of Social Security employs a 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) ...