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Lewis v. Berryhill

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

May 31, 2019

DAVID LEE LEWIS, SR., Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER [1]

          Susan Russ Walker, United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff David Lee Lewis, Sr., applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”) on November 4, 2009, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Title XVI on November 9, 2009, alleging a disability date of October 1, 2009. (R. 165, 174, 530).[2] The applications were denied initially on February 27, 2010, and upon reconsideration on March 22, 2010. (R. 103, 530). Thereafter, plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) and appeared at the hearing on March 23, 2011. (R. 37-79, 530). In a hearing decision dated January 18, 2012, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled. (R. 21-29). Plaintiff ultimately appealed to the district court and the court remanded the case for further consideration because the ALJ erred in his credibility analysis. (R. 530); Lewis v. Colvin, 2:13cv355-MHT (M.D. Ala. July 29, 2014).

         The ALJ held a new hearing on June 7, 2016, which plaintiff attended without counsel. (R. 559-75). In a hearing decision dated December 8, 2016, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled. (R. 530-51). The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review. (R. 522-25). As a result, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner). Id.

         In the instant appeal, plaintiff asks the court for relief in his favor due to his health condition. See Docs. 16, 19. This case is ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). The parties have consented to entry of final judgment by the Magistrate Judge. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); see also Docs. 11, 12. After careful scrutiny of the record and briefs, for reasons herein explained, the court concludes that the Commissioner's decision is due to be reversed and remanded.

         I. NATURE OF THE CASE

         Plaintiff 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. Id.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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. A reviewing court “may not decide facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its] decision for that of the [Commissioner].” Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005). In other words, this court is prohibited from reviewing the Commissioner's findings of fact de novo, even where a preponderance of the evidence supports alternative conclusions.

         While the court must uphold factual findings that are supported by substantial evidence, it 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 that 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).

         To qualify for SSI 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), 416.905(a). To establish an entitlement to disability benefits, a claimant must provide evidence about a “physical or mental impairment” that “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, 416.908.

         The Regulations provide a five-step process for determining whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i-v), 416.920(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 ...

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