United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Eastern Division
ROBERT L. MALONE, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
M. ORDEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
August 17, 2015, Plaintiff Robert L. Malone applied for
disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social
Security Act, alleging a disability onset date of January 29,
2015. Plaintiff's application for benefits was denied at
the initial administrative level on October 19, 2015. He then
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). The ALJ held a hearing on January 27,
2017. She denied Plaintiff's claim on June 27, 2017.
Plaintiff requested a review of the ALJ's decision by the
Appeals Council, which declined review on April 7, 2018. As a
result, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of
the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the
“Commissioner”) as of April 7, 2018.
case is now before the court for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). Under 28 U.S.C. §
636(c)(1) and Rule 73 of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure, the parties have consented to the full
jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate Judge. Based on a
careful review of the parties' submissions, the relevant
law, and the record as a whole, the court concludes that the
decision of the Commissioner is due to be AFFIRMED.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
court reviews a Social Security appeal to determine whether
the Commissioner's decision “is supported by
substantial evidence and based upon proper legal
standards.” Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436,
1439 (11th Cir. 1997). The court will reverse the
Commissioner's decision if it is convinced that the
decision was not supported by substantial evidence or that
the proper legal standards were not applied. Carnes v.
Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1215, 1218 (11th Cir. 1991). The
court “may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the
evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the
Commissioner, ” but rather “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) (citation and internal quotation marks
omitted). “Even if the evidence preponderates against
the Secretary's factual findings, [the court] must affirm
if the decision reached is supported by substantial
evidence.” Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520,
1529 (11th Cir. 1990). Moreover, reversal is not warranted
even if the court itself would have reached a result contrary
to that of the factfinder.” See Edwards v.
Sullivan, 937 F.2d 580, 584 n.3 (11th Cir. 1991).
substantial evidence standard is met “if a reasonable
person would accept the evidence in the record as adequate to
support the challenged conclusion.” Boyd v.
Heckler, 704 F.2d 1207, 1209 (11th Cir. 1983). The
requisite showing has been described as “more than a
scintilla, but less than a preponderance.”
Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th
Cir. 1983). The court must scrutinize the entire record to
determine the reasonableness of the decision reached and
cannot “act as [an] automaton in reviewing the
[Commissioner's] decision.” Hale v. Bowen,
831 F.2d 1007, 1010 (11th Cir. 1987). Thus, the court must
consider evidence both favorable and unfavorable to the
Commissioner's decision. Swindle v. Sullivan,
914 F.2d 222, 225 (11th Cir. 1990).
court will reverse the Commissioner's decision on plenary
review if the decision applies incorrect law or fails to
provide the court with sufficient reasoning to determine that
the Commissioner properly applied the law. Id.
(citing Keeton v. Dep't of Health & Human
Servs., 21 F.3d 1064, 1066 (11th Cir. 1994)). There is
no presumption that the Commissioner's conclusions of law
are valid. Id.
STATUTORY AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK
qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must show the
“inability to engage 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 12 months.” 42 U.S.C.
§§ 423(d)(1)(A) & 416(i). A physical or mental
impairment is “an impairment that results from
anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities
which are demonstrated by medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(3). Plaintiff bears the burden of proving that he is
disabled, and is responsible for producing evidence
sufficient to support his claim. See Ellison v.
Barnhart, 355 F.3d 1272, 1276 (11th Cir. 2003).
determination of disability under the Social Security Act
requires a five-step analysis. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a).
The Commissioner must determine in sequence:
(1) Is the claimant presently unable to engage in substantial
(2) Are the claimant's impairments severe?
(3) Do the claimant's impairments satisfy or medically
equal one of the specific impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R.
Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1?
(4) Is the claimant unable to perform his former occupation?
(5) Is the claimant unable to perform other work given his
residual functional capacity, age, education, and work
See Frame v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 596
Fed.Appx. 908, 910 (11th Cir. 2015); 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i-v). “An affirmative answer to any of
the above questions leads either to the next question, or,
[at] steps three and five, to a finding of disability. A
negative answer to any question, other than at step three,
leads to a determination of ‘not disabled.'”
McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir.
1986) (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)-(f)). “Once
the finding is made that a claimant cannot return to prior
work the burden of proof shifts to the Secretary to show
other work the claimant can do.” Foote v.
Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1559 (11th Cir. 1995) (citing
Gibson v. Heckler, 762 F.2d 1516 (11th Cir. 1985)).
FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS
Malone was 46 years old at the time he filed his disability
application and 48 years old at the time of the ALJ's
decision. R. 31. He lives in a house with his girlfriend and
their seven-year-old child in Alexander City, Alabama. R. 68.
Plaintiff has a twelfth-grade education in addition to one
year of college coursework. R. 69. He served one year in the
United States Navy before being injured when “cargo
fell on” him while onboard a Navy ship. R. 1200.
Plaintiff was honorably discharged at the rank of E-3. R.
1200. He has a 90% Veterans Administration (“VA”)
disability rating. R. 24 & 1291.
primary complaints are back injury, depression, and shoulder
injury. R. 205. He has a documented medical history dating
back to 1987. In the past, he has worked as a forklift
operator, molding machine tender, bulldozer operator, wire
harness assembler, lab tester, production assembler, and
tractor trailer operator. R. 30 & 221-22. He has not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 29,
2015. R. ...