United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Jasper Division
K. KALLON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Butters brings this action pursuant to Section 405(g) of the
Social Security Act (“the Act”), 42 U.S.C. §
405(g), seeking review of the Administrative Law Judge's
denial of disability insurance benefits, which has become the
final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (“SSA”). For the reasons explained
below, the court finds that the ALJ's decision is not
supported by substantial evidence and is due to be reversed
who served in the Marine Corps and National Guard, worked
previously as a military policeman, sales representative,
route sales driver, and car rental manager. R. 191-198. He
stopped working in 2014 due to his alleged disability.
Id. Butters filed his application for disability
benefits thereafter asserting a disability onset date
beginning on April 1, 2016 due to post-traumatic stress
disorder (“PTSD”), back injury, depression, and
sleep apnea. R. 66, 176. After the SSA denied his
application, Butters requested a formal hearing before an
ALJ. R. 78, 87, 103. Ultimately, the ALJ entered a decision
against Butters. R. 15-25. The Appeals Council affirmed,
rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the
Commissioner. R. 1-3. Having exhausted his administrative
remedies, Butters filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). Doc. 11.
Standard of Review
Federal district courts review the SSA's findings of fact
under the “substantial evidence” standard of
review. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c); Martin v.
Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990). The
district court may not reconsider the facts, reevaluate the
evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the
Commissioner; instead, it must review the final decision as a
whole and determine if the decision is “reasonable and
supported by substantial evidence.” See
Martin, 894 F.2d at 1529 (citing Bloodsworth v.
Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983)).
Substantial evidence falls somewhere between a scintilla and
a preponderance of evidence; “[i]t is such relevant
evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Id. (internal citations
omitted). If supported by substantial evidence, the court
must affirm the Commissioner's factual findings, even if
the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner.
reviewing findings of fact, credibility determinations are
the province of the ALJ. Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d
1208, 1212 (11th Cir. 2005). However, “[t]he testimony
of a treating physician must ordinarily be given substantial
or considerable weight unless good cause is shown to the
contrary, ” and the failure of the Secretary “to
specify what weight is given to a treating physician's
opinion and any reason for giving it no weight”
constitutes reversible error. MacGregor v. Bowen,
786 F.2d 1050, 1053 (11th Cir. 1986). Courts have found good
cause to discount a treating physician's report when it
is “not accompanied by objective medical evidence, . .
. wholly conclusory, ” or “inconsistent with [the
physician's] own medical records.” Lewis v.
Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1440 (11th Cir. 1997);
Edwards v. Sullivan, 937 F.2d 580, 583 (11th Cir.
1991). In contrast to the opinion of a treating physician,
“the opinion of a non-examining physician is entitled
to little weight if it is contrary to the opinion of the
claimant's treating physician.” Broughton v.
Heckler, 776 F.2d 960, 962 (11th Cir. 1985).
contrast to factual findings, the court reviews the SSA's
conclusions of law de novo, see Bridges v.
Bowen, 815 F.2d 622, 624 (11th Cir. 1987), and
“[f]ailure to apply the correct legal standards is
grounds not for remand but, for reversal.” Lamb v.
Bowen, 847 F.2d 698, 701 (11th Cir. 1988). No.
presumption attaches to either the ALJ's choice of legal
standard or to the ALJ's application of the correct legal
standard to the facts. Id. And, reviewing courts
have the power “to enter, upon the pleadings and
transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or
reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security, with or without remanding the cause for a
rehearing.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (emphasis added).
Statutory and Regulatory Framework
individual applying for DIB bears the burden of proving that
she is disabled. Moore, 405 F.3d at 1211. To
qualify, 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
twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A) and
416(i)(I)(A). 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).
of disability under the Act requires a five step analysis. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520. Specifically, the Commissioner must
determine, in sequence:
(1) whether the claimant is doing substantial gainful
(2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment;
(3) whether the impairment meets or is medically equivalent
to one listed ...