United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Southern Division
FREDDA L. JONES, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
STEPHEN M. DOYLE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
L. Jones (“Jones”) applied for disability
insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act
(“the Act”) alleging a disability date of
February 21, 2010. (R. 152-53). The application was initially
denied. (R. 83-88). A hearing was held before the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (R. 40-70). The
ALJ rendered an unfavorable decision on December 23, 2015.
(R. 20-35). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's
request for review. (R. 1-6). As a result, the ALJ's
decision became the final decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security (“Commissioner”). Id.
Judicial review proceeds pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g),
and 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
636(c), both parties have consented to the conduct of all
proceedings and entry of a final judgment by the undersigned
United States Magistrate Judge. Pl.'s Consent to
Jurisdiction (Doc. 11); Def.'s Consent to Jurisdiction
(Doc. 10). After careful scrutiny of the record and briefs,
for reasons herein explained, the undersigned concludes that
the Commissioner's decision is due to be REVERSED and
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Court's review of the Commissioner's decision is a
limited one. The Court's 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 Cir. 1983). “The 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-i.e.,
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)).
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
Court will also 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
STATUTORY AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK
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 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 they are separate programs, the law and
regulations governing a claim for DIB and a claim for SSI are
identical. See Strickland v. Harris, 615 F.2d 1103,
1105-06 (5th Cir. 1980). 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 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
“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), 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),
Commissioner 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
(1) Is the person presently unemployed?
(2) Is the person's impairment(s) severe?
(3) Does the person's impairment(s) meet or equal one of
the specific impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. Pt. ...