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Tolbert v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division

August 14, 2019

SABRINA TOLBERT, on behalf of JAYLAND D. WHITE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          GRAY M. BORDEN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         On April 4, 2014, Plaintiff Sabrina Tolbert filed an application for supplemental security income on behalf of her son, the claimant, Jayland D. White. His alleged disability onset date is March 20, 2014. White's application for benefits was denied at the initial administrative level. Tolbert then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). The ALJ held a hearing on April 26, 2017. She denied White's claims on June 27, 2017. Tolbert requested a review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council, which declined review on March 14, 2018. As a result, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) as of March 14, 2018.

         White's 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 its 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 REVERSED and REMANDED to the ALJ for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The 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).

         The substantial evidence standard is met “if a reasonable person would accept the evidence in the record as adequate to support the challenged conclusion.” Holladay v. Bowen, 848 F.2d 1206, 1208 (11th Cir. 1988) (quoting Boyd v. Heckler, 704 F.2d 1207, 1209 (11th Cir. 1983)). The requisite evidentiary 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).

         The 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.

         II. STATUTORY AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK

         An individual under the age of 18 is considered disabled if he shows a “medically determinable physical or mental impairment, which results in marked and severe functional limitations, and which can be expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 month.” 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(C)(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). White 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).

         For those under the age of 18, a determination of disability under the Social Security Act requires a three-step analysis. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a). The Commissioner must determine in sequence:

(1) Is the child engaged in substantial gainful activity?
(2) Are the child's impairments severe?
(3) Do the child's impairments satisfy or medically equal one of the specific impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. ...

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