United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
ANNEMARIE CARNEY AXON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Saundra Thereese Sabrin Valdez, proceeding pro se,
appeals the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
denying her claims for widow's disability insurance
benefits and supplemental security income. Based on the
court's review of the administrative record and the
parties' submissions, the court WILL
AFFIRM the Commissioner's decision.
Valdez applied for widow's disability insurance benefits
and supplemental security income on December 22, 2015. (R.
106, 123, 196-205). Ms. Valdez alleges that her disability
began on March 1, 2015. (R. 196). The Commissioner initially
denied Ms. Valdez's claim on April 29, 2016. (R.
143-147). Ms. Valdez requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (R. 126-127). After holding a
hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on January
10, 2018. (R. 29-38). On April 14, 2017, the Appeals Council
granted Ms. Valdez's request for review. (R. 7). The
Appeals Council issued a decision on August 21, 2018,
modifying in part the ALJ's findings but concluding that
Ms. Valdez was not disabled through the date of the ALJ's
decision. (R. 4-10). The Appeals Council then granted Ms.
Valdez an extension of time to file a civil action in this
court through November 16, 2018, the date Ms. Valdez filed
her appeal. (R. 2; Doc. 1). Therefore, the case is now ripe
for review. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1348(c)(3).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
court's role in reviewing claims brought under the Social
Security Act is a narrow one. The court “must determine
whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by
substantial evidence and based on proper legal
standards.” Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (internal
quotation marks and citation omitted). “Under the
substantial evidence standard, this court will affirm the
ALJ's decision if there exists ‘such relevant
evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.'” Henry v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 802 F.3d 1264, 1267 (11th Cir. 2015) (quoting
Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178). The court may not
“decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, ”
or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ.
Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178 (internal quotations and
citation omitted). The court must affirm “[e]ven if the
evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's
findings.” Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158-59 (11th Cir. 2004) (per
curiam) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
the deferential standard for review of claims, the court must
“‘scrutinize the record as a whole to determine
if the decision reached is reasonable and supported by
substantial evidence.'” Henry, 802 F.3d at
1267 (quoting MacGregor v. Bowen, 786 F.2d 1050,
1053 (11th Cir. 1986)). Moreover, the court must reverse the
Commissioner's decision if the ALJ does not apply the
correct legal standards. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936
F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).
as here, the Appeals Council grants review, the Appeals
Council's decision is the Commissioner's final
decision for purposes of this court's review.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.900(a)(4)-(5),
determine whether an individual is disabled, the Commissioner
follows a five-step sequential evaluation process. The
(1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial
gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a severe
impairment or combination of impairments; (3) whether the
impairment meets or equals the severity of the specified
impairments in the Listing of Impairments; (4) based on a
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) assessment,
whether the claimant can perform any of his or her past
relevant work despite the impairment; and (5) whether there
are significant numbers of jobs in the national economy that
the claimant can perform given the claimant's RFC, age,
education, and work experience.
Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178.
the Appeals Council determined that Ms. Valdez has not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 1, 2015,
the alleged onset date. (R. 9). The Appeals Council found
that Ms. Valdez has the following severe impairments:
degenerative disc disease, affective disorder, and anxiety.
(Id.). The Appeals Council then concluded that Ms.
Valdez does not suffer from an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or ...