United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Western Division
ANNEMARIE CARNEY AXON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Valerie Talley Miller brings this action pursuant to §
205(g) of the Social Security Act, seeking review of the
Social Security Administration Commissioner’s (the
“Commissioner”) final decision. See 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). Based on the court’s review of
the administrative record and the parties’ briefs, the
court finds that the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) applied the correct legal standards and
that substantial evidence supports her decision, which has
become the decision of the Commissioner. As a result, the
court WILL AFFIRM the decision denying
Miller applied for a period of disability and disability
insurance benefits on February 16, 2011. (R. at
264–65). The Social Security Administration (the
“SSA”) found Ms. Miller disabled as defined by
the Act beginning on February 11, 2011, and awarded Ms.
Miller disability benefits. (Id. at 68–73).
2016, the SSA conducted a continuing disability review to
determine whether Ms. Miller had experienced medical
improvement. (R. at 152–53). The SSA determined that
medical improvement had occurred and that Ms. Miller’s
disability ended on December 17, 2014. (Id.). Ms.
Miller requested a hearing before an ALJ, who in 2017
determined that Ms. Miller’s disability had, in fact,
ceased on December 17, 2014, and that Ms. Miller was not
disabled as of August 31, 2016. (Id. at
18–30). Ms. Miller then sought review by the Appeals
Council, which denied Ms. Miller’s request for review.
(Id. at 1). The Appeals Council’s denial of
review makes the ALJ’s decision the final decision of
the Commissioner, and the decision is ripe for the
court’s judicial review. See 42 U.S.C. §
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) (quotation
marks and citation omitted). “Under the substantial
evidence standard, this court will affirm the ALJ’s
decision if there is ‘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 (quotation marks 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)
(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)). 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).
THE ALJ’S DECISIONS
ALJ’s 2012 decision granting a period of disability and
disability insurance benefits found that Ms. Miller had two
severe medically determinable impairments: seizure disorder
and “status post 1995 viral encephalitis with residual
short-term memory loss.” (R. at 70). Given these
impairments and their effect on her residual functional
capacity, the ALJ found that Ms. Miller was unable to perform
her past relevant work or any other work existing in
significant numbers in the national economy. (Id. at
2017, another ALJ determined that Ms. Miller’s
disability had ended. To make that determination, an ALJ must
follow an eight-step sequential evaluation process
(1) whether the claimant is engaging in substantial gainful
activity; (2) if not, whether the claimant has an impairment
or combination of impairments that meet or equal a listed
impairment; (3) if not, whether there has been medical
improvement; (4) if so, whether the improvement is related to
the claimant’s ability to work; (5) if there is no
medical improvement or if medical improvement is not related
to the claimant’s ability to work, whether an exception
to medical improvement applies; (6) if there is medical
improvement related to the claimant’s ability to work
or if an exception applies, whether the claimant has a severe
impairment; (7) if so, whether the claimant can perform his
past relevant work; and (8) if not, whether the claimant can
perform other work.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(1)–(8).
determined that Ms. Miller’s disability had ended as of
August 31, 2016. (R. at 30). First, the ALJ found that she
had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the
date her disability ended. (Id. at 20). Next, the
ALJ found that Ms. Miller still has the same two severe
medically determinable impairments as in 2012 (seizure
disorder and “status post viral encephalitis in 1995
with residual short-term memory loss”), as well as a
severe medically determinable impairment in the form of
obesity. (Id.). The ALJ also found that Ms. Miller
has non-severe medically determinable impairments in the form
of abdominal pain, sinusitis, and “status post