United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
M. BORDEN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
25, 2015, Plaintiff Homer Earp, Jr. filed an application for
disability insurance benefits. His alleged disability onset
date is May 18, 2015. Earp’s application for benefits
was denied at the initial administrative level. Earp then
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). The ALJ held a hearing on March 1, 2017,
and he denied Earp’s claims on June 1, 2017. Earp
requested a review of the ALJ’s decision by the Appeals
Council, which declined review on January 4, 2018. As a
result, the ALJ’s decision became the final decision of
the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the
“Commissioner”) as of January 4, 2018.
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 a
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 AFFIRMED.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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).
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).
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. Grant v.
Astrue, 255 F. App’x 374, 375–76 (11th Cir.
2007) (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.
STATUTORY AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK
qualify for disability benefits, 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 12 months.” 42 U.S.C.
§§ 423(d)(1)(A) & 416(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). Earp 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).
determination of disability under the Social Security Act
requires a five-step analysis. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a).
The Commissioner must determine in sequence:
(1) Is the claimant presently unable to engage in substantial
(2) Are the claimant’s impairments severe?
(3) Do the claimant’s impairments satisfy or medically
equal one of the specific impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R.
Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1?
(4) Is the claimant unable to perform her former occupation?
(5) Is the claimant unable to perform other work given her
residual functional capacity, age, education, and work
See Frame v. Comm’r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 596 F.
App’x 908, 910 (11th Cir. 2015). “An affirmative
answer to any of the above questions leads either to the next
question, or, [at] steps three and five, to a finding of
disability. A negative answer to any question, other than at
step three, leads to a determination of ‘not
disabled.’” McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d
1026, 1030 (11th Cir. 1986) (quoting 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)-(f)). “Once the finding is made that a
claimant cannot return to prior work the burden of proof
shifts to the Secretary to show other work the claimant can
do.” Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1559 (11th
Cir. 1995) (citing Gibson v. Heckler, 762 F.2d 1516
(11th Cir. 1985)).
was 40 years old at the time of the ALJ’s decision. R.
37. He lives with his son and a roommate in Decatur, Alabama.
R. 43 & 135. His primary complaint is chronic venous
insufficiency. On his application for disability benefits, he
alleged that nephrolithiasis, peripheral vascular disease,
sick sinus syndrome, and varicose veins of lower extremities
prevented him from working. R. 171.
completed high school, some vocational training, and one year
of college. R. 37. He worked as a machine operator at General
Electric for almost 15 years, from 1999 until 2015. R. 38
& 171–72. His last employment ended on May 18,
2015. R. 171. He has not engaged in any substantial gainful
activity since that date. R. 12.
held a hearing in Earp’s case on March 1, 2017. R. 33.
At the hearing, Earp testified that his average pain level is
5 on a scale from 1 to 10. R. 40. He also testified that he
suffers two bad days per week. R. 40–41. Earp defined
“bad days” as those where he could not stand and
his pain level was 9.5. R. 40. Earp said that generally he
could stand on his feet for one hour without needing to sit
down and ...