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Scott v. Commissioner of the Social Security Administration

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

September 30, 2019

BOBBY K. SCOTT, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          CORRECTED MEMORANDUM OPINION [1]

          JOHN H. ENGLAND, III UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Bobby K. Scott brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the Commissioner of Social Security’s final decision denying his applications for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits (“DIB”), and supplemental security income (“SSI”).[2] Upon review of the record and the relevant law, the court is of the opinion that the Commissioner’s decision is due to be REVERSED, and this action REMANDED for further administrative proceedings.

         I. Procedural History

         Scott protectively filed applications for a period of disability, DIB, and SSI on January 21, 2015, alleging he became unable to work beginning January 15, 2015. (Tr. 144-154). He later amended his alleged onset date to September 17, 2015. (Tr. 165). The Agency denied his claims initially and Scott requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 82-88). Scott attended the hearing on November 2, 2016, at which the ALJ received testimony from a vocational expert. (Tr. 32-57). After the hearing, the ALJ found that Scott was not under a disability at any time through the date of the decision. (Tr. 25).

         Scott then requested review of the ALJ’s decision by the Appeals Council. (Tr. 7). The Appeals Council denied Scott’s request for review, making the ALJ’s decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-3). Following denial of review by the Appeals Council, Scott filed a complaint in this court seeking reversal and remand of the Agency’s decision. (Doc. 1.)

         II. Standard of Review [3]

         In reviewing claims brought under the Social Security Act, this court’s role is a narrow one: “Our review of the Commissioner’s decision is limited to an inquiry into whether there is substantial evidence to support the findings of the Commissioner, and whether the correct legal standards were applied.” Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002). This Court must “scrutinize the record as a whole to determine if the decision reached is reasonable and supported by substantial evidence.” Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id.

         This Court must uphold factual findings supported by substantial evidence. “Substantial evidence may even exist contrary to the findings of the ALJ, and [the reviewing court] may have taken a different view of it as a factfinder. Yet, if there is substantially supportive evidence, the findings cannot be overturned.” Barron v. Sullivan, 924 F.2d 227, 230 (11th Cir. 1991). However, the Court reviews the ALJ’s legal conclusions de novo because no presumption of validity attaches to the ALJ’s determination of the proper legal standards to be applied. Davis v. Shalala, 985 F.2d 528, 531 (11th Cir. 1993). If the court finds an error in the ALJ’s application of the law, or if the ALJ fails to provide the court with sufficient reasoning for determining the proper legal analysis has been conducted, it must reverse the ALJ’s decision. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).

         III. Statutory and Regulatory Framework

         To qualify for disability benefits and establish his or her entitlement for a period of disability, a claimant must be disabled as defined by the Social Security Act and the Regulations promulgated thereunder.[4] The Regulations define “disabled” as “the inability to do 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 twelve (12) months.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a). To establish entitlement to disability benefits, a claimant must provide evidence of a “physical or mental impairment” which “must result from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which can be shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1508.

         The Regulations provide a five-step process for determining whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i-v). The Commissioner must determine in sequence:

(1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity;
(2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment;
(3) whether the claimant’s impairment meets or equals the criteria contained in one of the Listings of Impairments;
(4) whether the claimant can perform his or her past work; and
(5) whether the claimant is capable of performing any work which exists in significant numbers ...

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