United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Russ Walker United States Magistrate Judge
Joseph Hyde, proceeding pro se, commenced this
action on May 21, 2018, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g),
seeking judicial review of a final adverse decision of the
Commissioner denying his applications for disability benefits
and supplemental security income (“SSI”)
payments. See Doc. 1; R 63-78. Plaintiff
alleged disability beginning May 1, 2013, due to severe
shoulder and knee pain, pinched nerve in neck, sleep apnea,
chest pain, inability to drive due to various pain, and
migraine headaches. R. 264. An administrative hearing was
held June 2, 2015, at which time plaintiff signed a waiver of
his right to representation. See R. 85-89, 224, 226.
In a decision dated November 10, 2015, the administrative law
judge (ALJ) concluded that plaintiff was not disabled. R.
63-78. On January 17, 2017, the Appeals Council denied
plaintiff’s request for review of the ALJ’s
decision after considering additional evidence. R. 21-26.
challenges the decision of the Appeals Council on this
appeal. Doc. 17. He asks the court to reverse the
Commissioner’s decision and award benefits or, in the
alternative, to remand this cause to the Commissioner under
sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See Docs.
1 at 2; 17 at 3. This case is ripe for review pursuant to 42
U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). The parties have
consented to entry of final judgment by the Magistrate Judge.
See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); see also Docs.
15, 16. For the reasons stated herein, and based upon its
review of the record, the court finds that the
Commissioner’s decision is due to be affirmed.
court’s review of the Commissioner’s decision is
narrowly circumscribed. The function of this court is to
determine whether the decision of the Commissioner is
supported by substantial evidence and whether proper legal
standards were applied. Richardson v. Perales, 402
U.S. 389, 390 (1971); 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. It is “more than a scintilla, but less
than a preponderance.” Id. A reviewing court
“may not decide facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or
substitute [its] decision for that of the
[Commissioner].” Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d
1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005). In other words, this court is
prohibited from reviewing the Commissioner’s findings
of fact de novo, even where a preponderance of the
evidence supports alternative conclusions.
the court must uphold factual findings that are supported by
substantial evidence, it 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 that the proper legal analysis has
been conducted, it must reverse the ALJ’s decision.
Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th
decision dated November 10, 2015, the ALJ found that
plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since the alleged onset date of May 1, 2013. R. 65. The ALJ
found that plaintiff has the severe impairments of obesity,
osteoarthritis left knee, degenerative joint disease right
shoulder, headache disorder, hypertension, and depression,
but none of the impairments or combination of impairments met
or medically equaled a listed impairment. R. 65-66. After
considering plaintiff’s impairments, symptoms, and the
record as a whole, the ALJ found that plaintiff retained the
residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform a limited range
of light exertional work. R. 68. With the assistance of VE
testimony, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was unable to
perform his past relevant work, but he could perform other
jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national
economy. R. 76-77. Upon that determination, the ALJ concluded
that plaintiff has not been under a disability from May 1,
2013, through the date of the decision. R. 78-79.
sought review of the ALJ’s decision, asserting the ALJ
did not have all of his records. R. 38. The Appeals Council
granted plaintiff additional time to submit records,
see R. 30, but eventually denied plaintiff’s
request for review. R. 21-22. The decision of the Appeals
Council is addressed more fully below.
maintains that the Appeals Council did not receive or
consider the evidence he submitted from Montgomery Area
Mental Health Authority (MAMHA), and he attaches the records
to his memorandum. See Docs. 17 at 2-3, 17-1. He
contends that the Appeals Council should have considered
these records, all of which predate the ALJ’s decision,
because the records are new, material, and chronologically
relevant. Docs. 17 at 2-3. Citing provisions of 20
C.F.R. § 404.970,  plaintiff appears to argue that a
remand for consideration of this evidence is warranted
because he had “good cause” for not submitting
the records earlier. Doc. 17 at 2-3. Plaintiff contends that
good cause is shown because he has “been seriously ill
and disabled as is shown by the opinion of the hearing
officer and ha[s] not been able to obtain the services of an
attorney.” Id. at 3.
response, the Commissioner contends that the ALJ’s
decision is supported by substantial evidence and the Appeals
Council properly reviewed the evidence plaintiff submitted
and determined it did not meet the requirements for remand.
reply, plaintiff contends that the substantial evidence of
record demonstrates that he was disabled, and he cites to
nine medical records in support. Plaintiff attaches to his
reply the documents that postdate the date of the ALJ’s
decision, which are imaging reports from December 2015 and
January 2016 and notes from a doctor’s visit in
December 2015 (identified at nos. 7-9 in n.6). Docs. 21-1,
21-2, 21-3. Citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.935(b),
plaintiff argues he has shown good cause
for not previously submitting “definitive proof of his
disability (as MRIs or X-Rays)” because he has been
depressed and in pain, unable to sleep or afford treatment,
or homeless. Doc. 21 at 2. He acknowledges that the MRI and
x-ray reports “have not been evaluated by a doctor to
determine how they affect [his] ability to work, ” but
states that he has not had funds to do that. Id. at
3. He requests the court to remand his case for further
consideration and to order the SSA to authorize payment for
doctors to evaluate the MRI and x-rays and obtain an MRI of
his lower back. Id.
Appeals Council “must consider new, material, and
chronologically relevant evidence” and must grant a
claimant’s request for review if “the
[ALJ]’s action, findings, or conclusion is contrary to
the weight of the evidence currently of record.”
Ingram v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 496 F.3d
1253, 1261 (11th Cir. 2007) (quoting C.F.R. §
404.970(b)). Evidence is new when the claimant submits it to
the Appeals Council after the ALJ’s decision and it is
not cumulative of other evidence of record. See
Washington v. Soc. Sec. Admin., Comm’r, 806 F.3d
1317, 1321 n.6 (11th Cir. 2015) (citing Caulder v.
Bowen, 791 F.2d 872, 877 (11th Cir.1986)). Evidence is
material if a reasonable probability exists that it would
change the administrative result. Id. (quoting
Hyde v. Bowen, 823 F.2d 456, 459 (11th Cir.1987)).
And, evidence is chronologically relevant if it
“relates to the period on or before the date of the
[ALJ’s] hearing decision.” Hargress v. Soc.
Sec. Admin., Comm’r, 883 F.3d 1302, 1309 (11th
Cir. 2018) (quoting §§ 404.970(b), 416.1470(b)).
The Appeals ...