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McCray v. Saul

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Eastern Division

October 25, 2019

SWAYZE MCCRAY, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, [1]Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          SUSAN RUSS WALKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         On July 14, 2016, Plaintiff Swayze McCray filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, alleging that he became disabled on February 8, 2016. The application was denied at the initial administrative level. Plaintiff then requested and received a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). Following the hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision dated March 16, 2018. Plaintiff appealed that decision and the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on May 23, 2018. The ALJ's decision consequently became the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”). See Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986). The case is now before the court for review of that decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Rule 73 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the parties have consented to the conduct of all proceedings and entry of a final judgment by the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. See Docs. 6, 7. Based on its review of the parties' submissions, the relevant law, and the record as a whole, the court will reverse and remand the Commissioner's decision.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK[2]

         The court's review of the Commissioner's decision is a limited one. This court must find the Commissioner's decision conclusive if it is supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Graham v. Apfel, 129 F.3d 1420, 1422 (11th Cir. 1997). “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, ” but less than a preponderance, “and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004) (“Even if the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's findings, [a reviewing court] must affirm if the decision reached is supported by substantial evidence”) (citations omitted). 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). However, 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). A reviewing court may not look only to those parts of the record which support the decision of the ALJ, but instead must view the record in its entirety and take account of evidence which detracts from the evidence relied on by the ALJ. Hillsman v. Bowen, 804 F.2d 1179, 1180 (11th Cir. 1986).

[The court must] . . . scrutinize the record in its entirety to determine the reasonableness of the [Commissioner's] . . . factual findings. . . . No similar presumption of validity attaches to the [Commissioner's] . . . legal conclusions, including determination of the proper standards to be applied in evaluating claims.

Walker v. Bowen, 826 F.2d 996, 999 (11th Cir. 1987).

         To qualify for disability benefits and establish his or her entitlement for a period of disability, a person must be unable 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).[3] To make this determination, the Commissioner employs a five-step, sequential evaluation process. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.

(1) Is the person presently unemployed?
(2) Is the person's impairment severe?
(3) Does the person's impairment meet or equal one of the specific impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, ...

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