United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
WALLACE CAPEL, JR. CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
John Martin Poston (“Poston”) filed this action
on October 12, 2018, seeking judicial review of the
Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying
his applications for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act
(the “Act”) and for supplemental security income
benefits (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Act.
Poston filed his DIB and SSI applications on December 19,
2014, alleging a disability onset date of September 18, 2014.
R. 275, 276. The applications were denied at the initial
administrative level, following which Poston requested and
received a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). R.11. On August 17, 2017, the ALJ issued
an unfavorable decision, and the Appeals Council denied
Poston's request for review of that decision on September
4, 2018. R 1-7, 8-28. The ALJ's decision consequently
became the Commissioner's final decision. See Chester
v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986). This court
has jurisdiction over Poston's action pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(c), both parties have consented to the conduct of
all proceedings and entry of a final judgment by the
undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. Docs. 19 and 20.
undersigned has considered the parties' briefs and all
the evidence in the administrative record. For the reasons
set forth below, the Commissioner's final decision is
REVERSED and REMANDED.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Court's review of the Commissioner's decision is a
limited one. The Court's sole function is to determine
whether the ALJ's opinion is supported by substantial
evidence and whether the proper legal standards were applied.
See Jones v. Apfel, 190 F.3d 1224, 1228 (11th Cir.
1999); Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239
(11th Cir. 1983). “The Social Security Act mandates
that ‘findings of the Secretary as to any fact, if
supported by substantial evidence, shall be
conclusive.'” Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d
1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1995) (quoting 42 U.S.C. §405(g)).
Thus, this Court must find the Commissioner's decision
conclusive if it is supported by substantial evidence.
Graham v. Apfel, 129 F.3d 1420, 1422 (11th Cir.
1997). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla - i.e.,
the evidence must do more than merely create a suspicion of
the existence of a fact and must include such relevant
evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to
support the conclusion. Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d
1436, 1440 (11th Cir. 1997) (citing Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389 (1971)); Foote, 67 F.3d
at 1560 (citing Walden v. Schweiker, 672 F.2d 835,
838 (11th Cir. 1982)).
Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial
evidence, the district court will affirm, even if the court
would have reached a contrary result as finder of fact and
even if the evidence preponderates against the
Commissioner's findings. Ellison v. Barnhart,
355 F.3d 1272, 1275 (11th Cir. 2003); Edwards v.
Sullivan, 937 F.2d 580, 584 n.3 (11th Cir. 1991)
(quoting MacGregor v. Bowen, 786 F.2d 1050, 1053
(11th Cir. 1986)). The Court must view the evidence as a
whole, taking into account evidence favorable as well as
unfavorable to the decision. Foote, 67 F.3d at 1560
(citing Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th
Cir. 1986). The Court “may not decide facts anew,
reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its] judgment for that
of the [Commissioner], ” but rather it “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) (quoting
Bloodsworth, 703 F.2d at 1239).
Court will also reverse a Commissioner's decision on
plenary review if the decision applies incorrect law or if
the decision fails to provide the district court with
sufficient reasoning to determine that the Commissioner
properly applied the law. Keeton v. Dep't of Health
and Human Servs., 21 F.3d 1064, 1066 (11th Cir. 1994)
(citing Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145
(11th Cir. 1991)). There is no presumption that the
Commissioner's conclusions of law are valid.
Id.; Brown v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d 1233, 1236
(11th Cir. 1991) (quoting MacGregor, 786 F.2d at
STATUTORY AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK
Social Security Act's general disability insurance
benefits program (“DIB”) provides income to
individuals who are forced into involuntary, premature
retirement, provided they are both insured and disabled,
regardless of indigence. See 42 U.S.C. §
423(a). The Social Security Act's Supplemental Security
Income (“SSI”) is a separate and distinct
program. SSI is a general public assistance measure providing
an additional resource to the aged, blind, and disabled to
assure that their income does not fall below the poverty
line. Eligibility for SSI is based on proof of indigence and
disability. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 1382(a),
1382c(a)(3)(A)-(C). However, despite the fact they are
separate programs, the law and regulations governing a claim
for DIB and a claim for SSI are identical; therefore, claims
for DIB and SSI are treated identically for the purpose of
determining whether a claimant is disabled. Patterson v.
Bowen, 799 F.2d 1455, 1456 n.1 (11th Cir. 1986).
under DIB and SSI must prove “disability” within
the meaning of the Social Security Act, which defines
disability in virtually identical language for both programs.
See 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d), 1382c(a)(3),
1382c(a)(3)(G); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a),
416.905(a). A person is entitled to disability benefits when
the person is unable to do the following:
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
42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). A
“physical or mental impairment” is one resulting
from anatomical, physiological, or psychological
abnormalities that are demonstrable by medically acceptable
clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. 42 U.S.C.
§§ 423(d)(3), 1382c(a)(3)(D).
Commissioner of Social Security uses a five-step, sequential
evaluation process to determine if a claimant is entitled to
(1) Is the person currently unemployed?
(2) Is the person's impairment(s) ...