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Hood v. Saul

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

November 18, 2019

MARCUS HOOD, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ANNEMARIE CARNEY AXON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Marcus Hood appeals the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. Based on the court's review of the administrative record and the parties' briefs, the court WILL REVERSE the Commissioner's decision.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Mr. Hood applied for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on September 20, 2012, alleging that his disability began on December 18, 2010. (R. 159).[1] The Commissioner denied Mr. Hood's claim on September 28, 2012. (R. 72). Mr. Hood filed a request for reconsideration of the Commissioner's decision, and the Commissioner denied the request. (R. 76-82). Mr. Hood then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (R. 83-84). On August 23, 2013, the ALJ dismissed Mr. Hood's request for a hearing. (R. 34).

         On May 7, 2015, the Appeals Council granted Mr. Hood's request for review of the ALJ's dismissal, vacated the ALJ's order of dismissal, and remanded the case for further administrative proceedings. (R. 34). The ALJ conducted a hearing, and on April 11, 2016, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. (R. 37- 52). On December 15, 2016, the Appeals Council granted Mr. Hood's request for review and remanded the case again. (R. 58-59).

         After holding another hearing, the ALJ issued another unfavorable decision on February 22, 2018. (R. 15-31). On September 20, 2018, the Appeals Council declined Mr. Hood's request for review. (R. 9). The Commissioner's decision is now final and ripe for judicial review. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The court's role in reviewing claims brought under the Social Security Act is a narrow one. The court “must determine whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence and based on proper legal standards.” Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “Under the substantial evidence standard, this court will affirm the ALJ's decision if there exists ‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Henry v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 802 F.3d 1264, 1267 (11th Cir. 2015) (quoting Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178). The court may not “decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, ” or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178 (internal quotations and citation omitted). The court must affirm “[e]ven if the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's findings.” Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158-59 (11th Cir. 2004) (per curiam) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         Despite the deferential standard for review of claims, the court must “‘scrutinize the record as a whole to determine if the decision reached is reasonable and supported by substantial evidence.'” Henry, 802 F.3d at 1267 (quoting MacGregor v. Bowen, 786 F.2d 1050, 1053 (11th Cir. 1986)). Moreover, the court must reverse the Commissioner's decision if the ALJ does not apply the correct legal standards. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).

         III. ALJ'S DECISION

         To determine whether an individual is disabled, an ALJ follows a five-step sequential evaluation process. The ALJ considers:

(1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment or combination of impairments; (3) whether the impairment meets or equals the severity of the specified impairments in the Listing of Impairments; (4) based on a residual functional capacity (“RFC”) assessment, whether the claimant can perform any of his or his past relevant work despite the impairment; and (5) whether there are significant numbers of jobs in the national economy that the claimant can perform given the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience.

Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178.

         Here, the ALJ determined that Mr. Hood has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 18, 2010, the alleged onset date, through September 30, 2011, his date last insured. (R. 21). The ALJ found that Mr. Hood has the following severe impairments: tinnitus with bilateral hearing loss; post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); left carpal collapse; bilateral tendinitis of the hands; adjustment order; and cocaine, marijuana, and alcohol dependence, all in remission. (R. 21). The ALJ found that Mr. Hood suffers from the following non-severe impairments: low back pain; degenerative joint disease of the right knee; hypertension; and flat feet. (R. 21). The ALJ then concluded that Mr. Hood does not ...


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