United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
KIRT D. SOBER, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration,  Defendant.
K. KALLON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Sober brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g),
seeking review of the final adverse decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“SSA”). For the reasons explained below, the
court finds that the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) applied the correct legal standards and
that the ALJ's decision, which has become the final
decision by the Commissioner, is supported by substantial
evidence. Therefore, the court affirms the decision denying
filed applications for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income, alleging that he suffered from
a disability beginning June 20, 2015, due to bipolar
disorder, back issues, status post knee surgery, and
depression. R. 91, 174, 181, 192. After the SSA denied
Sober's applications, R. 121, 124-25, he requested a
formal hearing, R. 137. Subsequently, an ALJ entered a
decision finding that Sober was not disabled, R. 59-72. The
SSA Appeals Council denied Sober's request for review,
see R. 16, 163, and summarily affirmed the ALJ's
decision denying disability benefits, rendering the ALJ's
decision the final decision of the Commissioner, R. 1-2.
Having exhausted his administrative remedies, Sober filed
this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1383(c)(3) and
405(g). Doc. 1.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
only issues before this court are whether the record contains
substantial evidence to sustain the ALJ's decision,
see 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Walden v.
Schweiker, 672 F.2d 835, 838 (11th Cir. 1982), and
whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards, see
Lamb v. Bowen, 847 F.2d 698, 701 (11th Cir. 1988);
Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir.
1986). Title 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)
mandate that the Commissioner's “factual findings
are conclusive if supported by ‘substantial
evidence.'” Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d
1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990). The district court may not
reconsider the facts, reevaluate the evidence, or substitute
its judgment for that of the Commissioner; instead, it must
review the final decision as a whole and determine if the
decision is “‘reasonable and supported by
substantial evidence.'” Id. (quoting
Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th
evidence falls somewhere between a scintilla and a
preponderance of evidence; “‘[i]t is such
relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.'”
Martin, 894 F.2d at 1529 (quoting
Bloodsworth, 703 F.2d at 1239). If supported by
substantial evidence, the court must affirm the
Commissioner's factual findings even if the preponderance
of the evidence is against those findings. See Id.
While judicial review of the ALJ's findings is limited in
scope, it “does not yield automatic affirmance.”
Lamb, 847 F.2d at 701.
contrast to the deferential review accorded the
Commissioner's factual findings, “conclusions of
law, including applicable review standards, are not presumed
valid” and are subject to de novo review.
Martin, 894 F.2d at 1529. The Commissioner's
failure to “apply the correct legal standards or to
provide the reviewing court with sufficient basis for a
determination that proper legal principles have been
followed” requires reversal. Id.
STATUTORY AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK
qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must show the
“inability 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 twelve months.” 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(d)(1)(A); 42 U.S.C. § 416(i)(1). A physical
or mental impairment is “an impairment that results
from anatomical, physiological, or psychological
abnormalities which are demonstrated by medically acceptable
clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(3).
of disability under the Social Security Act requires a
five-step analysis. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a).
Specifically, the ALJ must determine in sequence:
(1) whether the claimant is currently unemployed;
(2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment;
(3) whether the impairment meets or equals one listed by the
(4) whether the claimant is unable to perform his or her past
(5) whether the claimant is unable to perform any work in the