United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff Sharon Hasberry seeks
judicial review of a final adverse decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security. The Commissioner denied Ms.
Hasberry's claim for a period of disability and
disability insurance benefits. After careful review, the
Court remands the Commissioner's decision.
Hasberry applied for a period of disability and disability
insurance benefits. (Doc. 6-3, p. 11; Doc. 6-6, p. 2). Ms.
Hasberry alleges her disability began on June 4, 2014. (Doc.
6-3, p. 11; Doc. 6-6, p. 2). The Commissioner denied Ms.
Hasberry's claim. (Doc. 6-4, pp. 8-11; Doc. 6-5, pp.
Hasberry requested a hearing before an Administrative Law
Judge (ALJ). (Doc. 6-5, pp. 7-10). (Doc. 6-3, p. 33). After
the hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. (Doc.
6-3, pp. 8-21). The Appeals Council declined Ms.
Hasberry's request for review (Doc. 6-3, p. 2), making
the Commissioner's decision final for this Court's
judicial review. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
scope of review in this matter is limited. “When, as in
this case, the ALJ denies benefits and the Appeals Council
denies review, ” the Court “review[s] the
ALJ's ‘factual findings with deference' and
[his] ‘legal conclusions with close
scrutiny.'” Riggs v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec.
Admin., 522 Fed.Appx. 509, 510-11 (11th Cir. 2013)
(quoting Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th
Court must determine whether there is substantial evidence in
the record to support the ALJ's factual findings.
“Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is
such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Crawford v.
Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th
Cir. 2004). In evaluating the administrative record, the
Court may not “decide the facts anew, reweigh the
evidence, ” or substitute its judgment for that of the
ALJ. Winschel v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 631
F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (internal quotations and
citation omitted). If substantial evidence supports the
ALJ's factual findings, then the Court “must affirm
even if the evidence preponderates against the
Commissioner's findings.” Costigan v.
Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 603 Fed.Appx. 783, 786
(11th Cir. 2015) (citing Crawford, 363 F.3d at
respect to the ALJ's legal conclusions, the Court must
determine whether the ALJ applied the correct legal
standards. If the Court finds an error in the ALJ's
application of the law, or if the Court finds that the ALJ
failed to provide sufficient reasoning to demonstrate that
the ALJ conducted a proper legal analysis, then the Court
must reverse the ALJ's decision. Cornelius v.
Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).
SUMMARY OF THE ALJ'S DECISION
determine whether a claimant has proven disability, an ALJ
follows a five-step sequential evaluation process. The ALJ
(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 her 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.
case, the ALJ found that Ms. Hasberry has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since June 4, 2014, the alleged
onset date. (Doc. 6-3, p. 14). The ALJ determined that Ms.
Hasberry suffers from the following severe impairments:
degenerative disc disease with chronic cervical and lumbar
pain, status post anterior cervical discectomy and fusion;
right foot pain; and status post hammertoe repair. (Doc. 6-3,
p. 14). The ALJ determined that Ms. Hasberry suffers from the
following non-severe impairments: depression and migraines.
(Doc. 6-3, p. 15). In his opinion, the ALJ did not address
whether Ms. Hasberry has an impairment or a combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
any of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart
P, Appendix 1, but because the ALJ continued the sequential
analysis beyond step three, he impliedly determined that Ms.
Hasberry's impairments do not meet or equal the severity
of a listed impairment. Prince v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec.
Admin., 551 Fed.Appx. 967, 969 (11th Cir. 2014) (citing
Hutchison v. Bowen, 787 F.2d 1461, 1463 (11th Cir.
light of Ms. Hasberry's impairments, the ALJ evaluated
her residual functional capacity. The ALJ determined that
through her date last insured, Ms. Hasberry had the RFC to
light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except she can
stand for no more than 30 minutes at a time, and occasionally
stoop and crouch. She should have no exposure to unprotected
heights. She can handle frequently, bilaterally; and should
perform no activities involving driving.
(Doc. 6-3, pp. 15-16) (footnote omitted).
on this RFC, the ALJ concluded that through the date last
insured, Ms. Hasberry could not perform her past relevant
work as a security officer. (Doc. 6-3, p. 18). The ALJ noted
that Ms. Hasberry was 53 years old when she applied for
disability benefits. A person who is that age “is
defined as an individual closely approaching advanced age (20
CFR 404.1563).” (Doc. 6-3 p. 18). Relying on testimony
from a vocational expert, the ALJ found that other jobs
existed in the national economy that Ms. Hasberry could have
performed, including hand packager, cashier, and laundry
folder. (Doc. 6-3, pp. 20). Accordingly, the ALJ determined
that Ms. Hasberry was not under a disability within the
meaning of the Social Security Act at any time from June 4,
2014, the alleged onset date, through May 31, 2017, the date
of the ALJ's decision. (Doc. 6-3, p. 20).
Hasberry appeals the ALJ's decision and maintains that
the ALJ improperly evaluated her credibility under the
Eleventh Circuit pain standard. (Doc. 11, p. 5). Ms. Hasberry
contends that the objective medical evidence is consistent
with her subjective complaints of pain, the ALJ improperly
considered her activities of daily living without considering
her limitations, and the ALJ improperly discounted the
opinion of Dr. Richard Harris. The Court agrees that the ALJ
did not base his negative credibility finding on substantial
evidence. Consequently, the Court will remand this case for
Eleventh Circuit pain standard “applies when a
disability claimant attempts to establish disability through
his own testimony of pain or other subjective
symptoms.” Holt v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d 1221,
1223 (11th Cir. 1991); Coley v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec.
Admin., 771 Fed.Appx. 913, 917 (11th Cir. 2019). When
relying upon subjective symptoms to establish disability,
“the claimant must satisfy two parts of a three-part
test showing: (1) evidence of an underlying medical
condition; and (2) either (a) objective medical evidence
confirming the severity of the alleged [symptoms]; or (b)
that the objectively determined medical condition can
reasonably be expected to give rise to the claimed
[symptoms].” Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d
1219, 1225 (11th Cir. 2002) (citing Holt, 921 F.2d
at 1223); Chatham v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin.,
764 Fed.Appx. 864, 868 (11th Cir. Apr. 18, 2019) (citing
Wilson). If the ALJ does not demonstrate
“proper application of the three-part standard[,
]” reversal is appropriate. McLain v. Comm'r,
Soc. Sec. Admin., 676 Fed.Appx. 935, 937 (11th Cir.
2017) (citing Holt).
claimant's credible testimony coupled with medical
evidence of an impairing condition “is itself
sufficient to support a finding of disability.”
Holt, 921 F.2d at 1223; see Gombash v.
Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 566 Fed.Appx. 857, 859
(11th Cir. 2014) (“A claimant may establish that he has
a disability ‘through his own testimony of pain or
other subjective symptoms.'”) (quoting Dyer v.
Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005)). If an
ALJ rejects a claimant's subjective testimony, then the
ALJ “must articulate explicit and adequate reasons for
doing so.” Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219,
1225 (11th Cir. 2002); Coley, 771 Fed.Appx. at 918.
The district court must accept the claimant's testimony,
as a matter of law, if the ALJ inadequately discredits it.
Cannon v. Bowen, 858 F.2d 1541, 1545 (11th Cir.
1988); Kalishek v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 470
Fed.Appx. 868, 871 (11th Cir. 2012) (citing Cannon).
credibility is at issue, the provisions of Social Security