Threatt v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge J Foy Guin, Jr on 5/3/12. (CTS, )
2012 May-03 PM 02:43
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE,
Commissioner of Social Security,
) CIVIL ACTION NO. 11-G-3470-S
The plaintiff, Willie Threatt, brings this action pursuant to the provisions
of section 205(g) of the Social Security Act (the Act), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking
judicial review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (the Commissioner) denying his application for Social Security Benefits.
Plaintiff timely pursued and exhausted his administrative remedies available before the
Commissioner. Accordingly, this case is now ripe for judicial review under 205(g) of
the Social Security Act (the Act), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The sole function of this court is to determine whether the decision of the
Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence and whether proper legal standards
were applied. Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983). To that
end this court “must scrutinize the record as a whole to determine if the decision reached
is reasonable and supported by substantial evidence.” Bloodsworth, at 1239 (citations
omitted). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Bloodsworth, at 1239.
STATUTORY AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK
In order to qualify for disability benefits and to establish his entitlement for
a period of disability, a claimant must be disabled. The Act defines disabled as 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). For the purposes of
establishing entitlement to disability benefits, “physical or mental impairment” is defined
as “an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological
abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory
diagnostic techniques.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(3).
In determining whether a claimant is disabled, Social Security regulations
outline a five-step sequential process. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 (a)-(f). The Commissioner
must determine in sequence:
whether the claimant is currently employed;
whether she has a severe impairment;
whether her impairment meets or equals one listed by the Secretary;
whether the claimant can perform her past work; and
whether the claimant is capable of performing any work in the
Pope v. Shalala, 998 F.2d 473, 477 (7th Cir. 1993); accord McDaniel v. Bowen, 800
F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir. 1986). “Once the claimant has satisfied Steps One and Two,
she will automatically be found disabled if she suffers from a listed impairment. If the
claimant does not have a listed impairment but cannot perform her past work, the burden
shifts to the Secretary to show that the claimant can perform some other job.” Pope, at
477; accord Foot v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1559 (11th Cir. 1995).
The court has carefully reviewed the record and finds that the decision of
the ALJ must be reversed and remanded for further development of the record. In the
instant case, the ALJ, Todd Spangler, determined at step two the plaintiff did not have a
severe impairment. Therefore, he found the plaintiff was not disabled, and did not
continue with the sequential analysis. The Commissioner’s regulations explain what
constitutes a severe impairment at step two: “If you do not have any impairment or
combination of impairments which significantly limits your physical or mental ability to
do basic work activities, we will find that you do not have a severe impairment and are,
therefore, not disabled.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). The regulations define a non-severe
impairment as follows: “An impairment or combination of impairments is not severe if it
does not significantly limit your physical or mental ability to do basic work activities.”
20 C.F.R. § 404.1521(a). Social Security Ruling 85-28 further clarifies the
Commissioner’s position on what constitutes a non-severe impairment at step two:
An impairment or combination of impairments is found "not severe" and a
finding of "not disabled" is made at this step when medical evidence
establishes only a slight abnormality or a combination of slight
abnormalities which would have no more than a minimal effect on an
individual's ability to work even if the individual's age, education, or work
experience were specifically considered (i.e., the person's impairment(s)
has no more than a minimal effect on his or her physical or mental
ability(ies) to perform basic work activities).
In reviewing whether the ALJ’s finding that the plaintiff did not suffer
from a severe impairment is supported by substantial evidence, this court is required to
ask whether a reasonable mind could find from the evidence that the plaintiff’s
impairments have only a minimal effect on his ability to perform basic work activities.
Flynn v. Heckler, 768 F.2d 1273, 1275 (11th Cir. 1985). Examples of basic work
activities include “[r]esponding appropriately to supervision, co-workers and usual work
situations....” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521(b)(5).
In the present case, the plaintiff was sent by the Commissioner for a
consultative psychological evaluation. The diagnostic impression of the consultant, Dr.
William B. Beidleman, Ph. D., was that the plaintiff has a “history of criminal justice
contacts and appears to merit a diagnosis of anti-social personality disorder.” Record
198. As a result of his Antisocial Personality Disorder, Dr. Beidleman opined that “[i]t
is likely that [the plaintiff] would have difficulty responding appropriately to fellow
employees and supervisors.” Record 198.
While the plaintiff’s anti-social personality disorder might not be disabling,
it certainly has more than a minimal impact on the plaintiff’s ability to perform basic
work activities. In light of Dr. Beidleman’s report, the ALJ’s finding that the plaintiff’s
impairments did not have more than a minimal effect on his ability to perform basic
work activities is not reasonable. Accordingly, the ALJ’s finding that the plaintiff was
not disabled at step two was not supported by substantial evidence. Therefore, the action
will be remanded for further development and consideration under the remaining steps of
the sequential evaluation process.
An appropriate order will be entered contemporaneously herewith.
DONE this 3 May 2012.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
J. FOY GUIN, JR.
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