United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
JANET C. SELLERS, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.
SHARON LOVELACE BLACKBURN, District Judge.
Plaintiff Janet C. Sellers brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her application for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits ["DIB"], and supplemental security income ["SSI"]. (Doc. 9.) Upon review of the record, the submissions of the parties, and the relevant law, the court is of the opinion that the Commissioner's decision is due to be affirmed.
I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff initially filed an application for a period of disability, DIB, and SSI on July 30, 2009 alleging an onset date of July 28, 2003. (Doc. 6-3 at 18.) These claims were denied on December 8, 2009. ( Id. ) Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ["ALJ"], which was held on February 4, 2011. ( Id at 46.) The plaintiff appeared without counsel and the ALJ, concerned for plaintiff's rights, continued the case until a later date to give plaintiff an opportunity to hire a representative. ( Id at 49-50.) At this hearing the ALJ told plaintiff, regarding the next hearing: "If you don't have [sic] representative, I'll have to go forward at that point without one." ( Id at 53.) Plaintiff stated that she understood. ( Id. ) At the next hearing, held June 4, 2011, the plaintiff again appeared without a representative. ( Id at 59.)
The ALJ issued his opinion finding plaintiff not disabled on August 4, 2011. ( Id at 15.) The plaintiff requested review by the Appeals Council, which was denied on February 11, 2013. ( Id at 2.) This denial of review makes the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. ( Id. ) Plaintiff filed an appeal with this court on April 2, 2013. (Doc. 1.) This matter is now ripe for review before this court.
A. The Five-Step Evaluation Defined
The regulations require the Commissioner to follow a five-step sequential evaluation to determine whether a claimant is eligible for disability benefits. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; Bowen v. City of New York, 476 U.S. 467, 470 (1986). The specific steps in the process are as follows:
(1) The Commissioner must first determine whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987). If the claimant is working and the work is substantial gainful activity, the Commissioner must find that the claimant is not disabled, regardless of the claimant's medical condition or his age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). A claimant who is unable to work a full work day is deemed unable to engage in substantial gainful activity. Johnson v. Harris, 612 F.2d 993, 998 (5th Cir. 1980).
(2) If the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the Commissioner must next determine whether the claimant suffers from a severe impairment or combination of impairments which significantly limits the claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). An impairment is not severe if it is a slight abnormality having a minimal effect on the individual's ability to work. Brady v. Heckler, 724 F.2d 914, 920 (11th Cir. 1984). A claimant may be found disabled based on a combination of impairments even though none of the individual impairments is disabling. Walker v. Bowen, 826 F.2d 996, 1001 (11th Cir. 1987).
(3) If the claimant has a severe impairment, the Commissioner must then determine whether the claimant's impairment meets the durational requirement and is equivalent to any one of the number of listed impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), (d)-(e); § 404.1525; § 404.1526. Listed impairments are so severe that they prevent an individual from performing substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iii), (d)-(e); see 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. If the claimant's impairment meets or equals an impairment listed in the regulations, the Commissioner must find the claimant disabled, regardless of the claimant's age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d).
(4) If the claimant's impairment does not satisfy one of the listed impairments, the Commissioner must then review the claimant's residual functional capacity ("RFC"), along with the physical and mental demands of the claimant's prior work experience, to determine whether the claimant is capable of performing the kind of work performed in the past. If the claimant's RFC is sufficient to perform past work, the Commissioner will not find the claimant disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). As with the first three elements, the claimant bears the burden of establishing that the impairment prevents him from performing past work. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 146 n.5.
(5) Finally, if the claimant meets his burden and establishes the inability to do the kind of work he performed in the past, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove that the claimant, based on a review of the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience, is capable of performing any other work that exists in the national economy. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 146 n.5; Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131. If the claimant is not capable of performing any ...