United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA, District Judge.
Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g),  claimant Janice Marie Jones asks this Court to review a final adverse decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. The Commissioner affirmed the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") who denied Ms. Jones's claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. (R. 1-3). As discussed below, the Court finds that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision. Consequently, the Court affirms the Commissioner's ruling.
STANDARD OF REVIEW:
The 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 of Soc. Sec., 522 Fed.Appx. 509, 510-11 (11th Cir. 2013) (quoting Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001)).
The Court must determine whether there is substantial evidence in the record to support the ALJ's 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 of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004). In making this evaluation, the Court may not "reweigh the evidence or decide the facts anew, " and the Court must "defer to the ALJ's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence even if the evidence may preponderate against it." Gaskin v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 533 Fed.Appx. 929 (11th Cir. 2013).
With 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).
PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND:
On September 7, 2010, Ms. Jones applied for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits by filing an application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. (R. 22). The Social Security Administration denied Ms. Jones's application on December 6, 2010. (R. 61). At Ms. Jones's request, on October 14, 2011, an Administrative Law Judge conducted a hearing concerning Ms. Jones's application. (R. 34-59). Ms. Jones and an impartial vocational expert testified at the hearing. (R. 34). At the time of his hearing, Ms. Jones was 49 years old. (R. 40). Ms. Jones has a high school education. (Doc. 11, p. 2; R. 137). Her past relevant work experience is as a court clerk. (Doc. 11, p. 2; R. 137, 158).
On November 21, 2011, the ALJ denied Ms. Jones's request for disability benefits, concluding that Ms. Jones did not have an impairment or a combination of impairments listed in, or medically equal to one listed in, the Regulations. (Doc. 11, p. 2; R. 26). In his fifteen page decision, the ALJ described the "five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether an individual is disabled" and explained that "[i]f it is determined that the claimant is or is not disabled at a step of the evaluation process, the evaluation will not go on to the next step." (R. 19-33).
The ALJ found that Ms. Jones had not "engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 1, 2010, the alleged onset date." (R. 24). In addition, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Jones had "the following severe impairments: low back pain and status post left knee lateral meniscectomy and chondroplasty of the medial femoral condyle." (Doc. 9, p. 4; R. 24). The ALJ stated, "these impairments are... severe' within the meaning of the Regulations because they cause more than a minimal limitation on [Ms. Jones's] ability to perform basic work activities." (R. 24). Still, the ALJ opined that:
[Ms. Jones's low back pain] does not satisfy the criteria of section 1.04. Specifically, the record is devoid of evidence of nerve root compression, spinal arachnoiditis, or lumbar stenosis with accompanying ineffective ambulation... [Ms. Jones's residual left knee pain] does not satisfy the requirements of section 1.02A. Specifically, the record does not contain evidence of a major dysfunction of a major peripheral weight-bearing joint, resulting in the inability to ambulate effectively.
(R. 26). Based on these factual findings, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Jones had the "residual functional capacity to perform light work... except that [she] is only capable of performing postural activities on occasion." (R. 26).
In reaching his conclusion, the ALJ considered a report from Dr. Will Crouch, a physician who examined Ms. Jones at the state's request as a consultative examiner. (Doc. 11, p. 6; R. 27). Dr. Crouch opined that Ms. Jones did not require an assistive device and was able to heel and toe walk. (Doc. 11, p. 6; R. 277). Dr. Couch noted that Ms. Jones "[could] get on and off the exam table without assistance." (Doc. 11, p. 6; R. 277).
The ALJ took into account the treatment notes of Dr. Larry Gazzini, a physician who Ms. Jones saw for treatment of fatigue, hypertension, and diabetes mellitus, type II. (Doc. 11, p. 5-6; R. 28, 203-274). Dr. Gazzini noted that Ms. Jones's hypertension and diabetes mellitus were "well controlled." (Doc. 11, p. 5-6; R. 28, 305-308). In February 2011, Dr. Gazzini observed that Ms. Jones "was exercising regularly, using a treadmill at home and going to Curves, an exercise center." (Doc. 11, p. 5-6; R. 28, 302-308). The ALJ ...