United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION
L. SCOTT COOGLER, District Judge.
The plaintiff, Gregory McCoy, appeals from the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying his application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") and Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). Mr. McCoy timely pursued and exhausted his administrative remedies and the decision of the Commissioner is ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).
Mr. McCoy was fifty years old at the time of the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ's") decision, and he has an eleventh grade education. (Tr. at 17, 46, 122, 126, 150.) His past work experiences include employment as a groundskeeper and construction worker. (Tr. at 48-49, 146-47, 160-67.) Mr. McCoy claims that he became disabled on September 1, 2008, due to "[d]iabetes/hbp/weak arms and legs/numb." (Tr. at 145-46.)
When evaluating the disability of individuals over the age of eighteen, the regulations prescribe a five-step sequential evaluation process. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; see also Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001). The first step requires a determination of whether the claimant is "doing substantial gainful activity." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). If he or she is, the claimant is not disabled and the evaluation stops. Id. If he or she is not, the Commissioner next considers the effect of all of the physical and mental impairments combined. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). These impairments must be severe and must meet the durational requirements before a claimant will be found to be disabled. Id. The decision depends on the medical evidence in the record. See Hart v. Finch, 440 F.2d 1340, 1341 (5th Cir. 1971). If the claimant's impairments are not severe, the analysis stops. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). Otherwise, the analysis continues to step three, which is a determination of whether the claimant's impairments meet or equal the severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the claimant's impairments fall within this category, he or she will be found disabled without further consideration. Id. If they do not, a determination of the claimant's residual functional capacity ("RFC") will be made and the analysis proceeds to the fourth step. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e).
The fourth step requires a determination of whether the claimant's impairments prevent him or her from returning to past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant can still do his or her past relevant work, the claimant is not disabled and the evaluation stops. Id. If the claimant cannot do past relevant work, then the analysis proceeds to the fifth step. Id. Step five requires the court to consider the claimant's RFC, as well as the claimant's age, education, and past work experience in order to determine if he or she can do other work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v) 416.920(a)(4)(v). If the claimant can do other work, the claimant is not disabled. Id.
Applying the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that Mr. McCoy meets the nondisability requirements for a period of disability and DIB, and was insured through September 30, 2012. (Tr. at 22.) The ALJ further determined that Mr. McCoy has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset of his disability. ( Id. ) According to the ALJ, Plaintiff's diabetes mellitus and glaucoma are considered "severe" based on the requirements set forth in the regulations. ( Id. ) However, the ALJ found that these impairments neither meet nor medically equal any of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. at 23.) The ALJ did not find Mr. McCoy's "statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of [his] symptoms" to be credible, and he determined that he has the following RFC:
[L]ight work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except can lift/carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; stand/walk six hours in an eight hour day; sit six hours in an eight hour day; needs a sit stand option; unlimited ability to push and pull to the same extent as lifting and carrying ability; able to frequently climb ramps and stairs; occasionally climb ladders and scaffolding; never climb ropes; no postural limitations; no overhead reaching with the right upper extremity and occasional reaching overhead with the left upper extremity; visually could not do any job that requires reading fine writing or printing; no communicative limitations; avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, dangerous moving machinery, and unprotected heights; and experiences mild pain.
(Tr. at 23-25.) According to the ALJ, Mr. McCoy is unable to perform any of his past relevant work, he is a "younger individual, " and he has a "limited education, " as those terms are defined by the regulations. (Tr. at 26-27.) He determined that "transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability." (Tr. at 27.) Even though Plaintiff cannot perform the full range of light work, the ALJ used Medical-Vocation Rule 202.18 as a guideline for finding that there are a significant number of jobs in the national economy that he is capable of performing, such as sorter, assembler, and production worker. ( Id. ) The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has been under a disability from September 2, 2008 through the decision date. (Tr. at 28.)
II. Standard of Review
This Court's role in reviewing claims brought under the Social Security Act is a narrow one. The scope of its review is limited to determining (1) whether there is substantial evidence in the record as a whole to support the findings of the Commissioner, and (2) whether the correct legal standards were applied. See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390, 401 (1971); Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002). The Court approaches the factual findings of the Commissioner with deference, but applies close scrutiny to the legal conclusions. See Miles v. Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996). The Court may not decide facts, weigh evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Id. "The substantial evidence standard permits administrative decision makers to act with considerable latitude, and the possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does not prevent an administrative agency's finding from being supported by substantial evidence.'" Parker v. Bowen, 793 F.2d 1177, 1181 (11th Cir. 1986) (Gibson, J., dissenting) (quoting Consolo v. Fed. Mar. Comm'n, 383 U.S. 607, 620 (1966)). Indeed, even if this Court finds that the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's decision, the Court must affirm if the decision is supported by substantial evidence. Miles, 84 F.3d at 1400. No decision is automatic, however, for "despite this deferential standard [for review of claims] it is imperative that the Court scrutinize the record in its entirety to determine the reasonableness of the decision reached." Bridges v. Bowen, 815 F.2d 622, 624 (11th Cir. 1987). Moreover, failure to apply the correct legal standards is grounds for reversal. See Bowen v. Heckler, 748 F.2d 629, 635 (11th Cir. 1984).
Mr. McCoy alleges that the ALJ's decision should be reversed and remanded for two reasons. First, he believes that the ALJ erred in not considering carpal tunnel syndrome to be a "severe" impairment. (Doc. 8 at 5.) Second, Mr. McCoy contends that the ALJ ...