United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION
L. SCOTT COOGLER, District Judge.
The plaintiff, Elvira Scott Pearson ("Pearson"), appeals from the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the "Commissioner") denying her application for a period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). Pearson timely pursued and exhausted her administrative remedies and the decision of the Commissioner is ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), 1383(c)(3).
Pearson was fifty-three years old at the time of the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ's") decision, and she has a high school education. (Tr. at 40.) Her past work experience includes employment as a day care worker and motel clerk. (Tr. at 39, 170, 176.) Pearson alleges that she became disabled on December 1, 2009, due to seizures, degenerative joint disease of the lumber spine, left wrist osteoarthritis, depressive disorder, anxiety disorder. (Tr. at 70.)
The Social Security Administration has established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether an individual is disabled and thus eligible for DIB or SSI. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; see also Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001). The evaluator will follow the steps in order until making a finding of either disabled or not disabled; if no finding is made, the analysis will proceed to the next step. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). The first step requires the evaluator to determine whether the plaintiff is engaged in substantial gainful activity. See id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). If the plaintiff is engaged in substantial gainful activity, the evaluator moves on to the next step.
The second step requires the evaluator to consider the combined severity of the plaintiff's medically determinable physical and mental impairments. See id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). An individual impairment or combination of impairments that is not classified as "severe" and does not satisfy the durational requirements set forth in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1509 and 416.909 will result in a finding of not disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). The decision depends on the medical evidence contained in the record. See Hart v. Finch, 440 F.2d 1340, 1341 (5th Cir. 1971) (concluding that "substantial medical evidence in the record" adequately supported the finding that plaintiff was not disabled).
Similarly, the third step requires the evaluator to consider whether the plaintiff's impairment or combination of impairments meets or is medically equal to the criteria of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the criteria of a listed impairment and the durational requirements set forth in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1509 and 416.909 are satisfied, the evaluator will make a finding of disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii).
If the plaintiff's impairment or combination of impairments does not meet or medically equal a listed impairment, the evaluator must determine the plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC") before proceeding to the fourth step. See id. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). The fourth step requires the evaluator to determine whether the plaintiff has the RFC to perform the requirements of his past relevant work. See id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the plaintiff's impairment or combination of impairments does not prevent him from performing his past relevant work, the evaluator will make a finding of not disabled. See id.
The fifth and final step requires the evaluator to consider the plaintiff's RFC, age, education, and work experience in order to determine whether the plaintiff can make an adjustment to other work. See id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v). If the plaintiff can perform other work, the evaluator will find him not disabled. Id .; see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g). If the plaintiff cannot perform other work, the evaluator will find him disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 404.1520(g), 416.920(a)(4)(v), 416.920(g).
Applying the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ first found that Pearson meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2014. (Tr. at 30.) He further determined that Pearson has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 1, 2009, the alleged onset date. ( Id. ) According to the ALJ, Pearson has the following "severe" impairments: seizure disorder, depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and left carpal tunnel syndrome. ( Id. ) However, the ALJ found that these impairments neither meet nor medically equal any of the listed impairments in Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulations No. 4. (Tr. at 32.) After consideration of the record, the ALJ found that Pearson has the RFC to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR § 404.1567(b) except that due to a combination of mental and physical impairments, she could never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, could perform other postural activities only occasionally, would be limited to frequent but not constant handling in the left upper extremity, should avoid work around all hazards, should not be required to drive, would require simple routine tasks, occasional contact with the general public, co-workers and supervisors, and could manage only occasional changes in work setting. (Tr. at 34.)
According to the ALJ, Pearson is unable to perform any of her past relevant work and she is an "individual closely approaching advanced age, " as that term is defined under the regulations. (Tr. at 39.) The ALJ determined that transferability of skills is not an issue in this case. ( Id. ) Because Pearson's ability to perform all of the requirements of light work has been impeded by additional limitations, the ALJ used the testimony of a vocational expert ("VE") to find that there is a significant number of jobs in the national economy that she is capable of performing, such as housekeeper, electrical assembler, and small product assembler. (Tr. at 40-41.) The ALJ concluded his findings by stating that Pearson "has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security, Act, from December 1, 2009, through the date of this decision. (Tr. at 41.)
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 Stone v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 544 F.Appx. 839, 841 (11th Cir. 2013) (citing Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004)). This Court gives deference to the factual findings of the Commissioner, provided those findings are supported by substantial evidence, but applies close scrutiny to the legal conclusions. See Miles v. Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996).
Nonetheless, this Court may not decide facts, weigh evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005) (quoting Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1240 n.8 (11th Cir. 2004)). "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 proof preponderates against ...