United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
L. SCOTT COOGLER, District Judge.
The plaintiff, Sherron Pickett Grays ("Grays"), appeals from the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying her application for a period of disability, Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"), and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). Grays 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).
Grays was forty-two years old at the time of the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ's") decision. (Tr. at 32, 116.) Grays has a tenth grade education and has past work experience as a kitchen helper, checker/cashier, and assembler. (Tr. at 53, 146, 147, 162.) Grays alleges that her disability began on March 17, 2010, and that her disability is due to fibromyalgia, back pain, high cholesterol levels, hypertension, breathing problems, gastroesophgeal reflux disease ("GERD"), numbness in her hands, diabetes mellitus, and obesity.
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 found that Grays meets the non-disability requirements for a period of disability, DIB, and SSI and was insured through the date of his decision. (Tr. at 25.) He further determined that Grays has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset of her disability. ( Id. ) According to the ALJ, Grays's diabetes mellitus and obesity were her only "severe" impairments based on the requirements set forth in the regulations; her alleged breathing problems, fibromyalgia, GERD, cholesterol issues, back pain, hand numbness, and hypertension were not "severe."( Id. at 25-26.) The ALJ next determined that Grays's impairments neither met nor were medically equal to any of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. ( Id. at 28.)
Because Grays could not be considered "disabled" based solely on whether her impairments met or medically equaled those listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, the ALJ next assessed the effect of Grays's alleged impairments on her RFC. The ALJ found that Grays had an RFC that enabled her to perform a limited range of medium work; she can occasionally lift/carry fifty pounds; she can frequently lift/carry, including upwardly pull, twenty-five pounds; she can sit, stand, and/or walk, with normal breaks, for six hours in a eight-hour work day; and she has manipulative limitations of no overhead reaching bilaterally. ( Id. at 28.) The ALJ determined that Grays's RFC did not prevent Grays from performing past relevant work as a kitchen helper, assembler, or cashier/checker. ( Id. at 31.) Consequently, the ALJ concluded that Grays was not "under a disability" as defined in the Social Security Act through the date of the decision. ( Id. at 32.)
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. -) (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 ...