United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Jasper Division
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION
L. SCOTT COOGLER, District Judge.
The plaintiff, Jesse James Monroe Tidwell, appeals from the decision of the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying his application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") and Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). Mr. Tidwell 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) and 1383(c)(3).
Mr. Tidwell was thirty years old at the time of the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") decision. Mr. Tidwell has an eleventh grade education and was not enrolled in any special education classes. (Tr. at 267, 295.) In the fifteen years before the alleged onset of his disability, Mr. Tidwell was employed in various jobs, primarily in the construction industry. (Tr. at 197, 209-214.) Mr. Tidwell claims that he became disabled on December 1, 2009, due to pain in his back, neck, feet, stomach, and heart; fibromyalgia; colon problems; and an enlarged spleen and liver. (Tr. at 195.)
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 ("SGA"). See id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). If the plaintiff is engaged in SGA, 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 determined that Mr. Tidwell was insured through December 31, 2010. (Tr. at 22.) He further determined that Mr. Tidwell had not engaged in SGA since the alleged onset of his disability, December 1, 2009. (Id. ) According to the ALJ, Mr. Tidwell's status post open reduction internal fixation of the left listfranc facture; degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine with a small herniation and partial annular tear; remote traumatic fractures of the left and right feet with some residual arthritis; diffuse intermittent synovitis of the right elbow; average to borderline intellectual functioning; polysubstance abuse, in self-reported remission; depressive disorder; and panic disorder with agoraphobia are considered "severe" based on the requirements set forth in the regulations. (Id. )
However, the ALJ found that Mr. Tidwell did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals any of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. at 24.) He determined that Mr. Tidwell has the RFC to perform sedentary work and must refrain from climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, although he can do occasional stooping, kneeling, crouching, or crawling; must avoid concentrated exposures to extremes of cold, heat, or humidity; and must avoid hazardous machinery and unprotected heights. (Tr. at 26.) The ALJ would require Mr. Tidwell to do low stress work, with infrequent, gradually introduced changes in the work setting; interaction with things rather than people; only occasional conversation and interpersonal interaction with co-workers; and a well-spaced work environment with only occasional supervision. (Id. )
According to the ALJ, Mr. Tidwell is unable to perform any of his past relevant work. (Tr. at 32.) He is a "younger individual" with a "limited education, " as those terms are defined by the regulations. (Id. ) The ALJ determined that transferability of skills was "not material to the determination of disability" because Mr. Tidwell was "not disabled." (Id. ) He also determined from testimony of a vocational expert that there are a significant number of jobs in the national economy that Mr. Tidwell is capable of performing, such as document preparer, dowel inspector, and cuff folder. (Tr. at 32-33.) The ALJ concluded his findings by stating that Mr. Tidwell was not disabled. (Tr. at 33-34.)
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 ...