United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Western Division
JOHN E. OTT, Chief Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Marquita Annette Little brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for disability insurance benefits. (Doc. 1). This case has been assigned to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to this court's general order of reference. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of this court for the disposition of the matter. (Doc. 10). See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), FED. R. CIV. P. 73(a). Upon review of the record and the relevant law, the undersigned finds that the Commissioner's decision is due to be affirmed.
I. Procedural History
Plaintiff filed her application for disability insurance benefits on November 4, 2010. (R. 125-28). She claims to have become disabled on September 25, 2009. (Id. ) Her application was initially denied. (R. 74-78). Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). Plaintiff, her counsel, and a vocational expert ("VE") attended the hearing via teleconference on June 4, 2012. (R. 42). On September 6, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision in which he found Plaintiff was not disabled. (R. 25-37).
The Appeals Council declined to grant review of the ALJ's decision. (R. 1-3). Plaintiff then filed the present action for judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Doc. 1).
II. Standard of Review
In reviewing claims brought under the Social Security Act, this court's role is a narrow one. "Our review of the Commissioner's decision is limited to an inquiry into whether there is substantial evidence to support the findings of the Commissioner, and whether the correct legal standards were applied." Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002); see also Lamb v. Bowen, 847 F.2d 698, 701 (11th Cir. 1988). The plaintiff must demonstrate that the decision of the Commissioner is not supported by substantial evidence. See, e.g., Allen v. Schweiker, 642 F.2d 799 (5th Cir. 1981). "Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (internal quotations and citations omitted). The court gives deference to factual findings and reviews questions of law de novo. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145 (11th Cir. 1991). The court "may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the [Commissioner], rather [it] must scrutinize the record as a whole to determine if the decision reached is reasonable and supported by substantial evidence." Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990) (quoting Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir.1982)) (internal quotations and other citations omitted); see also Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005). As noted above, conclusions of law made by the Commissioner are reviewed de novo. Cornelius, 936 F.2d at 1145. Accordingly, "[n]o... presumption of validity attaches to the [Commissioner's] conclusions of law." Wiggins v. Schweiker, 679 F.2d 1387, 1389 (11th Cir. 1982).
III. Statutory and Regulatory Framework
To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must show "the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); 42 U.S.C. § 416(i). A physical or mental impairment is "an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(3).
Determination of disability under the Social Security Act requires a five step analysis. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). Specifically, the Commissioner must determine in sequence:
whether the claimant: (1) is unable to engage in substantial gainful activity; (2) has a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment; (3) has such an impairment that meets or equals a Listing and meets the duration requirements; (4) can perform his past relevant work, in light of his residual functional capacity; and (5) can make an adjustment to other work, in light of his residual functional capacity, age, education, and work experience.
Evans v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 551 F.App'x 521, 524 (11th Cir. 2014) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)). "An affirmative answer to any of the above questions leads either to the next question, or, on steps three and five, to a finding of disability. A negative answer to any question, other than step three, leads to a determination of not disabled.'" McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir. 1986). "Once a finding is made that a claimant cannot return to prior work the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show other work the claimant can do." Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1559 (11th Cir. 1995) (citation omitted). The Commissioner must further show that such work exists in the national economy in significant numbers. Id.; Evans, 551 F.App'x at 524.
IV. Findings of the ALJ
Plaintiff was 51 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. (R. 44). She has a high school education. (R. 45). She has past relevant work experience as a bank teller and "school cook worker." (R. 57). In her disability report, Plaintiff alleged she has the following conditions, which caused her to become disabled and unable to work: high blood pressure, right ankle tendonitis, shoulder muscle spasms, allergic reaction to pain medications, depression, and high cholesterol. (R. 155).
Following a hearing, the ALJ used the five step sequential evaluation process to evaluate the medical records, testimony, and other evidence. (R. 25-37). At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has engaged in substantial gainful activity ("SGA") since the alleged onset ...