United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION
L. SCOTT COOGLER, District Judge.
The plaintiff, Sheila Darlene Rogers, appeals from the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying her application for a period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). Ms. Rogers 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).
Ms. Rogers was forty-eight years old on the date of the expiration of her insured status for DIB. (Tr. at 232.) She has a seventh grade education and she has worked in a warehouse, as a sander, as a housekeeper, as an inspector, and as a cashier. (Tr. at 233, 411). Ms. Rogers claims that she became disabled on April 19, 2011 ( id. at 360), due to headaches, leg and back pain, and shortness of breath ( id at 235).
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 not 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 found that Ms. Rogers last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on September 30, 2011. (Tr. at 149.) He further determined that Ms. Rogers has not engaged in SGA during the period beginning March 25, 2011, the day after the previous decision, through her date of last insured of September 30, 2011. ( Id. at 150.) According to the ALJ, Plaintiff's hypertrophic arthropathy and mild compression at the L4-5 and L5-S1 levels, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, history of cluster headaches, gastroesophageal reflux disease, anxiety, and obesity are considered "severe" based on the requirements set forth in the regulations. ( Id. at 150-51.) However, he 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. ( Id. at 151.) The ALJ did not find Ms. Rogers's allegations to be totally credible ( id. at 153), and he determined that she has the following RFC: sedentary work except that she could never crawl or climb ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; she needed to avoid concentrated exposure to extreme temperatures, wetness, and irritants, such as fumes, odors, dust, gases, and poorly ventilated areas; she also needed to avoid all exposure to hazardous machinery, unprotected heights, and commercial driving and work near bodies of water; and she was limited to simple, routine, repetitive, one to three step tasks in a low stress job, defined as having only occasional decision making and changes in the work setting. ( Id. at 152.)
According to the ALJ, Ms. Rogers was unable to perform any of her past relevant work through the date last insured, she is a "younger individual, " and she has a "limited education, " as those terms are defined by the regulations. ( Id. at 156-57.) He determined that Plaintiff's "transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability" because the "framework supports a finding that [Ms. Rogers] is not disabled, ' whether or not [she] has transferable job skills." ( Id. at 157). As Plaintiff cannot perform the full range of sedentary work, the ALJ relied upon the vocational expert's ("VE's") testimony to determine that there are a significant number of jobs in the national economy that she is capable of performing such as: call out clerk, document preparer, and addresser. ( Id. ) The ALJ concluded his findings by stating that Plaintiff "was not under a disability, ' as defined in the Social Security Act, at any time through the relevant time period of March 25, 2011, through September 30, 2011." ( Id. at 158.)
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 ...