United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION
L. SCOTT COOGLER, District Judge.
The plaintiff, David Anderson, appeals from the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying his application for a period of disability, Disability Insurance Benefits, and Supplemental Security Income. Mr. Anderson 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), 1383(c)(3).
Mr. Anderson was forty-eight years old at the time of the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ's") decision. He has completed two years of college, and has past relevant work experience as a machine operator and youth care worker. (Tr. 37-38, 48-49.) Mr. Anderson claims that he could not work beginning on November 7, 2010, due to congestive heart failure, diabetes, high blood pressure, and lower back pain. (Tr. at 151.)
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 this sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that Mr. Anderson met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2015. (Tr. at 28.) She determined that Mr. Anderson had not engaged in SGA since the alleged onset of his disability. (Tr. at 21.) Although the impairments caused by Mr. Anderson's insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, coronary artery disease with remote (1999) history of anterior myocardial infarction, hypertension, gastroesophageal reflux disease, history of congestive heart failure, and obesity are considered "severe" based on the requirements set forth in the regulations, the ALJ 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. (Tr. at 21-22.) The ALJ did not find Mr. Anderson's allegations to be totally credible, and she determined that he has the RFC to lift or carry up to 10 pounds continuously, up to 20 pounds frequently, and up to 50 pounds occasionally; sit for four hours at one time and a total of eight hours in an eight-hour workday; stand 20 minutes at one time and a total of two hours in an eight-hour workday; walk for 15 minutes at one time and a total of two hours in an eight-hour workday; had no limitations in reaching, handling, fingering, feeling, or pushing or pulling with the upper extremities bilaterally; and could otherwise perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except that he could balance, stoop, kneel, and operate foot controls only occasionally; was unable to crouch, crawl, or climb stairs, ramps, ladders, and scaffolds; could tolerate only occasional exposure to moving mechanical parts, operating a motor vehicle, humidity and wetness, pulmonary irritants, and vibration; and is unable to tolerate any exposure to extremes of temperature. (Tr. at 23.)
The ALJ determined that Mr. Anderson is unable to perform any of his past relevant work. (Tr. at 27.) He is a "younger individual, " and he has "at least a high school education, " as those terms are defined by the regulations. ( Id. ) She determined that the transferability of Mr. Anderson's job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that Mr. Anderson is "not disabled, " whether or not he has transferable job skills. (Tr. at 27.) The ALJ found that Mr. Anderson has the RFC to make a successful adjustment to other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. Id. Even though Mr. Anderson cannot perform the full range of light work, the ALJ used the Medical-Vocational Rules as a guideline for finding that there are a significant number of representative light occupations in the national economy that he is capable of performing, such as trimming machine operator. Id. The ALJ concluded her findings by stating that Mr. Anderson "has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from November 7, 2010, through the date of this decision." (Tr. at 28.)
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 ...