United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION
Scott Coogler United States District Judge
plaintiff, Linda Diane Carden, appeals from the decision of
the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying her application for
Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance
Benefits. Ms. Carden 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),
Carden was fifty-one years old at the time of the
Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ's”)
decision. (Tr. at 34, 111.) She has a high school education.
(Tr. at 35, 78-79.) Her past work experiences include
employment as a Certified Nursing Assistant, a cashier, and
in mobile home sales. (Tr. at 34, 69.) Ms. Carden claims that
she became disabled on March 15, 2008, due to limited use of
her arms, depression, anxiety, chronic obstructive pulmonary
disease (“COPD”), impaired immune system, asthma,
Crohn's disease, arthritis, and migraines. (Tr. at 306,
Social Security Administration has established a five-step
sequential evaluation process for determining whether an
individual is disabled and thus eligible for DIB.
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.
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).
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).
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 her 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 her from performing her past relevant work, the
evaluator will make a finding of not disabled. See
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 her 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 her disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 404.1520(g),
the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that Ms.
Carden last met the insured status requirements of the Social
Security Act on March 31, 2012. (Tr. at 20.) She further
determined that Ms. Carden did not engage in SGA during the
period from her alleged onset date, March 15, 2008, through
her date last insured, March 31, 2012. (Id.)
According to the ALJ, Plaintiff's gastroesophageal reflux
disease (“GERD”), hiatal hernia, gastritis,
duodenitis, degenerative changes of the cervical and lumbar
spine, hypertension, migraine headaches, Crohn's disease,
COPD, status post multiple nerve releases, anxiety, and
depression are considered “severe” based on the
requirements set forth in the regulations. (Tr. at 21.)
However, she 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.) She
determined that “through the date last insured, the
plaintiff has the [RFC] to perform light work as defined in
20 CFR [§] 404.1567(b) except with the following
limitations: never use feet for operation of foot controls;
never kneel or crawl; no climbing of ladders, ropes or
scaffolds; avoid concentrated exposure to irritants such as
fumes, odors, dust, gases, poorly ventilated areas, and
chemicals; avoid exposure to unprotected heights and
hazardous machinery; no assembly line production
requirements; unskilled work; only occasional direct
interaction with the public; and only occasional interaction
with co-workers.” (Tr. at 23.)
to the ALJ, through the date last insured, Ms. Carden was
unable to perform any of her past relevant work. (Tr. at 34.)
The ALJ further found that Plaintiff was a “younger
individual age 18-49” on the date last insured, she has
at least a high school education, and she is able to
communicate in English, as those terms are defined by the
regulations. (Tr. at 34-35.) Relying on the testimony from a
vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ concluded that
there are a significant number of jobs in the national
economy that Plaintiff is capable of performing, such as hand
packager, labeler, and garment sorter. (Tr. at 35.) The ALJ
concluded her findings by stating that the plaintiff
“was not under a ‘disability, ' as defined in
the Social Security Act, at any time between March 15, 2008,
the alleged onset date, and March 31, 2012, the date last
insured.” (Tr. at 36.)
Standard of Review
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.App'x 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).
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 ...