United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
MICHAEL PUTNAM, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
claimant, Rebecca Smith, appeals from the decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner") denying her application for
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI"). Ms. Smith
timely pursued and exhausted her administrative remedies, and
the decision of the Commissioner is ripe for review pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. Â§' 405(g), 1383(c)(3).
Smith was 47 years old at the time of the Administrative Law
Judge's (“ALJ") decision, and she has a
seventh-grade education. (Tr. at 192, 197). Her past relevant
work experience includes employment as a retail sales clerk,
security guard, companion/sitter, and cook. (Tr. at 26). Ms.
Smith claims that she became disabled on August 15, 2012, due
to congestive heart failure, thyroid disorder, hypertension,
fibromyalgia, and back pain. (Tr. at 196).
evaluating the disability of individuals over the age of
eighteen, the regulations prescribe a five-step sequential
evaluation process. See 20 C.F.R. ''
404.1520, 416.920; see also Doughty v. Apfel, 245
F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001). The first step requires a
determination of whether the claimant is “doing
substantial gainful activity." 20 C.F.R. ''
404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). If she is, the claimant
is not disabled and the evaluation stops. Id. If she
is not, the Commissioner next considers the effect of all of
the physical and mental impairments combined. 20 C.F.R.
'' 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). These
impairments must be severe and must meet the durational
requirements before a claimant will be found to be disabled.
Id. The decision depends on the medical evidence in
the record. See Hart v. Finch, 440 F.2d 1340, 1341
(5th Cir. 1971). If the claimant's impairments are not
severe, the analysis stops. 20 C.F.R. ''
404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). Otherwise, the
analysis continues to step three, which is a determination of
whether the claimant's impairments meet or equal the
severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1. 20 C.F.R. ''
404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the
claimant's impairments fall within this category, she
will be found disabled without further consideration.
Id. If they do not, a determination of the
claimant's residual functional capacity will be made, and
the analysis proceeds to the fourth step. 20 C.F.R.
'' 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). Residual functional
capacity (ARFC") is an assessment, based on all relevant
evidence, of a claimant's remaining ability to do work
despite his or her impairments. 20 C.F.R. '
fourth step requires a determination of whether the
claimant's impairments prevent her from returning to past
relevant work. 20 C.F.R. '' 404.1520(a)(4)(iv),
416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant can still do her past
relevant work, the claimant is not disabled and the
evaluation stops. Id. If the claimant cannot do past
relevant work, then the analysis proceeds to the fifth step.
Id. Step five requires the court to consider the
claimant's RFC, as well as the claimant's age,
education, and past work experience, in order to determine if
she can do other work. 20 C.F.R. ''
404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v). If the claimant can do
other work, the claimant is not disabled. Id. The
burden is on the Commissioner to demonstrate that other jobs
exist which the claimant can perform; and, once that burden
is met, the claimant must prove her inability to perform
those jobs in order to be found disabled. Jones v.
Apfel, 190 F.3d 1224, 1228 (11th Cir. 1999).
the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that Ms.
Smith had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since
the alleged onset of her disability. (Tr. at 15). According
to the ALJ, claimant's degenerative disc disease,
fibromyalgia, thyroid disorder, diabetes mellitus,
hypertension, obesity, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
(“COPD"), status post-myocardial infarction, acute
coronary syndrome with syncope, and anxiety disorder are
considered “severe" based on the requirements set
forth in the regulations. (Id.) However, the ALJ
found that these impairments, considered singly and in
combination, neither meet nor medically equal any of the
listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix
1. (Tr. at 17). The ALJ found that Ms. Smith's
allegations were “not totally credible, " and he
determined that Ms. Smith has the residual functional
capacity to perform
sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR ' 416.967(a) except
occasional pushing or pulling with lower extremities; no
climbing ladders, ropes, scaffolds; occasional climbing ramps
and stairs, occasional balancing, kneeling, crouching,
crawling, stooping; avoid concentrated exposure to extreme
heat and cold, vibration, fumes, odors, chemicals, gases,
dusts, poorly ventilated areas; no exposure to dangerous
machinery, unprotected heights. During a regular scheduled
workday, or the equivalent thereof, individual can; 1)
Understand and remember short and simple instructions, but is
unable to do so with detailed o[r] complex instructions. 2)
Do simple, routine, repetitive tasks, but is unable to do so
with detailed or complex tasks. 3) Have no more than
occasional, casual contact with the general public. 4) Deal
with changes in work place if introduced occasionally and
gradually and are well-explained. 5) Not be required to read
instructions or write reports. 6) Do no math calculations.
(Tr. at 17).
to the ALJ, Ms. Smith is unable to perform any of her past
relevant work, she is a “younger individual, " and
she has a “limited education, " as those terms are
defined by the regulations. (Tr. at 26). He determined that
transferability of job skills is not material to the
determination of disability because the Medical-Vocational
Rules support a finding of “not disabled"
regardless of transferability of job skills. (Id.)
The ALJ found that Ms. Smith has the residual functional
capacity to perform a range of sedentary work. (Id.)
Even though the claimant cannot perform the full range of
sedentary work, the ALJ used Medical-Vocational Rule 201.19
as a guideline for finding that there are a number of jobs in
the economy that Ms. Smith is capable of performing, such as
table worker, nut sorter, and cuff folder. (Tr. at 27). The
ALJ concluded his findings by stating that the claimant
“has not been under a disability, as defined in the
Social Security Act, since August 15, 2012, the amended
alleged onset date." (Tr. at 29).
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 Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 390, 401 (1971); Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d
1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002). The court approaches the factual
findings of the Commissioner with deference, but applies
close scrutiny to the legal conclusions. See Miles v.
Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996). The court
may not decide facts, weigh evidence, or substitute its
judgment for that of the Commissioner. Id.
“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. Federal Mar.
Comm'n, 383 U.S. 607, 620 (1966)). Indeed, even if
this court finds that the evidence preponderates against the
Commissioner's decision, the court must affirm if the
decision is supported by substantial evidence.
Miles, 84 F.3d at 1400. No decision is automatic,
however, for “despite this deferential standard [for
review of claims] it is imperative that the Court scrutinize
the record in its entirety to determine the reasonableness of
the decision reached.” Bridges v. Bowen, 815
F.2d 622, 624 (11th Cir. 1987). Moreover, failure to apply
the correct legal standards is grounds for reversal. See
Bowen v. Heckler, 748 F.2d 629, 635 (11th Cir. 1984).
court must keep in mind that opinions such as whether a
claimant is disabled, the nature and extent of a
claimant's residual functional capacity, and the
application of vocational factors “are not medical
opinions, . . . but are, instead, opinions on issues reserved
to the commissioner because they are administrative findings
that are dispositive of a case; i.e., that would direct the
determination or decision of disability.” 20 C.F.R.
'' 404.1527(e), 416.927(d). Whether the claimant
meets the listing and is qualified for Social Security
disability benefits is a question reserved for the ALJ, and
the court “may not decide facts anew, reweigh the
evidence, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the
Commissioner.” Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d
1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005). Thus, even if the court were to
disagree with the ALJ about the significance of certain
facts, the court has no power to reverse that finding as long
as there is substantial evidence in the record supporting it.
Smith alleges that the ALJ's decision should be reversed
and remanded for three reasons. First, she argues that the
Appeals Council failed to consider new, relevant evidence, a
report from Dr. Wilson, which she presented after the
ALJ's determination. In addition, she argues that the ALJ
improperly drew adverse inferences from her lack of medical
treatment. She further asserts that the ALJ's decision is
not based on substantial evidence when the report from Dr.
Wilson is considered. Also pending in this case is the
plaintiff's motion to remand the case, ...