United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
MICHAEL PUTNAM UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
plaintiff, David Cavin, appeals from the decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying his application for a
period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”). Mr. Cavin 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). The parties have consented
to the exercise of dispositive jurisdiction by a magistrate
judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Doc. 10).
plaintiff was 39 years old on the date of the onset of his
alleged disability, and 41 years old on the date of the
ALJ's opinion, having been born in December 1972. (Tr. at
43). His past work experience includes employment as a
welding machine operator, loader/unloader, appliance
assembler on a line, and a construction worker/laborer. (Tr.
at 20). The plaintiff claims that he became disabled on
January 3, 2012, due to diabetic peripheral neuropathy in
both hands, carpal tunnel syndrome in both hands, diabetes,
diabetes-related restless leg syndrome, diabetic seizures
with liver damage, shoulder pain, difficulty using his hands,
and anxiety disorder. (Tr. at 10, 198).
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 he is, the claimant
is not disabled and the evaluation stops. Id. If he
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. Part 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, he 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
(“RFC”) is an assessment, based on all relevant
evidence, of a claimant's remaining ability to do work
despite his impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 404.945(a)(1).
fourth step requires a determination of whether the
claimant's impairments prevent him 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 his 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
he or 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; once that burden is
met, the claimant must prove his or 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 the
plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social
Security Act through December 31, 2017. (Tr. at 12). She
further determined that the plaintiff engaged in substantial
gainful activity until September 5, 2012. (Id.)
However, the ALJ determined that there was a continuous
12-month period, from September 5, 2012 to the date of the
decision, during which the plaintiff did not engage in
substantial gainful activity. (Id.) According to the
ALJ, the plaintiff has the following impairments that are
considered “severe” based on the requirements set
forth in the regulations: bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome,
status post right and left carpal tunnel release, diabetes
mellitus, diabetic neuropathy, lumbar degenerative disc
disease, and restless leg syndrome. (Id.) She also
determined that the plaintiff's obesity, right shoulder
pain and difficulty raising his right arm, anxiety disorder,
and depression are non-severe. (Tr. at 13). The ALJ found
that, according to the medical records, the plaintiff's
alleged diabetic seizures and liver damage affecting his
brain could not be medically determined based on the absence
of objective documentation regarding any such
issues. (Id.) The ALJ found that the
plaintiff's severe and non-severe impairments, separately
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 14). The ALJ did not find the
plaintiff's allegations regarding the intensity,
persistence, and limiting effects of his symptoms to be
entirely credible, and she determined that the plaintiff
“has the residual functional capacity to perform work
at a light level of exertion as that term is defined in the
Regulations. He can occasionally push/pull with the bilateral
upper extremities and occasionally handle or finger
bilaterally. He should not engage in repetitive motion with
the bilateral upper extremities, and he should not have
exposure to hazards.” (Tr. at 15-16).
to the ALJ, the plaintiff is unable to perform any of his
past relevant work as a welding-machine operator and
construction laborer, he is a “younger individual,
” and he has “at least a high school education,
” as those terms are defined by the regulations. (Tr.
at 20). She determined that “[t]ransferability of job
skills is not material to the determination of disability
because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework
supports a finding that the claimant is ‘not disabled,
' whether or not the claimant has transferable job
skills.” (Id.) Even though the plaintiff
cannot perform the full range of light work, the ALJ
determined that there are a significant number of jobs in the
national economy that he is capable of performing, such as
bakery worker on a line or control area checker. (Tr. at 21).
The ALJ concluded her findings by stating that Plaintiff
“has not been under a disability, as defined in the
Social Security Act, from January 3, 2012, through the date
of this decision.” (Id.)
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 plaintiff
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.
plaintiff argues that the ALJ's determination that he has
the RFC to perform jobs requiring “any use of his
hands” is not supported by substantial evidence
because, “the claimant cannot even occasionally handle
or finger bilaterally.” (Doc. 13, p. 14). To support
his argument, the plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in
giving great weight to the opinion of the plaintiff's
treating physician, Dr. Kirschberg, rather than the opinion
of consulting physician Dr. Born, whose evaluation was done
almost a year later and who concluded that the plaintiff
could no longer “work at manual labor anymore involving
his hands.” (Tr. at 18). The plaintiff contends that,
had Dr. Born's opinion been given great weight, the ALJ
would have found that the plaintiff met the requirements of
Listing 11.14,  could not use his hands at all to work
and, therefore, could not do the job of bakery worker or
control area checker-the jobs identified by the vocational
expert (“VE”) as being within the plaintiff's
The Evaluations of Dr. ...