United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION 
G. CORNELIUS U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
The plaintiff, Silvia Contreras-Zambrano, appeals from the
decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration ("Commissioner") denying her
application for Supplemental Security Income
("SSI") and Disability Insurance Benefits
("DIB"). Plaintiff 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). Also pending is Plaintiff's motion to remand.
(Doc. 17). For the Reasons that follow, the
Commissioner's decision is due to be affirmed, and the
motion to remand is due to be denied.
FACTS, FRAMEWORK, AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
was fifty-three years old at the time of the Administrative
Law Judge's ("ALJ's") decision, is unable
to communicate in English, and has an eighth grade education.
(R. 25). Her past work experience include employment as a
poultry eviscerator, poultry inspector, and poultry weigher.
(R. 54-55). The jobs of poultry inspector and poultry weigher
are classified as being semi-skilled. (R. 55). Plaintiff
claims she became disabled on January 30, 2012, due to severe
degenerative disc disease, asthma, and obesity. (R. 14).
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; Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274,
1278 (11th Cir. 2001). The first step requires a
determination whether the claimant is performing substantial
gainful activity ("SGA"). 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i). If the claimant is engaged in substantial
gainful activity, he or she is not disabled and the
evaluation stops. Id. If the claimant is not engaged
in substantial gainful activity, the Commissioner proceeds to
consider the combined effects of all the claimant's
physical and mental impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). These impairments must
be severe and must meet durational requirements before a
claimant will be found 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, at which the Commissioner determines whether the
claimant's impairments meet 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 impairments fall within this category, the claimant
will be found disabled without further consideration.
Id. If the impairments do not fall within the
listings, the Commissioner determines the claimant's
residual functional capacity ("RFC"). 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e).
four the Commissioner determines whether the impairments
prevent the claimant from returning to past relevant work. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If
the claimant is capable of performing past relevant work, he
or she is not disabled and the evaluation stops. Id.
If the claimant cannot perform past relevant work, the
analysis proceeds to the fifth step, at which the
Commissioner considers the claimant's RFC, as well as the
claimant's age, education, and past work experience to
determine whether he or she can perform other work.
Id.; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v),
416.920(a)(4)(v). If the claimant can do other work, he or
she is not disabled. Id.
the sequential evaluation process, ALJ Jerome L. Munford
found Plaintiff had not engaged in SGA since the alleged
onset of her disability. (R. 17). At step two, the ALJ found
Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments:
degenerative disk disease, asthma, and obesity. (R. 17).
three, the ALJ found Plaintiff did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments meeting or medically equaling any
of the listed impairments. (R. 20). Before proceeding to step
four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the RFC to perform
light work as defined in 20 CFR §§ 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b) with the following limitations: (1) she could only
occasionally stoop and crouch; (2) she would be precluded
from driving, climbing, and pushing or pulling with her legs;
and (3) she would need a temperature and climate controlled
environment. (R. 21).
four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff was unable to perform any
of her past relevant work. (R. 25). Because the
Plaintiff's RFC did not allow for the full range of light
work, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a vocational expert
("VE") as evidence for finding a significant number
of jobs in the national economy Plaintiff can perform. (R.
25-26). The ALJ concluded by finding Plaintiff was not
disabled. (R. 26).
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)). A 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).
a 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 a court finds that the
proof preponderates against the Commissioner's decision,
it must affirm if the decision is supported by substantial
evidence. Miles, 84 F.3d at 1400 (citing Martin
v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990)).
no decision is automatic, for "despite th[e] deferential
standard [for review of claims], it is imperative that th[is]
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) (citing
Arnold v. Heckler, 732 F.2d 881, 883 (11th Cir.
1984)). Moreover, failure to apply the correct legal
standards is grounds for reversal. See Bowen v.
Heckler, 748 F.2d 629, 635 (11th Cir. 1984).
argues the ALJ's decision should be reversed and remanded
for five reasons: (1) the ALJ failed to apply grid rules; (2)
the ALJ failed to give proper weight to Plaintiff's
treating physicians; (3) the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff
was not credible was not based on substantial evidence; (4)
the decision is tainted by the ALJ's bias; and (5) the
ALJ's decision is not based on substantial evidence.
(Doc. 10 at 2). Each contention is addressed in turn. Also
addressed below is Plaintiff's motion to remand, which is
fully briefed and is ripe for adjudication. (Docs. 17,