United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Jasper Division
TERESA A. PEARSON, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
LOVELACE BLACKBURN, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Teresa Pearson brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g), seeking review of the Commissioner of Social
Security's final decision denying her application for
supplemental security income
[“SSI”]. Upon review of the record and the relevant
law, the court is of the opinion that the Commissioner's
decision is due to be affirmed.
Pearson filed an application for SSI on December 11, 2012.
(Doc. 7-3 at R.12; see also doc. 7-6 at
R.127.) Her claim was denied initially. (Doc. 7-3
at R.12; doc. 7-4 at R.74.) Thereafter, she requested a
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
[“ALJ”], which was held on October 23, 2013.
(Doc. 7-3 at R.12; see id. at R.26.) After the
hearing, the ALJ found that Ms. Pearson was “capable of
making a successful adjustment to other work that exists in
significant numbers in the national economy.”
(Id. at R.20.) In light of this finding, the ALJ
denied Ms. Pearson's claim for SSI on March 17, 2014.
Pearson then requested the Appeals Council to review the
ALJ's decision. (Id. at R.6.) On April 16, 2015,
the Appeals Council “found no reason under [its] rules
to review the [ALJ]'s decision. Therefore, [it] denied
[Ms. Pearson's] request for review, ” and the
ALJ's decision became the final decision of the
Commissioner. (Id. at R.1.)
present appeal was filed on May 1, 2015. (Doc. 1.) In her
Complaint, Ms. Pearson alleges, “The decision of the
Defendant that the Plaintiff is not disabled within the
meaning of the Social Security Act is not supported by
substantial evidence and applies an erroneous standard of
law.” (Id. ¶ 5.) Ms. Pearson, who is
proceeding pro se, did not file a brief or otherwise inform
the court of the specific grounds for her appeal.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
reviewing claims brought under the Social Security Act, this
court's role is a narrow one, “limited to an
inquiry into whether there is substantial evidence to support
the findings of the Commissioner and whether the correct
legal standards were applied.” Wilson v.
Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002); see
also Lamb v. Bowen, 847 F.2d 698, 701 (11th Cir. 1988).
The court gives deference to the Commissioner findings of
fact. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145
(11th Cir. 1991). It “may not decide the facts anew,
reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its] judgment for that
of the [Commissioner], rather [it] must scrutinize the record
as a whole to determine if the decision reached is reasonable
and supported by substantial evidence.” Martin v.
Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990)(quoting
Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th
Cir.1983))(internal quotations and other citation omitted).
“The Commissioner's factual findings are conclusive
if supported by substantial evidence.” Wilson,
284 F.3d at 1221 (citing Martin v. Sullivan, 894
F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990); Allen v. Bowen,
816 F.2d 600, 602 (11th Cir. 1987)). “Substantial
evidence” is “more than a scintilla and is such
relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Winschel v.
Commissioner of Social Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th
Cir. 2011)(internal quotations and citations omitted)
of law made by the Commissioner are reviewed de novo.
Cornelius, 936 F.2d at 1145. “No . . .
presumption of validity attaches to the [Commissioner's]
conclusions of law.” Wiggins v. Schweiker, 679
F.2d 1387, 1389 (11th Cir. 1982).
Pearson, the claimant, “bears the burden of proving
that [she] is disabled, and, consequently, [she] is
responsible for producing evidence in support of [her]
claim.” Ellison v. Barnhart, 355 F.3d 1272,
1276 (11th Cir. 2003)(citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.912(a)). On
appeal, Ms. Pearson has presented neither argument nor
citation to the Commissioner's record in support of her
allegation that the Commissioner's denial of her claim
for SSI benefits is not supported by substantial evidence and
that the Commissioner applied incorrect legal standards.
(See doc. 1 ¶ 5.) “However, this Court
shows leniency to pro se litigants. Therefore, when
reviewing the appeal of a pro se plaintiff, this
Court will thoroughly review the evidentiary record and the
ALJ's opinion to determine whether the ALJ's findings
are supported by substantial evidence.” Billings ex
rel. Wells v. Colvin, No. 2:12-CV-2777-LSC, 2014 WL
584313, *3 (N.D. Ala. Feb. 13, 2014)(citing Christiansen
v. McRay, 380 Fed.Appx. 862, 863 (11th Cir.
THE FIVE-STEP EVALUATION
regulations require the Commissioner to follow a five-step
sequential evaluation to determine whether a claimant is
eligible for SSI. See 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(1)-(2); Bowen v. City of New York, 476
U.S. 467, 470 (1986). “[A]n individual shall be
considered to be disabled for purposes of [determining
eligibility for SSI benefits] if [she] is unable to engage in
any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically
determinable physical or mental impairment which can be
expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be
expected to last for a continuous period of not less than
twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). The
specific steps in the evaluation process are as follows:
Substantial Gainful Employment
the Commissioner must determine whether the claimant is
engaged in “substantial gainful activity.”
Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 137 (1987). The
regulations define “substantial gainful activity”
as “work activity that is both substantial and
gainful.”20 C.F.R. § 416.972. If the claimant
is working and that work is substantial gainful activity, the
Commissioner will find that the claimant is not disabled,
regardless of the claimant's medical condition or her
age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(b). “Under the first step, the claimant has the
burden to show that she is not currently engaged in
substantial gainful activity.” Reynolds-Buckley v.
Commissioner of Social Sec., 457 Fed.Appx. 862, 863
(11th Cir. 2012).
found that Ms. Pearson had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since December 11, 2012, the application date. (Doc.
7-3 at R.14.)
claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the
Commissioner must next determine whether the claimant suffers
from a severe impairment or combination of impairments that
significantly limits the claimant's physical or mental
ability to do basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4)(ii), (c). “[A] ‘physical or mental
impairment' is an impairment that results from
anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities
which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 42 U.S.C. §
1382c(a)(3)(D). The regulations provide: “[I]f you do
not have any impairment or combination of impairments which
significantly limits your physical or mental ability to do
basic work activities, we will find that you do not have a
severe impairment and are, therefore, not disabled. We will
not consider your age, education, and work experience.”
20 C.F.R. § 416.920(c). “An impairment can be
considered as not severe only if it is a slight abnormality
which has such a minimal effect on the individual that it
would not be expected to interfere with the individual's
ability to work, irrespective of age, education, or work
experience.” Brady v. Heckler, 724 F.2d 914,
920 (11th Cir. 1984); see also 20 C.F.R. §
416.921(a). A claimant may be found disabled based on a
combination of impairments even though none of the individual
impairments alone are disabling. Walker v. Brown,
826 F.2d 996, 1001 (11th Cir. 1985); see also 20
C.F.R. § 416.923. A claimant has the burden to show that
she has a severe impairment or combination of impairments.
Reynolds-Buckley, 457 Fed.Appx. at 863.
found that Ms. Pearson had “severe impairments [of]
neurofibromatosis; depressive disorder, not otherwise
specified; and anxiety.” (Doc. 7-3 at R.14.) She found
Ms. Pearson's claim of insomnia was not a severe
impairment because it was controlled by medication.
claimant has a severe impairment, the Commissioner must then
determine whether the claimant's impairment meets the
durational requirement and whether it is equivalent to any
one of the listed impairments, which are impairments that are
so severe as to prevent an individual with the described
impairment from performing substantial gainful activity. 20
C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iii), (d)-(e); see 20
C.F.R. pt. 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 [The Listings]. If the
claimant's impairment meets or equals a Listing, the
Commissioner must find the claimant disabled, regardless of
her age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(d). The claimant has the burden of proving that her
impairment meets or equals the criteria contained in one of
the Listings. Reynolds-Buckley, 457 Fed.Appx. at
found that Ms. Pearson did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that met or medically ...