United States District Court, N.D. Alabama
MEMORANDUM OPINION 
G. CORNELIUS, U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Michael Swindler appeals from the decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
("Commissioner") denying his application for
Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") and Disability
Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). Plaintiff 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). Also pending is
Plaintiff's motion to remand. (Doc. 18). For the reasons
that follow, this matter is due to be remanded, and the
motion to remand is due to be denied as moot.
FACTS, FRAMEWORK, AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Swindler was forty-nine years old at the time of the
Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ's")
decision. (R. 18, 30). He alleged eligibility for benefits
beginning on July 27, 2011, following previous applications
and his longstanding history of mental health and medical
problems. (R. 18).
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 SGA, he or
she is not disabled and the evaluation stops. Id. If
the claimant is not engaged in SGA, 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 George Merchant found
Mr. Swindler had not engaged in SGA since the alleged onset
of his disability. (R. 23). At step two, the ALJ found
Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments:
obesity; degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine;
status post fracture of the proximal right humerus;
degenerative joint disease of the right hip with mild
rotatory scoliosis; moderate degenerative joint disease of
the right foot with hallux deformity; osteoarthritis of the
right shoulder; mood disorder; schizoaffective disorder; and
post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”).
three, the ALJ found Plaintiff did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments meeting or medically equaling any
of the listed impairments. (Id.). Specifically, the
ALJ stated he considered Listings 1.02, 1.04, 12.03, 12.04.,
and 12.06. (R. 24). The ALJ made no indication he considered
Listing 12.05. (See id.). The ALJ found Mr.
Swindler's mental impairments did not meet or medically
equal the criteria of Listings 12.03, 12.04, or 12.06. (R.
24). In order to meet or medically equal the listed
impairments, a mental impairment must result in at least two
of the following “paragraph B” criteria: (1)
marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning; (2)
marked difficulties in maintaining concentration,
persistence, or pace; or (3) repeated episodes of
decompensation, each of extended duration. (R. 24); see
also 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1, § 12.00
(2012). After a review of the evidence in the record, the ALJ
found Plaintiff did not meet the criteria of paragraph B.
also considered whether Mr. Swindler met the criteria of
“paragraph C” with respect to Listings 12.03,
12.04, and 12.06. (R. 24-25). Paragraph C is to be used when
there is a medically documented history of “a chronic
organic mental disorder, schizophrenia, or some other
paranoid or psychotic disorder, or an affective
disorder.” (Id.); see also 20 C.F.R.
Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1, § 12.00 (2012). The ALJ found
Plaintiff's mental impairments had “not caused any
of the limitations set forth” in paragraph C and
Plaintiff “had not experienced any episodes of
decompensation.” (R. 25). Based on these findings, the
ALJ found Mr. Swindler did not satisfy the criteria of
paragraph C, and thus, Plaintiff's mental impairments did
not meet or medically equal any of the listed impairments set
forth in the applicable regulations. (Id.).
proceeding to step four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the
RFC to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR §
416.967(a) with the following limitations:
[T]he claimant can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds
and as such, should avoid all exposure to the operation or
control of hazardous or moving machinery and to unprotected
heights. The claimant can occasionally climb ramps and
stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. The
claimant can bilaterally handle and finger for gross and fine
manipulation no more than frequently. The claimant can
understand, remember, and carry out no more than simple
instructions and can perform simple, one to two step tasks.
The claimant requires a low stress setting, which is defined
as occasional decision making and infrequent changes in the
workplace. Contact with the public and coworkers should be no
more than occasional.
four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff was unable to perform any
of his past relevant work. (R. 29-30). 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 Mr. Swindler can perform. (R.
30-31). In reaching his conclusions, the ALJ considered the
medical opinions of several physicians. (R. 29). The ALJ
concluded by finding Mr. Swindler was not disabled. (R. 31).
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 ...