United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff Roger Nappier seeks
judicial review of a final adverse decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security. The Commissioner denied Mr.
Nappier's claims for a period of disability and
disability insurance benefits. After careful review, the
Court affirms the Commissioner's decision.
Nappier applied for a period of disability and disability
insurance benefits on February 7, 2013. (Doc. 6-6, pp. 2-3;
Doc. 6-7, p. 2). Mr. Nappier alleges that his disability
began on June 1, 2011. (Doc. 6-4, p. 3). The Commissioner
initially denied Mr. Nappier's claims on July 9, 2013.
(Doc. 6-5. pp. 2-6). Mr. Nappier requested a hearing before
an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Doc. 6-3, p. 34; Doc.
6-5, p. 9). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on
December 4, 2014. (Doc. 6-3, pp. 8-22). On May 25, 2016, the
Appeals Council declined Mr. Nappier's request for review
(Doc. 6-3, pp. 2-4), making the Commissioner's decision
final and a proper candidate for this Court's judicial
review. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
scope of review in this matter is limited. “When, as in
this case, the ALJ denies benefits and the Appeals Council
denies review, ” the Court “review[s] the
ALJ's ‘factual findings with deference' and
[his] ‘legal conclusions with close
scrutiny.'” Riggs v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 522 Fed.Appx. 509, 510-11 (11th Cir. 2013)
(quoting Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th
Court must determine whether there is substantial evidence in
the record to support the ALJ's factual findings.
“Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is
such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Crawford v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir.
2004). In making this evaluation, the Court may not
“decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, ”
or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Winschel
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178
(11th Cir. 2011) (internal quotations and citation omitted).
If the ALJ's factual findings are supported by
substantial evidence, then the Court “must affirm even
if the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's
findings.” Costigan v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec.
Admin., 603 Fed.Appx. 783, 786 (11th Cir. 2015) (citing
Crawford, 363 F.3d at 1158).
respect to the ALJ's legal conclusions, the Court must
determine whether the ALJ applied the correct legal
standards. If the Court finds an error in the ALJ's
application of the law, or if the Court finds that the ALJ
failed to provide sufficient reasoning to demonstrate that
the ALJ conducted a proper legal analysis, then the Court
must reverse the ALJ's decision. Cornelius v.
Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).
SUMMARY OF THE ALJ'S DECISION
determine whether a claimant has proven that he is disabled,
an ALJ follows a five-step sequential evaluation process. The
(1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial
gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a severe
impairment or combination of impairments; (3) whether the
impairment meets or equals the severity of the specified
impairments in the Listing of Impairments; (4) based on a
residual functional capacity (RFC) assessment, whether the
claimant can perform any of his or her past relevant work
despite the impairment; and (5) whether there are significant
numbers of jobs in the national economy that the claimant can
perform given the claimant's RFC, age, education, and
Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178.
case, the ALJ found that Mr. Nappier “has not engaged
in substantial gainful activity since June 1, 2011, the
alleged onset date.” (Doc. 6-3, p. 13). The ALJ
determined that Mr. Nappier suffers from the “following
severe impairments: multilevel mild degenerative dis[c]
disease of the thoracic spine, mild multilevel thecal sac
stenosis of the thoracic spine, diabetes mellitus with
retinopathy, and ophthalmological impairments of superior
ischemic HRVO right eye with macular edema, chronic venous
insufficiency OU possibly with early macular edema OS on OCT,
diabetes mellitus with mild NPDR OU with macular edema,
steroid responder with good IOP, cataracts OU, and central
retinal vein occlusion.” (Doc. 6-3, p. 13). The ALJ
determined that Mr. Nappier has the following non-severe
impairments: moderate carpal tunnel syndrome on the left,
dyslipidemia, a history of kidney stones, and depression.
(Doc. 6-3, pp. 13-14). Based on a review of the medical
evidence, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Nappier “does not
have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets
or medically equals the severity of any of the listed
impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.”
(Doc. 6-3, p. 15).
light of Mr. Nappier's impairments, the ALJ evaluated Mr.
Nappier's residual functional capacity or RFC. The ALJ
determined that Mr. Nappier has the RFC to perform:
medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) except he is
able to frequently balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and
climb ramps and stairs but may never climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds. He is able to work in an environment that does not
require work at unprotected heights or with hazardous
machinery. The claimant is able to determine differences in
size, shape, and color of objects; is able to avoid ordinary
hazards; and is able to perform tasks that do not require
more than occasional depth perception.
(Doc. 6-3, p. 16). Based on this RFC, the ALJ concluded that
Mr. Nappier is not able to perform his past relevant work as
a finish carpenter and cabinet maker. (Doc. 6-3, p. 21).
Relying on testimony from a vocational expert, the ALJ found
that jobs exist in the national economy that Mr. Nappier can
perform, including laundry worker, cleaner, and scrap sorter.
(Doc. 6-3, pp. 21-22). Accordingly, the ALJ determined that
Mr. Nappier has not been under a disability within the
meaning of the Social Security Act. (Doc. 6-3, pp. 22).
Nappier argues that he is entitled to relief from the
ALJ's decision because the ALJ did not properly evaluate
his subjective testimony consistent with the Eleventh Circuit
Pain Standard and because the ALJ did not give adequate
weight to the opinion of treating physician Dr. Vlad
Prelipcean. The Court examines each issue in turn.
EVIDENCE SUPPORTS THE ALJ'S REJECTION OF MR.