United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division
BARBARA E. HAMILTON, Plaintiff,
NANCY BERRYHILL,  Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
F. BIVINS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Barbara E. Hamilton (hereinafter “Plaintiff”),
seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner
of Social Security denying her claim for supplemental
security income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act,
42 U.S.C. §§ 1381, et seq. On May 2, 2017,
the parties consented to have the undersigned conduct any and
all proceedings in this case. (Doc. 21). Thus, the action was
referred to the undersigned to conduct all proceedings and
order the entry of judgment in accordance with 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(c) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73. Upon
careful consideration of the administrative record and the
memoranda of the parties, it is hereby ORDERED that the
decision of the Commissioner be AFFIRMED.
protectively filed her application for benefits on December
28, 2012, alleging disability beginning December 28, 2012,
based on problems with her feet, back, and legs, high blood
pressure, depression, and anxiety. (Doc. 14-1 at 2,
6).Plaintiff's application was denied and
upon timely request, she was granted an administrative
hearing before Administrative Law Judge Jerome L. Munford
(hereinafter “ALJ”) on July 7, 2014. (Doc. 13 at
211). Plaintiff attended the hearing with her counsel and
provided testimony related to her claims. (Doc. 13 at 217). A
vocational expert (“VE”) also appeared at the
hearing and provided testimony. (Doc. 13 at 248). On October
16, 2014, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding that
Plaintiff is not disabled. (Doc. 13 at 195). The Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on April
21, 2016. (Doc. 13 at 9). Therefore, the ALJ's decision
dated October 16, 2014, became the final decision of the
exhausted her administrative remedies, Plaintiff timely filed
the present civil action. (Doc. 1). Oral argument was
conducted on May 31, 2017 (Doc. 25), and the parties agree
that this case is now ripe for judicial review and is
properly before this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§
405(g) and 1383(c)(3).
Issues on Appeal
Whether the ALJ erred in failing to find Plaintiff's
depression and headaches to be severe impairments?
Whether the ALJ's RFC for a range of light work is
supported by substantial evidence?
was born on October 13, 1962, and was fifty-one years of age
at the time of her administrative hearing on July 7, 2014.
(Doc. 14-1 at 2; Doc. 13 at 211, 217-18). Plaintiff graduated
from high school taking regular classes. (Doc. 13 at 218;
Doc. 14-1 at 7).
worked from 2007 to 2009 as an in-home child care provider.
(Doc. 14-1 at 7; Doc. 13 at 218). In 2003, she worked as an
equipment operator and a flagger for a construction company,
and from 1984 to 1999, she worked as a grader at a catfish
plant. (Doc. 14-1 at 7; Doc. 13 at 219-20). At the
administrative hearing, Plaintiff testified that she cannot
work due to pain in her legs, knee, back, shoulder, and neck.
(Doc. 13 at 221).
Standard of Review
reviewing claims brought under the Act, this Court's role
is a limited one. The Court's review is limited to
determining 1) whether the decision of the Secretary is
supported by substantial evidence and 2) whether the correct
legal standards were applied. Martin v. Sullivan, 894
F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990). A court may not decide the
facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute its judgment
for that of the Commissioner. Sewell v. Bowen, 792
F.2d 1065, 1067 (11th Cir. 1986). The Commissioner's
findings of fact must be affirmed if they are based upon
substantial evidence. Brown v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d
1233, 1235 (11th Cir. 1991); Bloodsworth v. Heckler,
703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983) (holding substantial
evidence is defined as “more than a scintilla, but less
than a preponderance” and consists of “such
relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.”). In determining
whether substantial evidence exists, a court must view the
record as a whole, taking into account evidence favorable, as
well as unfavorable, to the Commissioner's decision.
Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir.
1986); Short v. Apfel, 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10163,
*4 (S.D. Ala. June 14, 1999).
Statutory And Regulatory Framework
individual who applies for Social Security disability
benefits must prove his or her disability. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1512, 416.912. Disability is defined as the
“inability 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 12 months.” 42 U.S.C.
§§ 423(d)(1)(A); see also 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1505(a), 416.905(a). The Social Security
regulations provide a five-step sequential evaluation process
for determining if a claimant has proven his disability. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.
claimant must first prove that he or she has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity. The second step requires the
claimant to prove that he or she has a severe impairment or
combination of impairments. If, at the third step, the
claimant proves that the impairment or combination of
impairments meets or equals a listed impairment, then the
claimant is automatically found disabled regardless of age,
education, or work experience. If the claimant cannot prevail
at the third step, he or she must proceed to the fourth step
where the claimant must prove an inability to perform their
past relevant work. Jones v. Bowen, 810 F.2d 1001,
1005 (11th Cir. 1986). In evaluating whether the claimant has
met this burden, the examiner must consider the following
four factors: (1) objective medical facts and clinical
findings; (2) diagnoses of examining physicians; (3) evidence
of pain; and (4) the claimant's age, education and work
history. Id. Once a claimant meets this burden, it
becomes the Commissioner's burden to prove at the fifth
step that the claimant is capable of engaging in another kind
of substantial gainful employment which exists in significant
numbers in the national economy, given the claimant's
residual functional capacity, age, education, and work
history. Sryock v. Heckler, 764 F.2d 834, 836 (11th
Cir. 1985). If the Commissioner can demonstrate that there
are such jobs the claimant can perform, the claimant must
prove inability to perform those jobs in order to be found
disabled. Jones v. Apfel, 190 F.3d 1224, 1228 (11th
Cir. 1999). See also Hale v. Bowen, 831 F.2d 1007,
1011 (11th Cir. 1987) (citing Francis v. Heckler,
749 F.2d 1562, 1564 (11th Cir. 1985)).
The ALJ did not err in failing to find that Plaintiff's
depression and headaches are severe impairments.
case, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in failing to find
that her depression and headaches are severe impairments.
(Doc. 17 at 2, 4-6). Specifically, with respect to her
depression, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ acknowledged that
she had been diagnosed with depression, but improperly found
that her condition was no more than a slight abnormality that
would not be expected to produce more than minimal
limitations. (Id.). With respect to her headaches,
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ did not even discuss ...