United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c), plaintiff
Kelvin Laray Cook seeks judicial review of a final adverse
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. The
Commissioner denied Mr. Cook's claims for a period of
disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental
security income. After careful review, the Court affirms the
Cook applied for a period of disability and disability
insurance benefits and supplemental security income on
December 10, 2012. (Doc. 7-6, pp. 2, 9). Mr. Cook alleges
that his disability began December 1, 2012. (Doc. 7-6, pp. 2,
9). The Commissioner initially denied Mr. Cook's claims
on June 6, 2013. (Doc. 7-5, p. 2). Mr. Cook requested a
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Doc. 7-5,
pp. 9-10). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on
September 9, 2014. (Doc. 7-3, p. 13). On May 5, 2016, the
Appeals Council declined Mr. Cook's request for review
(Doc. 7-3, p. 2), making the Commissioner's decision
final and a proper candidate for this Court's judicial
review. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and
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 evaluating the administrative record, 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 substantial evidence supports the ALJ's
factual findings, 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 work experience.
Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178.
case, the ALJ found that Mr. Cook has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since December 1, 2012, the
alleged onset date. (Doc. 7-3, p. 18). The ALJ determined
that Mr. Cook suffers from the following severe impairments:
congestive heart failure, non-ischemic cardiomyopathy, and
obesity. (Doc. 7-3, p. 18). The ALJ determined Mr. Cook has
non-severe medically determinable physical impairments such
as sleep apnea and hypertension. (Doc. 7-3, pp. 18-19). Based
on objective medical evidence, the ALJ also found that Mr.
Cook has no residual limitations from a previous stroke.
(Doc. 7-3, p. 19). Based on a review of the medical evidence,
the ALJ concluded that Mr. Cook does not have an impairment
or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals
the severity of any of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Doc. 7-3, p. 19).
light of Mr. Cook's impairments, the ALJ evaluated Mr.
Cook's residual functional capacity. The ALJ determined
that Mr. Cook has the RFC to perform
. . . sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and
416.967(a) except the claimant is able to occasionally
balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl[, ] and climb ramps and
stairs but never ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; is able to
work in an environment that does not require concentrated
exposure to fumes, odors, gases, and poor ventilation; is
able to perform tasks that do not involve work with hazardous
machinery or unprotected heights; must be allowed to
alternate between standing and sitting every 1-2 hours as
needed; or must be allowed to stand and stretch for 1-2
minutes at the work station as needed every 1-2 hours while
remaining on task; must be allowed to elevate his bilateral
lower extremities on a foot stool when seated; is able to
perform tasks that do not require stringent production or
fast pace; will be off task 10% of the day and miss 1-2 days
of work per month.
(Doc. 7-3, p. 20). Based on this RFC, the ALJ concluded that
Mr. Cook is not able to perform his past relevant work as a
technician, mechanic, or an auto mechanic supervisor. (Doc.
7-3, p. 23). Relying on testimony from a vocational expert,
the ALJ found that jobs exist in the national economy that
Mr. Cook can perform, including document preparer, sealer,
and order clerk. (Doc. 7-3, p. 24). Accordingly, the ALJ
determined that Mr. Cook has not been under a disability
within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (Doc. 7-3, p.
Cook argues that he is entitled to relief from the ALJ's
decision because the ALJ erred in finding that Mr. Cook does
not meet Listing 4.02 and because the ALJ did not properly
weigh the opinion of Mr. Cook's treating cardiologist,
Dr. Harish Doppalapudi. The Court examines each issue in
Substantial evidence supports the ALJ's finding that Mr.
Cook does not meet Listing 4.02.
Cook argues the ALJ erred at Step Three by failing to find
that Mr. Cook meets Listing 4.02 for chronic heart failure.
(Doc. 9, p. 7; Doc. 11, p. 7). The Listings describe impairments
that are “severe enough to prevent an individual from
doing any gainful activity, regardless of his  age,
education, or work experience.” 20 C.F.R. §
404.1525(a). A claimant satisfies his burden of establishing
a disability by showing that his impairment meets one of the
listings. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d).
[T]o meet a Listing, the claimant must (1) have a diagnosed
condition included in the Listing, and (2) provide objective
medical reports documenting that this condition meets the
specific criteria of the applicable Listing and the duration
requirement. A diagnosis alone is insufficient.
Wilkinson o/b/o/ Wilkinson v. Bowen, 847 F.2d 660,
663 (11th Cir. 1987) (emphasis omitted). In addition, a
claimant's impairment must meet all of the specified
medical criteria for the claimant to show that his impairment
matches a listing. An impairment that meets some but not all
of the criteria ...