United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS United States District Judge.
Jennifer Lynette Lane (“Ms. Lane”) brings this
action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Section 205(g) of the
Social Security Act. She seeks review of a final adverse
decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (“Commissioner”),  who denied her
application for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”). Ms. Lane timely pursued and exhausted
her administrative remedies available before the
Commissioner. The case is thus ripe for review under 42
U.S.C. § 405(g).
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Lane was 33 years old at the time of her hearing before the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 46). She
has completed the twelfth grade and two years of college.
Id. Her past work experience includes employment as
a secretary, office manager, and bank teller. (Tr. 46-47).
Ms. Lane initially claimed she became disabled beginning
September 15, 2011. (Tr. 163-64). Her last period of work
ended on October 20, 2011. (Tr. 349).
Lane first filed for DIB on February 26, 2012. (Tr. 109). Her
claim was initially denied on May 14, 2012. Id. She
filed a request for a hearing on May 25, 2012. (Tr. 105). Ms.
Lane voluntarily dismissed her request for a hearing on
October 5, 2012. Id. On February 14, 2014, Ms. Lane
protectively filed her second Title II application for a
period of disability and DIB. (Tr. 107). Ms. Lane amended the
onset date of her disability to February 14, 2013. (Tr. 185)
On May 7, 2014, the Commissioner denied Ms. Lane's
application. (Tr. 125-29). Ms. Lane timely filed a written
request for a hearing on May 19, 2014. (Tr. 130-31). The ALJ
held the hearing on September 11, 2014, in Cullman, AL. (Tr.
17). On January 26, 2015, the ALJ issued an unfavorable
decision concluding that Ms. Lane was not disabled and
denying her DIB claim. (Tr. 14-34). Ms. Lane timely
petitioned the Appeals Council to review the decision on
February 23, 2015. (Tr. 12). On April 27, 2016, the Appeals
Council issued a denial of review on Ms. Lane's claim.
Lane filed a Complaint with this court on May 25, 2016,
seeking review of the Commissioner's determination. (Doc.
1). The Commissioner answered on August 25, 2016. (Doc. 3).
Ms. Lane filed a supporting brief (doc. 8) on October 25,
2016, and the Commissioner responded with an opposing brief
(doc. 9) on November 21, 2016. Ms. Lane then followed with a
reply (doc. 10) to the Commissioner's brief on December
court's review of the Commissioner's decision is
narrowly circumscribed. The function of this court is to
determine whether the decision of the Commissioner is
supported by substantial evidence and whether proper legal
standards were applied. Richardson v. Perales, 402
U.S. 389, 390 (1971); Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d
1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002). This court must
“scrutinize the record as a whole to determine if the
decision reached is reasonable and supported by substantial
evidence.” Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d
1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983). Substantial evidence is
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Id. It is “more than a scintilla, but less
than a preponderance.” Id.
court must uphold factual findings that are supported by
substantial evidence. However, it reviews the ALJ's legal
conclusions de novo because no presumption of
validity attaches to the ALJ's determination of the
proper legal standards to be applied. Davis v.
Shalala, 985 F.2d 528, 531 (11th Cir. 1993). If the
court finds an error in the ALJ's application of the law,
or if the ALJ fails to provide the court with sufficient
reasoning for determining that the proper legal analysis has
been conducted, it must reverse the ALJ's decision.
Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th
AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK
qualify for disability benefits and establish his or her
entitlement for a period of disability, a claimant must be
disabled as defined by the Social Security Act and the
Regulations promulgated thereunder. The Regulations define
“disabled” as “the inability to do 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 (12) months.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a). To
establish an entitlement to disability benefits, a claimant
must provide evidence about a “physical or mental
impairment” that “must result from anatomical,
physiological, or psychological abnormalities which can be
shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory
diagnostic techniques.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1508.
Regulations provide a five-step process for determining
whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i-v). The Commissioner must determine in
(1) whether the claimant is currently employed;
(2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment;
(3) whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals an
impairment listed by the Commissioner;
(4) whether the claimant can perform his or her past work;
(5) whether the claimant is capable of performing any work in
the national economy.
Pope v. Shalala, 998 F.2d 473, 477 (7th Cir. 1993)
(citing to formerly applicable C.F.R. section), overruled
on other grounds by Johnson v. Apfel, 189 F.3d 561,
562-63 (7th Cir. 1999); accord McDaniel v. Bowen,
800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir. 1986). The sequential analysis
goes as follows:
Once the claimant has satisfied steps One and Two, she will
automatically be found disabled if she suffers from a listed
impairment. If the claimant does not have a listed impairment
but cannot perform her work, the burden shifts to the
[Commissioner] to show that the claimant can perform some
Pope, 998 F.2d at 477; accord Foote v.
Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1559 (11th Cir. 1995). The
Commissioner must further show that such work exists in the
national economy in significant numbers. Id.
OF THE ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE
consideration of the entire record, the ALJ made the
1. [Ms. Lane] meets the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through the date of this decision. (Tr.
2. [Ms. Lane] has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since February 14, 2013, the amended alleged onset date (20
C.F.R. § 404.1571 et seq.). (Tr. 19).
3. [Ms. Lane] has the following severe impairments:
degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine at ¶ 4-5,
fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome verses dysautonomia, a
major depressive disorder, and an anxiety disorder (20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(c)). (Tr. 19).
4. [Ms. Lane] does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. § 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d),
404.1525, and 404.1526). (Tr. 19-21).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, [the
ALJ] finds that the claimant has the residual functional
capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §
404.1567(b). She can occasionally lift and/or carry twenty
pounds and frequently lift and/or carry ten pounds. She can
stand and/or walk in combination, with normal breaks, for at
least six hours during an eight-hour workday. [Ms. Lane] can
occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but should never climb
ladders, ropes or scaffolds. The claimant can occasionally
balance stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. She should avoid
concentrated exposure to extreme heat, extreme cold, humidity
and working in areas of vibration. [Ms. Lane] should avoid
exposure to industrial hazards including working at
unprotected heights and working in close proximity to moving
dangerous machinery. She can perform simple routine tasks
requiring no more than short simple instructions and simple
work-related decision making with few work place changes. She
can have occasional interactions with co-workers and
supervisors, but no interactions with members of the general
public. (Tr. 21-28).
6. [Ms. Lane] is unable to perform any past relevant work (20
C.F.R. § 404.1565). (Tr. 28).
7. [Ms. Lane] was 33 years old, which is defined as a younger
individual age 18-49, on the alleged disability onset date
(20 C.F.R. § 404.1563). (Tr. 28).
8. [Ms. Lane] has at least a high school education and is
able to communicate in English (20 C.F.R. § 404.1564).
9. Transferability of job skills is not material to the
determination of disability because using the
Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding
that [Ms. Lane] is “not disabled, ” whether or
not [she] has transferable job skills. See SSR 82-41
and 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2. (Tr. 28).
10. Considering [Ms. Lane's] age, education, work
experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs
that exist in the significant numbers in the national economy
that [she] can perform (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1569 and
404.1569 (a)). (Tr. 28-29).
11. [Ms. Lane] has not been under a disability, as defined in
the Social Security Act, from February 14, 2013, through the
date of this decision (20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g)). (Tr.
court may only reverse a finding of the Commissioner if it is
not supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). “This does not relieve the court of its
responsibility to scrutinize the record in its entirety to
ascertain whether substantial evidence supports each
essential administrative finding.” Walden v.
Schweiker, 672 F.2d 835, 838 (11th Cir. 1982) (citing
Strickland v. Harris, 615 F.2d 1103, 1106 (5th Cir.
1980)). However, the court ...