United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Jasper Division
E. Ott Chief United States Magistrate Judge
Cheri Denise Mann brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g), seeking review of the final decision of the
Acting Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying her application for
disability insurance benefits. (Doc. 1). The case has been
assigned to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge
pursuant to this court's general order of reference. The
parties have consented to the jurisdiction of this court for
disposition of the matter. (Doc. 12). See 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(c), Fed.R.Civ.P. 73(a). Upon review of the record
and the relevant law, the undersigned finds that the
Commissioner's decision is due to be affirmed.
January 19, 2012, Mann protectively filed an application for
a period of disability and disability insurance benefits,
alleging disability commencing October 23, 2011. (R. 131,
185). Following the initial denial of her
application, Mann requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (R. 91-92). The
hearing was held on January 27, 2014. (R. 37-55). The ALJ
issued a decision on May 28, 20144, finding that Mann was not
disabled. (R. 25-32). The Appeals Council denied her Request
for Review on December 10, 2015. (R. 1-5). Mann then filed
this action for judicial review under 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). (Doc. 1).
STANDARD OF REVIEW - GENERALLY
court's review of the Commissioner's decision is
narrowly circumscribed. The function of the court is to
determine whether the Commissioner's decision is
supported by substantial evidence and whether proper legal
standards were applied. Richardson v. Perales, 402
U.S. 389, 390, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1422 (1971); Wilson v.
Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002). The
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.
See Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46
(11th Cir. 1991).
STATUTORY AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK
qualify for disability benefits under the Social Security
Act, a claimant must show 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). A physical
or mental impairment is “an impairment that results
from anatomical, physiological, or psychological
abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable
clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(3).
of disability under the Social Security Act requires a five
step analysis. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4) and
416.920(a)(4). Specifically, the Commissioner must determine
whether the claimant: (1) is unable to engage in substantial
gainful activity; (2) has a severe medically determinable
physical or mental impairment; (3) has such an impairment
that meets or equals a Listing and meets the duration
requirements; (4) can perform his past relevant work, in
light of his residual functional capacity; and (5) can make
an adjustment to other work, in light of his residual
functional capacity, age, education, and work experience.
Evans v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 551 F. App'x
521, 524 (11th Cir. 2014) (citing 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)). “Once a finding is made that a
claimant cannot return to prior work the burden shifts to the
[Commissioner] to show other work the claimant can do.”
Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1559 (11th Cir. 1995)
(citation omitted). The Commissioner must further show that
such work exists in the national economy in significant
numbers. Id.; Evans, 551 F. App'x at
was forty-nine years old at the time of the ALJ's
decision. (R. 131). She has a college education and past work
as an accounts receivable manager, analyst, and sales agent.
(R. 52, 152, 189, 204). Mann alleges disability beginning on
October 23, 2011, due to chronic lymphocytic leukemia
(“CCL”),  hypogammaglobulinemia,  and chronic
fatigue syndrome. (R. 188).
found that Mann had the severe impairment of leukemia but
that this impairment did not meet or medically equal the
criteria for any listed impairment in 20 C.F.R. Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1 (“the Listings”). (R.
27-29). The ALJ determined that the evidence showed that
Mann's leukemia was in remission and she was not
suffering from symptoms that resulted in debilitating
limitations. (R. 32). The ALJ also found that Mann retained
the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to
perform sedentary work with the following limitations: she
can occasionally perform postural and manipulative
activities, but she cannot climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds; she must avoid concentrated exposure to hot/cold
or temperature extremes; she must avoid work around
dangerous, moving, unguarded machinery and unprotected
heights; she can only work around a limited, small number of
coworkers; and she must avoid work around the general public.
(R. 29). The ALJ then relied on the testimony from the
vocational expert (VE) to find that Mann could perform her
past relevant work as an analyst, both as she actually
performed the job and as it is generally performed in the
national economy. (R. 31-32). The ALJ concluded that Mann was
not disabled. (R. 32).
asserts two claims of error: (1) the ALJ failed to properly
apply the Listings regarding Leukemia and (2) she failed to
properly consider the opinions of her treating physicians.
(Doc. 9 at 4-13). The Commissioner disagrees and argues that
substantial evidence supports the ALJ's findings. (Doc.
12 at 4-16).
Consideration of the Listings
a Listing at Step Three of the evaluation process, “a
claimant must have a diagnosis included in the Listings and
must provide medical reports documenting that the conditions
meet the specific criteria of the Listings and the duration
requirement.” Wilson, 284 F.3d at 1224
(citations omitted); see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1525.
“For a claimant to show that [her] impairment matches a
listing, it must meet all of the specified medical
criteria.” Sullivan v. Zebley, 493 U.S. 521,
530 (1990) (emphasis in original).
argues that despite the fact that the ALJ found her leukemia
to be a severe impairment, the ALJ “totally ignor[ed]
the leukemia listing.” (Doc. 9 at 7-8). In support of
her claim, Mann asserts:
Significantly, the leukemia listing indicates that an
individual is to be considered “under a disability
until at least 24 months from the date of diagnosis or
relapse, or at least 12 months from the date of bone marrow
or stem cell transplantation, whichever is later.” (20
C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, Listing 13.06). It
would thus seem from the listings that [Mann] should have at
least been considered for a closed period of benefits for 24
months after her alleged onset date....
(Id. at 7-8). The Commissioner responds that
Mann's conclusory assertion is insufficient to meet her
burden. (Doc. 12 at 7).
analysis must begin with the Listings. The introductory
Listing for leukemia provides:
K. How do we evaluate specific cancers?