United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
E. OTT CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Cynthia Tidmore Wilder 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). Upon review of the
record and the relevant law, the undersigned finds that the
Commissioner's decision is due to be affirmed.
December 2012, Wilder filed an application for a period of
disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging
disability beginning December 23, 2011. (R.19, 164). Her
application was denied initially. (R. 19). Wilder then
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). (R. 19). The hearing was held on June 9,
2014. (R. 19). Wilder, her counsel, and a vocational expert
attended the hearing. (R. 19). At the hearing, Wilder, acting
through her counsel, amended her disability onset date to May
16, 2012. (R. 19, 37). The ALJ issued a decision on September
12, 2014, finding that Wilder was not entitled to benefits.
(R. 19-29). The Appeals Council denied Wilder's request
for review on January 29, 2016. (R. 1-4). Wilder then filed
this action for judicial review under 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). (Doc. 1).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
court's review of the Commissioner's decision is
narrowly circumscribed. The function of the 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, 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.
Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th
STATUTORY AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK
qualify for disability insurance 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); 42 U.S.C.
§ 416(i). 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). To be eligible
for disability insurance benefits, a claimant must
demonstrate disability on or before the last date she was
insured. See Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211
(11th Cir. 2005) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1)(A)).
of disability under the Social Security Act requires a five
step analysis. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). Specifically,
the Commissioner must determine in sequence:
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 [her] past relevant work, in
light of [her] residual functional capacity; and (5) can make
an adjustment to other work, in light of [her] 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)). The claimant bears the burden of proving
that she was disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act. Moore, 405 F.3d at 1211. The
applicable “regulations place a very heavy burden on
the claimant to demonstrate both a qualifying disability and
an inability to perform past relevant work.”
FINDINGS OF THE ALJ
was 52 years old at the time of her hearing before the ALJ.
(R. 37). She has a high school education, but does not
possess a diploma, and has past work experience in the fast
food industry and performing general labor in a warehouse.
(R. 25, 39, 198). She alleged in her disability report that
she had been unable to work since October 20, 2010, due to
degenerative disc disease and curvature of the spine. (R.
197). She was insured for Social Security disability
insurance benefits through December 31, 2014. (R. 21).
administrative hearing, Wilder testified that she was unable
to work during the relevant period due to spinal scoliosis
and degenerative disc disease. She further testified that she
experiences shooting pain in her leg, back and arm. (R. 41).
found that Wilder had severe impairments of degenerative disc
disease, mild scoliosis, and degenerative joint disease. (R.
21). The ALJ further found that Wilder's impairments did
not meet or medically equally any listed impairments. (R.
24). The ALJ found that Wilder had the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform light, unskilled work
with the following restrictions: no climbing; no work at
unprotected heights; no more than occasional stooping
crouching, or crawling; no more than frequent handling
bilaterally; and no more than frequent interaction with
co-workers, supervisors, or the general public. (R. 25).
on the testimony of the vocational expert, the ALJ found that
Wilder could not perform her past relevant work. (R. 27-28).
He further found, however, that Wilder was capable of
performing a number of other jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy, including marker,
inspector/hand packager, and office helper. (R. 28-29). The
ALJ concluded that Wilder was not under a disability at any
time from her alleged onset date of May 16, 2012, through the
date of the decision. (R. 29).