United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
E. Ott Chief United States Magistrate Judge
Rachel Danielle Arth brings this action seeking judicial
review of a final adverse decision of the Acting Commissioner
of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying her applications for
supplemental security income, a period of disability, and
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 exercise of final jurisdiction
by the magistrate judge under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Doc.
13). Upon review of the record and the relevant law, the
undersigned finds that the Commissioner's decision is due
to be affirmed.
25, 2012, Arth filed an application for supplemental security
income. (R. 69). On July 20, 2012, she filed an application
for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits.
(Doc. 70). In both applications, Arth alleged disability
beginning January 1, 2004. (R. 69-70). Following the initial
denial of her applications, Arth requested a hearing before
an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (R. 68). The
hearing was held on July 31, 2014. (R. 23-56). Arth, her
counsel, and a vocational expert attended the hearing. (R.
23). The ALJ issued a decision on August 29, 2014, finding
that Arth was not entitled to benefits. (R. 10-18). The
Appeals Council denied Herndon's request for review. (R.
1-5) Arth then filed this action for judicial review under 42
U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).
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 and supplemental
security income 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. § 1382c(a)(3)(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); 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(D).
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 is disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act. Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211
(11th Cir. 2005). The regulations “place a very heavy
burden on the claimant to demonstrate both a qualifying
disability and an inability to perform past relevant
FINDINGS OF THE ALJ
was 30 years old at the time of her hearing before the ALJ.
(R. 29). She has a high school education and past work as a
server and cashier. (R. 31, 50). She alleged in her
disability report that she had been unable to work since
January 1, 2004, due to bipolar disorder,
obsessive-compulsive disorder, and “Perthes
disease” of the legs and hips. (R. 186, 191, 213). She
was last insured for Social Security disability insurance
benefits through June 30, 2004. (R. 213).
found that Arth has the following severe impairments: bipolar
disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD),
insomnia, and polysubstance drug abuse in
remission. (R. 12). The ALJ further found that
Arth's impairments, individually and in combination, did
not meet or medically equal any listed impairment. (R. 13).
Considering all of Arth's symptoms, the ALJ found that
Arth retained the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform medium work with the following
restrictions: she can never climb ladders and scaffolds; she
should never be exposed to unprotected heights, dangerous
tools, dangerous machinery, or hazardous processes; she
should never operate commercial vehicles; she can be exposed
to occasional vibrations and moderate noise levels in the
workplace; she should be limited to simple, repetitive tasks;
she cannot maintain a production rate pace that would be
expected of assembly line work, but can perform other
goal-oriented work; she should be limited to simple,
work-related decisions; she can tolerate occasional exposure
to supervisors and co-workers, but should not have
interaction with the general public; she can accept
constructive, non-confrontational criticism; she can work in
small group settings; she can accept changes in the workplace
if introduced gradually and infrequently; and she would be
off-task approximately five percent of the regular eight-hour
workday (non-consecutive minutes). (R. 14).
on the testimony of the vocational expert, the ALJ found that
Arth is unable to perform her past relevant work. (R. 16,
52). He further found, however, that Arth is capable of
performing other jobs that exist in significant numbers in
the national economy, including night cleaner, merchandise
price marker, and salvage laborer. (R. 17, 53-54). The ALJ