United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Jasper Division
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION
Scott Coogler United States District Judge.
plaintiff, Robert Maclaren, appeals from the decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying his application for
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) and
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). Mr.
Maclaren timely pursued and exhausted his administrative
remedies and the decision of the Commissioner is ripe for
review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).
Maclaren was forty-three years old at the time of the
Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ's”)
decision, and he has an eleventh grade education and a GED.
(Tr. at 50.) His past work experiences include employment as
chiller operator, poultry hanger, metal hanger in the
manufactured home industry, over the road truck driver,
window installer in the manufactured building industry,
cabinet and trim installer in manufactured buildings,
electronics technician in the military, table saw operator,
pizza baker, and manager trainee in a restaurant. (Tr. at
51-53.) Mr. Maclaren claims that he became disabled on August
16, 2013, due to neck and back injury and arthritis. (Tr. at
Social Security Administration has established a five-step
sequential evaluation process for determining whether an
individual is disabled and thus eligible for DIB or SSI.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920;
see also Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th
Cir. 2001). The evaluator will follow the steps in order
until making a finding of either disabled or not disabled; if
no finding is made, the analysis will proceed to the next
step. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4),
416.920(a)(4). The first step requires the evaluator to
determine whether the plaintiff is engaged in substantial
gainful activity (“SGA”). See Id.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). If the
plaintiff is not engaged in SGA, the evaluator moves on to
the next step.
second step requires the evaluator to consider the combined
severity of the plaintiff's medically determinable
physical and mental impairments. See Id.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). An
individual impairment or combination of impairments that is
not classified as “severe” and does not satisfy
the durational requirements set forth in 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1509 and 416.909 will result in a finding of
not disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). The decision depends
on the medical evidence contained in the record. See Hart
v. Finch, 440 F.2d 1340, 1341 (5th Cir. 1971)
(concluding that “substantial medical evidence in the
record” adequately supported the finding that plaintiff
was not disabled).
the third step requires the evaluator to consider whether the
plaintiff's impairment or combination of impairments
meets or is medically equal to the criteria of an impairment
listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii),
416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the criteria of a listed impairment
and the durational requirements set forth in 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1509 and 416.909 are satisfied, the
evaluator will make a finding of disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii).
plaintiff's impairment or combination of impairments does
not meet or medically equal a listed impairment, the
evaluator must determine the plaintiff's residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) before proceeding to
the fourth step. See Id. §§ 404.1520(e),
416.920(e). The fourth step requires the evaluator to
determine whether the plaintiff has the RFC to perform the
requirements of his past relevant work. See Id.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the
plaintiff's impairment or combination of impairments does
not prevent him from performing his past relevant work, the
evaluator will make a finding of not disabled. See
fifth and final step requires the evaluator to consider the
plaintiff's RFC, age, education, and work experience in
order to determine whether the plaintiff can make an
adjustment to other work. See Id. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v). If the plaintiff can
perform other work, the evaluator will find him not disabled.
Id.; see also 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(g), 416.920(g). If the plaintiff cannot perform
other work, the evaluator will find him disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 404.1520(g),
the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that Mr.
Maclaren meets the non-disability requirements for a period
of disability and DIB and was insured through the date of his
decision. (Tr. at 31.) He further determined that Mr.
Maclaren has not engaged in SGA since the alleged onset of
his disability. (Id.) According to the ALJ,
Plaintiff's degenerative disc disease of the cervical
spine with chronic cervicalgia; degenerative disc disease of
the lumbar spine with chronic lumbago; and degenerative joint
disease of the right shoulder are considered
“severe” based on the requirements set forth in
the regulations. (Id.) However, the judge found that
these impairments neither meet nor are the medical equivalent
of any of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. at 32.) The ALJ then determined
that the plaintiff has the RFC to perform sedentary work with
significant postural and environmental restrictions; he can
occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, or crouch; he can
occasionally climb ramps and stairs; however, he is precluded
from climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; he is precluded
from doing work that involves crawling, unprotected heights,
and concentrated exposure to extreme heat and cold; he is
limited to only occasional reaching/lifting with his
non-dominant right upper extremity. (Tr. at 33.)
to the ALJ, Mr. Maclaren is unable to perform any of his past
relevant work. (Tr. at 36.) He is a “younger
individual” and “has at least a high school
education” as those terms are defined by the
regulations. (Id.) Because Plaintiff cannot perform
the full range of sedentary work, the ALJ enlisted a
vocational expert (“VE”) and used
Medical-Vocational Rule 201.28 as a guideline for finding
that there are a significant number of jobs in the national
economy that he is capable of performing, such as a spotter
table worker, a check weigher, and a non-production
assembler. (Tr. at 37.) The ALJ concluded his findings by
stating that Plaintiff “was not under a
‘disability, ' as defined in the Social Security
Act, at any time through the date of this decision.”
Standard of Review
Court's role in reviewing claims brought under the Social
Security Act is a narrow one. The scope of its review is
limited to determining (1) whether there is substantial
evidence in the record as a whole to support the findings of
the Commissioner, and (2) whether the correct legal standards
were applied. See Stone v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.,
544 F. App'x 839, 841 (11th Cir. 2013) (citing
Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155,
1158 (11th Cir. 2004)). This Court gives deference to the
factual findings of the Commissioner, provided those findings
are supported by substantial evidence, but applies close
scrutiny to the legal conclusions. See Miles v.
Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996).
this Court may not decide facts, weigh evidence, or
substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner.
Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir.
2005) (quoting Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232,
1240 n.8 (11th Cir. 2004)). “The substantial evidence
standard permits administrative decision makers to act with
considerable latitude, and ‘the possibility of drawing
two inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does not
prevent an administrative agency's finding from being
supported by substantial evidence.'” Parker v.
Bowen, 793 F.2d 1177, 1181 (11th Cir. 1986) (Gibson, J.,
dissenting) (quoting Consolo v. Fed. Mar.
Comm'n, 383 U.S. 607, 620 (1966)). Indeed, even if
this Court finds that the proof preponderates ...