United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Southern Division
WALLACE CAPEL, JR. CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Joy Kidd (“Plaintiff”) filed an application for
disability and disability insurance benefits under Title II
of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1381, et
seq., on June 13, 2013. Her application was denied at
the initial administrative level on October 3, 2013.
Plaintiff then requested and received a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). At that
hearing, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the residual
functional capacity to perform the full range of sedentary
work, and that Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as
defined by the Social Security Act, from the alleged onset
date through the date of the decision. Plaintiff appealed the
decision to the Appeals Council, but was denied review on
July 2, 2016. The ALJ's decision consequently became the
final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”). See Chester v. Bowen,
792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986). The case is now before
the court for review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Pursuant
to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), both parties have consented to
the conduct of all proceedings and entry of a final judgment
by the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. Pl.'s
Consent to Jurisdiction (Doc. 8); Def.'s Consent to
Jurisdiction (Docs. 7, 9). Based on the court's review of
the record and the briefs of the parties, the court REVERSES
and REMANDS the Commissioner's decision.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A), a person is entitled to
benefits when the person is unable 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
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).
this determination, the Commissioner employs a five-step,
sequential evaluation process. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520, 416.920 (2011).
(1) Is the person presently unemployed?
(2) Is the person's impairment severe?
(3) Does the person's impairment meet or equal one of the
specific impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt.
P, App. 1 [the Listing of Impairments]?
(4) Is the person unable to perform his or her former
(5) Is the person unable to perform any other work within the
economy? An affirmative answer to any of the above questions
leads either to the next question, or, on steps three and
five, to a finding of disability. A negative answer to any
question, other than step three, leads to a determination of
McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir.
burden of proof rests on a claimant through Step Four.
See Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1237-39
(11th Cir. 2004). A claimant establishes a prima
facie case of qualifying disability once they have
carried the burden of proof from Step One through Step Four.
At Step Five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner, who must
then show there are a significant number of jobs in the
national economy the claimant can perform. Id.
perform the fourth and fifth steps, the ALJ must determine
the claimant's Residual Functional Capacity
(“RFC”). Id. at 1238-39. The RFC is what
the claimant is still able to do despite the claimant's
impairments and is based on all relevant medical and other
evidence. Id. It may contain both exertional and
nonexertional limitations. Id. at 1242-43. At the
fifth step, the ALJ considers the claimant's RFC, age,
education, and work experience to determine if there are jobs
available in the national economy the claimant can perform.
Id. at 1239. To do this, the ALJ can either use the
Medical Vocational Guidelines (“grids”) or call a
vocational expert (“VE”). Id. at
grids allow the ALJ to consider factors such as age,
confinement to sedentary or light work, inability to speak
English, educational deficiencies, and lack of job
experience. Each factor can independently limit the number of
jobs realistically available to an individual.
Phillips, 357 F.3d at 1240. Combinations of these
factors yield a statutorily-required finding of
“Disabled” or “Not Disabled.”
court's review of the Commissioner's decision is a
limited one. This court must find the Commissioner's
decision conclusive if it is supported by substantial
evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Graham v. Apfel,
129 F.3d 1420, 1422 (11th Cir. 1997). “Substantial
evidence is more than a scintilla, but less than a
preponderance. It is such relevant evidence as a reasonable
person would accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 401 (1971); see also Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004) (“Even
if the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's
findings, [a reviewing court] must affirm if the decision
reached is supported by substantial evidence.”). A
reviewing court may not look only to those parts of the
record which support the decision of the ALJ, but instead
must view the record in its entirety and take account of
evidence which detracts from the evidence relied on by the
ALJ. Hillsman v. Bowen, 804 F.2d 1179 (11th Cir.
[The court must] . . . scrutinize the record in its entirety
to determine the reasonableness of the [Commissioner's] .
. . factual findings. . . . No similar presumption of
validity attaches to the [Commissioner's] . . . legal
conclusions, including determination of the proper standards
to be applied in evaluating claims.
Walker v. Bowen, 826 F.2d 996, 999 (11th Cir. 1987).
was thirty-five years old at the time of the hearing, and had
completed tenth grade. Tr. 46. Following an administrative
hearing, and employing the five-step process, the ALJ found
at Step One that Plaintiff “has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since February 10, 2012, the
alleged onset date[.]” Tr. 24. At Step Two, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff suffers from the following severe
impairments: “herpes simplex type II meningitis and
migraines[.]” Tr. 24. At Step Three, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff “does not have an impairment or combination
of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
one of the listed impairments[.]” Tr. 27. Next, the ALJ
articulated Plaintiff's RFC as follows: “[T]he
claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform the
full range of sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR
404.1567(a).” Tr. 27. Having consulted with a VE at the
h earing, the A LJ concluded at Step Four that Plaintiff
“is unable to perform any past relevant work[.]”
Tr. 30. The ALJ, noting that Plaintiff was considered a
“younger individual” on the alleged disability
date with “limited” education, concluded that the
“[t]ransferability of job skills [was] not material to
the determination of disability because applying the
Medical-Vocational Rules directly supports a finding of
‘not disabled, ' whether or not the claimant has
transferable job skills[.]” Tr. 30. Finally, at Step
Five, and based upon the testimony of the VE, the ALJ
determined that “[c]onsidering the claimant's age,
education, work experience, and residual functional capacity,
there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the
national economy that the claimant can perform[.]” Tr.
30. The ALJ did not list other jobs that Plaintiff could
perform, but instead concluded that Plaintiff was not
disabled based upon Medical-Vocational Rule 201.25. Tr.
30-31. Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff
“has not been under a disability . . . from February
10, 2012, through the date of this decision[.]” Tr. 31.
presents two arguments on appeal. First, Plaintiff argues
“[t]he ALJ failed to provide adequate weight to the
opinions of [Plaintiff's] treating physician[.]”
Doc. 13 at 5-8. Second, Plaintiff argues “the ALJ
failed to find [Plaintiff's] depression and anxiety as
severe impairments[.]” Id. at 8-11.
undersigned turns first to address whether the ALJ provided
adequate weight to the opinions of ...