United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION
Scott Coogler, United States District Judge.
plaintiff, Deborah Silvestro, appeals from the decision of
the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying her application for a
period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”). Ms. Silvestro timely pursued and
exhausted her administrative remedies, and the decision of
the Commissioner is ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).
Silvestro was fifty-four years old at the time of the
Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ's”)
decision, and she has an eleventh grade education. (Tr. at
35-37.) Her past work experiences include employment as a
sock folder, restaurant manager, and fast-food cook.
(Id.) Ms. Silvestro claims that she became disabled
on May 31, 2013, due to osteoarthritis, carpal tunnel
syndrome, hypothyroidism, thoracic outlet syndrome, irritable
bowel syndrome (“IBS”), obesity, and diabetes.
(Tr. at 15.)
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 Ms.
Silvestro meets the nondisability requirements for a period
of disability and DIB was insured through the date of his
decision. (Tr. at 15.) He further determined that Ms.
Silvestro has not engaged in SGA since the alleged onset of
her disability. (Id.) According to the ALJ,
Plaintiff's osteoarthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome,
hypothyroidism, history of thoracic outlet syndrome, IBS,
obesity, and diabetes are considered “severe”
based on the requirements set forth in the regulations.
(Id.) However, he found that these impairments
neither meet nor medically equal the severity of any of the
listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix
1. (Tr. at 18.) The ALJ did not find Ms. Silvestro's
allegations to be totally credible, and he determined that
she has the following RFC: light work as defined by 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1567(b) except that she is limited to unskilled
work with no climbing of ropes, ladders, or scaffolds; no
work at unprotected heights or with hazardous machinery; no
more than concentrated exposure to extreme heat or cold;
reasonable access to restroom facilities at the usual and
customary breaks (reasonably defined as on the premises); and
no more than frequent contact with co-workers, supervisors,
and the general public. (Tr. at 19.)
to the ALJ, Ms. Silvestro is unable to perform any of her
past relevant work, she is “closely approaching
advanced age, ” and she has a “high school
education, ” as those terms are defined by the
regulations. (Tr. at 25.) Because Plaintiff is limited in her
ability to perform the full range of light work, the ALJ
enlisted a vocational expert (“VE”) and used the
Medical-Vocational Rules as a guideline for finding that
there are a significant number of jobs in the national
economy that she is capable of performing, such as
“Cashier 2, ” parking lot attendant, and toll
collector. (Id.) The ALJ concluded his findings by
stating that Plaintiff “has not been under a
‘disability, ' as defined in the Social Security
Act, from May 31, 2013, through the date of this
decision.” (Tr. at 26.)
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 ...