United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION 
STACI G. CORNELIUS, U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
plaintiff seeks review of the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security denying her application for a
period of disability and disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”). (Doc. 1). The plaintiff timely pursued
and exhausted her administrative remedies, and the case is
therefore ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
FACTS, FRAMEWORK, AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
time she applied for benefits, December 7, 2012 (R. 99), the
plaintiff was fifty-one years old (R. 54). She is a high
school graduate with past relevant work as a unit clerk and a
receptionist. (R. 47, 170). She claimed a disability onset
date of March 13, 2012, due to epilepsy, spondylolisthesis,
memory loss, cognitive loss, sleep apnea, and depression. (R.
169-70). After the Social Security Administration
(“SSA”) denied her application (R. 68), the
plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”), which was held on October 28,
2014. (R. 34). After the hearing, the ALJ found the plaintiff
did not have an impairment or a combination of impairments
listed in, or medically equivalent to, one listed in the
Listings of Impairments. (R. 20). The ALJ further found the
plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity to
perform sedentary work (R. 21) and that she could return to
her past relevant work as a receptionist. (R. 25). In light
of these findings, the ALJ denied the plaintiff's request
for a period of disability and DIB on January 9, 2015.
plaintiff requested the Appeals Council review the ALJ's
decision (R. 2), which the Appeals Council denied. (R. 3).
Therefore, the ALJ's decision is the final decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security. (Id.) The
plaintiff then filed the appeal in this court on April 25,
2016, seeking reversal and remand of the Commissioner's
decision. (Doc. 1; Doc. 13 at 12).
regulations require the Commissioner to follow a five-step
sequential evaluation to determine whether a claimant is
eligible for a period of disability and DIB. See 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(1)-(2). First, the Commissioner
must determine whether the claimant is engaged in
“substantial gainful activity.” Bowen v.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). If the claimant is
engaged in substantial gainful activity, the Commissioner
will find that the claimant is not disabled, regardless of
the claimant's medical condition or her age, education,
and work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). If the
claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the
Commissioner must next determine whether the claimant suffers
from a severe impairment or combination of impairments that
significantly limit the claimant's physical or mental
ability to do basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(ii), (c). The burden is on the claimant to
“provide medical evidence showing ...
impairment(s)” and the severity of them during the time
the claimant alleges disability. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1512(c). An impairment is “severe” if it
“significantly limits [a] claimant's physical or
mental ability to do basic work activities.”
Crayton v. Callahan, 120 F.3d 1217, 1219 (11th Cir.
1997). “An impairment can be considered as not severe
only if it is a slight abnormality which has such a minimal
effect on the individual that it would not be expected to
interfere with the individual's ability to work,
irrespective of age, education, or work experience.”
Brady v. Heckler, 724 F.2d 914, 920 (11th Cir.
claimant has a severe impairment, the Commissioner must then
determine whether the claimant's impairment meets the
duration requirement and whether it is equivalent to any one
of the listed impairments. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(iii), (d)-(e); § 404.1525; §
404.1526. Listed impairments are so severe that they prevent
an individual from performing substantial gainful activity.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d); see 20 C.F.R. pt. 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1 (The Listings). If the claimant's
impairment meets or equals a Listing, the Commissioner must
find the claimant disabled, regardless of the claimant's
age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(d). If the impairment does not meet or equal the
criteria of any Listing, the claimant must prove that her
impairment prevents her from performing her past relevant
work. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), (f).
four, the Commissioner “will first compare [the
Commission's] assessment of [the claimant's] residual
functional capacity [“RFC”] with the physical and
mental demands of [the claimant's] past relevant work. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1560(b). If the claimant is capable of
performing her past relevant work, the Commissioner will find
she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1560(b)(3). If the
claimant establishes that she is unable to perform her past
relevant work, the Commissioner must show that the
claimant-in light of her RFC, age, education, and work
experience-is capable of performing other work that exists in
substantial numbers in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1560(c)(1). If the claimant is not capable of performing
such other work, the Commissioner must find the claimant is
disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g).
these steps, the ALJ determined the plaintiff had not engaged
in substantial gainful employment since her alleged onset
date. (R. 18). At step two, the ALJ considered only the
plaintiff's degenerative disc disease to be a severe
impairment, finding the plaintiff's seizure disorder,
obstructive sleep apnea, obesity, and depression to be
non-severe because they did not significantly affect the
plaintiff's ability to do work. (R. 18-19). Next, the ALJ
found the plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination
of impairments that met or medically equaled any Listing. (R.
20). The ALJ determined the plaintiff had the RFC to perform
sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a),
including the ability to carry and lift up to ten pounds;
stand and/or walk four of eight hours; never climb ladders,
ropes or scaffolds; occasionally balance, stoop, crouch,
kneel, and crawl; occasionally push and pull with her legs;
avoid concentrated exposure to temperature extremes and
vibrations; and avoid dangerous machinery, unprotected
heights, and large bodies of water. (R. 21). At step four,
considering this RFC, the ALJ determined the plaintiff court
return to her past relevant work as a receptionist. (R. 25).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
reviewing claims brought under the Social Security Act, this
court is limited to an inquiry into whether substantial
evidence exists to support the findings of the Commissioner
and whether the correct legal standards were applied.
Stone v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 544 Fed. App'x
839, 841 (11th Cir. 2013) (citing Crawford v. Comm'r
of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004)). The
court gives deference to the factual findings of the
Commissioner but reviews questions of law de novo.
Ingram v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 496 F.3d 1253,
1260 (11th Cir. 2007). The court “may not decide the
facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its]
judgment for that of the [Commissioner], ” Dyer v.
Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005), rather
it must “scrutinize the record as a whole to determine
if the decision reached is reasonable and supported by
substantial evidence.” Henry v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 802 F.3d 1264, 1267 (11th Cir. 2015). “The
Commissioner's factual findings are conclusive if
supported by substantial evidence.” Wilson v.
Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002).
“Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but
rather such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Moore
v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211 (11th Cir.2005).
plaintiff contends the ALJ failed to properly evaluate the
credibility of the plaintiff's complaints of back pain
consistent with the Eleventh Circuit pain standard and that
the ALJ failed to properly articulate good cause to accord
less than controlling weight to the opinion of the
plaintiff's treating physician. (Doc. 13 at 4, 9).
Failure to Apply the ...