United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Eastern Division
G. CORNELIUS, U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
plaintiff, Retha Robertson, appeals from the decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying her application for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). (Doc. 1).
Ms. Robertson 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).
The parties have consented to magistrate judge jurisdiction
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Doc. 14). For the
reasons that follow, the Commissioner's decision is due
to be affirmed.
FACTS, FRAMEWORK, AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Robertson was fifty-three years old at the time of the
Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ's”)
decision; she has an eighth grade education. (R. 39-40). Ms.
Robertson's past work experience includes employment as a
sorter, utility assembler, headlight assembler, off
bearing/inspector, cashier, CNA, feeder, film developer, fast
food worker, photographer at a portrait studio, and
creeler. (R. 28). Ms. Robertson claims she became
disabled on June 9, 2012, due to back problems, right leg
problems, COPD, congestive heart failure, emphysema,
depression, left shoulder problems, and panic attacks. (R.
171). Ms. Robertson applied for DIB benefits on June 20,
2012. (R. 10). After holding a hearing, the ALJ denied Ms.
Robertson's claim on August 21, 2014. (R. 29). Ms.
Robertson timely appealed to this court.
evaluating the disability of individuals over the age of
eighteen, the regulations prescribe a five-step sequential
evaluation process. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520, 416.920; Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274,
1278 (11th Cir. 2001). The first step requires a
determination of whether the claimant is performing
substantial gainful activity ("SGA"). 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i). If the claimant is engaged in
substantial gainful activity, he or she is not disabled and
the evaluation stops. Id. If the claimant is not
engaged in substantial gainful activity, the Commissioner
proceeds to consider the combined effects of all the
claimant's physical and mental impairments. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). These
impairments must be severe and must meet durational
requirements before a claimant will be found disabled.
Id. The decision depends on the medical evidence in
the record. See Hart v. Finch, 440 F.2d 1340, 1341
(5th Cir. 1971). If the claimant's impairments are not
severe, the analysis stops. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). Otherwise, the
analysis continues to step three, at which the Commissioner
determines whether the claimant's impairments meet the
severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the impairments
fall within this category, the claimant will be found
disabled without further consideration. Id. If the
impairments do not fall within the listings, the Commissioner
determines the claimant's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”). 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e),
four the Commissioner determines whether the impairments
prevent the claimant from returning to past relevant work. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If
the claimant is capable of performing past relevant work, he
or she is not disabled, and the evaluation stops.
Id. If the claimant cannot perform past relevant
work, the analysis proceeds to the fifth step, at which the
Commissioner considers the claimant's RFC, as well as the
claimant's age, education, and past work experience, to
determine whether he or she can perform other work.
Id.; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v),
416.920(a)(4)(v). If the claimant can do other work, he or
she is not disabled. Id.
the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found Ms.
Robertson had not engaged in SGA since the alleged onset of
her disability. (R. 13). At step two, the ALJ found Ms.
Robertson suffered from the following severe impairments:
minimal coronary artery disease, depression, anxiety,
bilateral sacroiliitis, lumbar radiculopathy, and chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease ("COPD").
three, the ALJ found Ms. Robertson did not have an impairment
or combination of impairments meeting or medically equaling
any of the listed impairments. (R. 21). Before proceeding to
step four, the ALJ determined Ms. Robertson had the RFC to
perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR §§
404.1567(c) with the following limitations: (1) a
temperature-controlled work environment; (2) no climbing; (3)
occasional stooping and crouching; (4) no driving; and (5) no
right leg pushing and/or pulling. (R. 24). The ALJ determined
Ms. Robertson was capable of simple, repetitive, non-complex
the hearing, the ALJ took testimony from a vocational expert
(“VE”), who testified that Ms. Robertson retained
the capacity to perform all past relevant, unskilled work.
(R. 28). The ALJ found the VE's testimony to be credible
and, at step four, determined Ms. Robertson was capable of
performing past relevant work as a sorter, assembler,
cashier, and utility assembler. (Id.). The ALJ
concluded his decision by finding Ms. Robertson was not
disabled. (R. 29).
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)). A 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).
a 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 a
court finds that the proof preponderates against the
Commissioner's decision, it must affirm if the decision
is supported by substantial evidence. Miles, 84 F.3d
at 1400 (citing Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520,
1529 (11th Cir. 1990)).
no decision is automatic, for “despite th[e]
deferential standard [for review of claims], it is imperative
that th[is] Court scrutinize the record in its entirety to
determine the reasonableness of the decision reached.”
Bridges v. Bowen, 815 F.2d 622, 624 (11th Cir. 1987)
(citing Arnold v. Heckler, 732 F.2d 881, 883 (11th
Cir. 1984)). Moreover, failure to apply the correct legal
standards is grounds for reversal. See Bowen v.
Heckler, 748 F.2d 629, 635 (11th Cir. 1984).