United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
MICHAEL PUTNAM, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
plaintiff, Josie Ann McQuiston, appeals from the decision of
the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying her application for
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and
supplemental security income (“SSI”). She alleged
disability with an onset date of September 1, 2009, but later
requested a closed period of disability from May 17, 2011,
until August 5, 2014. Ms. McQuiston 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 the full dispositive jurisdiction of the undersigned
magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 626(c).
McQuiston was 39 years old at the time of the Administrative
Law Judge's (“ALJ”) decision, and she has an
eighth-grade education, which included special education
classes for math and reading. (Tr. at 39-40). Her past work
experience was as a cleaner and as an employee in a fast-food
restaurant. (Tr. at 20). Ms. McQuiston claims that she was
disabled from May 17, 2011, until August 5, 2014, because of
recurrent staphylococcus (“staph”) infections.
(Tr. at 33).The medical evidence submitted to the ALJ
indicates that Ms. McQuiston received treatment for her staph
infections, which plaintiff describes as “Rare
Staphylococcus Aureus that is oxacillin resistant.”
(Doc. 13, pp. 1-2).
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; see also Doughty v. Apfel, 245
F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001). The first step requires a
determination of whether the claimant is “doing
substantial gainful activity.” 20 C.F.R. ''
404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). If he or she is, the
claimant is not disabled and the evaluation stops.
Id. If she is not, the Commissioner next considers
the effect of all of the claimant's physical and mental
impairments combined. 20 C.F.R. ''
404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). These impairments must
be severe and must meet the durational requirements before a
claimant will be found to be disabled. Id. The
decision depends upon 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, which is a determination of whether the claimant's
impairments meet or equal 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 claimant's impairments fall within this category,
she will be found disabled without further consideration.
Id. If they do not, a determination of the
claimant's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) will be made, and the analysis proceeds
to the fourth step. 20 C.F.R. '' 404.1520(e),
416.920(e). Residual functional capacity is an assessment,
based on all relevant evidence, of a claimant's remaining
ability to do work despite her impairments. 20 C.F.R. '
fourth step requires a determination of whether the
claimant's impairments prevent her from returning to past
relevant work. 20 C.F.R. '' 404.1520(a)(4)(iv),
416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant can still do her past
relevant work, the claimant is not disabled and the
evaluation stops. Id. If the claimant cannot do past
relevant work, then the analysis proceeds to the fifth step.
Id. Step five requires the court to consider the
claimant's RFC, as well as the claimant's age,
education, and past work experience, in order to determine if
he or she can do other work. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v). If the claimant can do
other work, the claimant is not disabled. Id. The
burden of demonstrating that other jobs exist which the
claimant can perform is on the Commissioner; and, once that
burden is met, the claimant must prove her inability to
perform those jobs in order to be found to be disabled.
Jones v. Apfel, 190 F.3d 1224, 1228 (11th Cir.
the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that Ms.
McQuiston has not been under a disability within the meaning
of the Social Security Act from the date of onset through the
date of her decision. (Tr. at 22-23). She first determined
that Ms. McQuiston met the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through March 31, 2014. (Tr. at 14). She
next found that she has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since September 1, 2009, the alleged onset date.
Id. According to the ALJ, the plaintiff's
recurring staph infection and anxiety are considered
“severe” based on the requirements set forth in
the regulations. (Tr. at 15). However, she found that these
impairments neither meet nor medically equal any of the
listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix
1. Id. The ALJ determined that Ms. McQuiston's
statements concerning the intensity, persistence, and
limiting effects of her symptoms were “not entirely
credible” (Tr. at 20), and she determined that the
plaintiff has the ability to perform a range of light,
unskilled work, but that she should not work in the food
industry or the medical field because of the possibility of
transmitting the infection, and because of the risk of
causing her drug dependence to recur. (Tr. at 19).
on to the fourth step of the analysis, the ALJ concluded that
Ms. McQuiston is unable to perform her past relevant work as
a fast food worker (Tr. at 20). The ALJ considered the
testimony of a vocational expert (“VE”), and
determined that, considering the claimant's age,
education, work experience, and RFC, there are jobs that
exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the
claimant can perform, including work as a garment sorter, a
ticket marker, and a product assembler. (Tr. at 21). The ALJ
concluded her findings by stating that Plaintiff is not
disabled under Section 1520(f) of the Social Security Act.
(Tr. at 22).
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 Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 390, 401 (1971); Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d
1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is
“more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as
a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Crawford v. Commissioner of Soc.
Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004), quoting
Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1439-40 (11th Cir.
1997). The court approaches the factual findings of the
Commissioner with deference, but applies close scrutiny to
the legal conclusions. See Miles v. Chater, 84 F.3d
1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996). The court may not decide facts,
weigh evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the
Commissioner. Id. “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 evidence preponderates against the
Commissioner's decision, the Court must affirm if the
decision is supported by substantial evidence.
Miles, 84 F.3d at 1400. No decision is automatic,
however, for “despite this deferential standard [for
review of claims] it is imperative that the 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). Moreover, failure to apply
the correct legal standards is grounds for reversal. See
Bowen v. Heckler, 748 F.2d 629, 635 (11th Cir. 1984).
McQuiston alleges that the ALJ's decision should be
reversed and remanded because the ALJ improperly failed to
credit the plaintiff's testimony regarding her pain
during active staph infections, and failed to consider her
request for a closed period of disability. (Doc. 13). The
Commissioner has responded that the ALJ's decision is
based on substantial evidence and is due to be affirmed.
discussion of the plaintiff's medical history is
necessary in order to put the ALJ's decision into
context. Ms. McQuiston asserts that she contracted the staph
infection during her first incarceration in
2007. After her release from prison in 2009, she
first sought treatment for the staph infection at the
emergency room of Huntsville Hospital on February 8, 2011,
complaining of a burning arm pain that had begun four days
earlier. She was noted to have a “small abscess size of
dime under right armpit” [sic] with no fever. (Tr. at
583). The abscess was incised and drained, and covered with a
band-aid. She was then discharged with antibiotics and pain
medication, and she was warned to watch for signs of
infection. (Tr. at 584).
next treatment for a staph infection was May 14, 2011, which
coincides with her onset date for the closed period of
disability at issue here. Ms. McQuiston went to Huntsville
Hospital ER and was assessed with a minor abscess on her
abdomen that had been present for two days. She reported that
her pain was at a level of 10 on a scale of 1 to 10. The
doctor preformed an incision and drainage, and Ms. McQuiston
was discharged with pain medication. (Tr. at 477-84). She
returned on May 17, 2011, complaining that the pain ...