United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
BLAKE R. GRIFFIN, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
CORRECTED MEMORANDUM OPINION
MICHAEL PUTNAM, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
plaintiff, Blake R. Griffin, appeals from the decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying his application for a
period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”). Mr. Griffin timely pursued and exhausted
his 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 exercise of dispositive jurisdiction by a magistrate
judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Doc. 8).
Accordingly, the court issues the following memorandum
Griffin was 47 years old on the date of the ALJ's
opinion. (Tr. at 31, 158). He obtained his GED after
attending high school through the 10th grade. (Tr. 58). After
obtaining his GED, he completed one semester of training at a
technical college to become a machinist and one semester of
training in production at another technical college.
Id. His past work experience includes employment in
labor jobs, such as tire store sales/service, vending route
sales, truck driver, back hoe operator, and building
maintenance. (Tr. at 59-66). Mr. Griffin claims that he
became disabled on May 8, 2013, due to depression and
anxiety, attention deficit disorder (“ADD”),
total left knee replacement, arthritis, and “right knee
no cartilage [sic].” (Tr. at 90).
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 is, the claimant
is not disabled and the evaluation stops. Id. If he
is not, the Commissioner next considers the effect of all of
the 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 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, 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, he will
be found disabled without further consideration. Id.
If they do not, a determination of the claimant's
residual functional capacity will be made and the analysis
proceeds to the fourth step. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(e), 416.920(e). Residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) is an assessment, based on all relevant
evidence, of a claimant's remaining ability to do work
despite his impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 404.945(a)(1).
fourth step requires a determination of whether the
claimant's impairments prevent him 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 his 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 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 is on the Commissioner to demonstrate that other jobs
exist which the claimant can perform; and, once that burden
is met, the claimant must prove his inability to perform
those jobs in order to be found disabled. Jones v.
Apfel, 190 F.3d 1224, 1228 (11th Cir. 1999).
the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that Mr.
Griffin meets the nondisability requirements for a period of
disability and DIB and was insured through December 31, 2018.
(Tr. at 20). He further determined that Mr. Griffin has not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged
onset of his disability. Id. According to the ALJ,
the plaintiff has the following impairments that are
considered “severe” based on the requirements set
forth in the regulations: degenerative joint disease of the
knees, arthritis of the back, obesity, depression, and
anxiety. Id. However, he 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 did not find Mr. Griffin's
allegations to be entirely credible (tr. at 23), and he
determined that he has the following residual functional
After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that
the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform
sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) with
occasional pushing and pulling with the lower extremities; no
climbing of ladders, ropes or scaffolds; occasional climbing
of ramps and stairs; occasional balancing, kneeling,
crouching, and stooping, but no crawling; no more than
occasional exposure to extreme heat and cold and vibration;
he should avoid all hazardous machinery and unprotected
heights; and no working requiring walking on uneven terrain.
During a regularly scheduled workday, or the equivalent
thereof, he can; (1) understand and remember short and simple
instructions, but is unable to do so with detailed or complex
instructions, (2) do simple, routine repetitive tasks, but is
unable to do so with detailed or complex tasks, (3) deal with
changes in work place, if introduced occasionally and
gradually and are well-explained, and (4) he may be expected
to miss one day of work per month due to his impairments.
(Tr. at 22).
to the ALJ, Mr. Griffin is unable to perform any of his past
relevant work, he is a “younger individual, ” and
he has “at least a high school education, ” as
those terms are defined by the regulations. (Tr. at 29). He
determined that “[t]ransferability of job skills is not
material to the determination of disability because using the
Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding
that the claimant is ‘not disabled, ' whether or
not he has transferable job skills.” (Tr. at 30). The
ALJ found that Mr. Griffin has the residual functional
capacity to perform sedentary “jobs that exist in
significant numbers in the national economy.” (Tr. at
30). Even though additional limitations impede
Plaintiff's “residual functional capacity to
perform the full range of sedentary work, ” the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff “would be able to perform the
requirements of representative sedentary, unskilled
occupations with an SVP of 2, such as . . . telephone
quotation clerk, . . . charge account clerk, . . . .and as a
dowel inspector.” 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
8, 2013, through the date of this decision.”
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). 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. Federal 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).
court must keep in mind that opinions such as whether a
claimant is disabled, the nature and extent of a
claimant's residual functional capacity, and the
application of vocational factors “are not medical
opinions, . . . but are, instead, opinions on issues reserved
to the commissioner because they are administrative findings
that are dispositive of a case; i.e., that would direct the
determination or decision of disability.” 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1527(e), 416.927(d). Whether the plaintiff
meets the listing and is qualified for Social Security
disability benefits is a question reserved for the ALJ, and
the court “may not decide 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). Thus, even if the court were to
disagree with the ALJ about the significance of certain
facts, the court has no power to reverse that finding as long
as there is substantial evidence in the record supporting it.
Griffin alleges that the ALJ and the Appeals Council erred in
finding that he was not disabled because substantial evidence
of his disability was presented. Specifically, Mr. Griffin
argues that the ALJ's decision should be reversed and
remanded for two reasons. First, he believes that the ALJ
failed to give substantial or considerable weight to the
Residual Functional Capacity Assessment
(“Assessment”) prepared by Dr. Elizabeth
Stevenson when the ALJ found that the plaintiff was
capable of performing sedentary work. (Doc. 13 at pp. 7-9).
Second, the plaintiff contends that, when considered in light
of the new evidence submitted to the Appeals Council, the ALJ
erred in finding that the plaintiff's degenerative joint
disease of the knee did not meet or medically equal the
severity of the impairment in Listing 1.02A. (Doc. 13 at pp.
Dr. Stevenson's Residual Functional ...