United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MICHAEL D. BRIGGS, Plaintiff,
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, COMMISSIONER, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION 
G. CORNELIUS U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
plaintiff, Michael Briggs, appeals from the decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
("Commissioner") denying his application for
Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") and Disability
Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). (Doc. 1). Mr. Briggs
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). For the reasons
that follow, the Commissioner's decision is due to be
FACTS, FRAMEWORK, AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Briggs was fifty-five years old at the time of the
Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ's")
decision. (R. 27). He has a high school education and speaks
English. (Id.). His past relevant work experience
includes employment as a warehouse worker and a hospital
cleaner. (R. 26). These jobs are classified at the medium
exertional level. (Id.). Mr. Briggs actually
performed the position of warehouse worker at a medium level
but performed the duties of a hospital cleaner at a heavy
Briggs claims he became disabled on October 16, 2012, due to
diabetes and back pain. (R. 132, 165). Mr. Briggs applied for
SSI benefits on October 29, 2012. (R. 132). After holding a
hearing, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's application for SSI
on April 4, 2014. (R. 28). Mr. Briggs requested review by the
Appeals Council, arguing the ALJ's decision was made in
error. (R. 217-220). In his appeal, Plaintiff asked the
Appeals Council to consider his entitlement to DIB, as well.
(R. 218). The Appeals Council reviewed Plaintiff's claims
as to both DIB and SSI, adopted the ALJ's findings and
conclusions, and found Plaintiff was not disabled. (R. 4-6).
Plaintiff's appeal to this court seeks reversal of the
Commissioner's decision and an award of both SSI and DIB.
(Doc. 11 at 4-5, 10-11).
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 whether the claimant is performing SGA. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). If the claimant is engaged
in SGA, he or she is not disabled and the evaluation stops.
Id. If the claimant is not engaged in SGA, 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 Mr. Briggs
had not engaged in SGA during the relevant time period. (R.
23). At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff suffered from the
severe impairment of lumbar degenerative disc disease with
facet arthropathy. (Id.). The ALJ found Plaintiff
also suffered from the nonsevere impairments of diabetes and
hypertension. (R. 23-24). The ALJ noted Mr. Briggs was
diagnosed with arthritis by an ophthalmologist in October
2012, but concluded this impairment was not medically
determinable because the diagnosis was not supported by
objective tests or symptoms and appeared to be “based
solely on the claimant's subjective complaints.”
three, the ALJ found Mr. Briggs did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments meeting or medically equaling any
of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1. (R. 24). The ALJ specifically found
Plaintiff's condition did not meet Listing 1.04 for a
disorder of the spine because he did not have evidence of (1)
nerve root compression in a neuro-anatomic distribution with
motor, sensory, or reflex loss; (2) spinal arachnoiditis
confirmed by an operative note or pathology report; or (3)
lumbar spinal stenosis resulting in pseudoclaudication with
an inability to ambulate effectively, as defined in Listing
1.00(B)(2)(b). (R. 24). Before proceeding to step four, the
ALJ determined Plaintiff had the RFC to perform medium work
as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(c), except he was able
to “frequently balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl,
and climb ramps and stairs and may occasionally climb
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds.” (R. 24-26).
four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff was able to perform past
relevant work. (R. 26-28). Because Mr. Briggs's RFC did
not allow for the full range of sedentary work, the ALJ
relied on the testimony of a vocational expert
("VE") as evidence for finding a significant number
of jobs in the national economy Plaintiff can perform.
(Id.). The ALJ concluded by finding Plaintiff was
not disabled. (R. 28).
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 Fed.Appx. 839, 841 (11th Cir. 2013) (citing Crawford
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th
Cir. 2004)). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla,
but less than a preponderance. Bloodsworth v.
Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983). It is
such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as
adequate to support a conclusion. Martin v.
Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990) (citing
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)).
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). Nonetheless, 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 at
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 ...