United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
G. CORNELIUS U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
plaintiff, Michael Lynn Miller, appeals from the decision of
the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
("Commissioner") denying his application for Social
Security Income. (Doc. 1). Mr. Miller 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 magistrate judge jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
636(c). (Doc. 9). For the reasons that follow, the
Commissioner's decision is due to be affirmed.
FACTS, FRAMEWORK, AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Miller was forty-nine years old on the date of his
application; he has a limited education. (See R.
27). In the past, Mr. Miller has worked as a construction
laborer. (R. 239; see R. 61). Mr. Miller claimed he
became disabled on April 15, 2011, due to degenerative disc
disease and depression. (See R. 238; Doc. 17 at 1).
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 Mr. Miller
had not engaged in SGA since the application date. (R. 19).
At step two, the ALJ found Mr. Miller suffered from the
following severe impairments: polysubstance dependence,
substance induced mood disorder, personality disorder NOS,
major depression, and anxiety disorder. (Id.).
three, the ALJ found Mr. Miller did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments meeting or medically equaling any
of the listed impairments. (R. 20-22). Before proceeding to
step four, the ALJ determined Mr. Miller had the RFC to
perform the full range of work at all exertional levels with
the following non-exertional limitations: (1) occasional and
non-intense interaction with coworkers; and (2) no
interaction with the general public. (R. 22). The ALJ also
determined Mr. Miller could: (1) understand, remember, and
carry out simple instructions; (2) maintain attention and
concentration for two hours at time; and (3) "adapt to
routine and infrequent workplace changes and  make simple
work-related decisions." (Id.).
concluding Mr. Miller had no past relevant work, the ALJ
determined at step four that Mr. Miller was capable of
performing jobs existing in significant numbers in the
national economy. (R. 27). In reaching this conclusion, the
ALJ relied on the testimony of a vocational expert
("VE"). (R. 27-28). The ALJ concluded his decision
by finding Mr. Miller 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 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).