United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
MICHAEL PUTNAM UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
plaintiff, Kathryn Alanna Twilley, appeals from the
unfavorable decision of the Commissioner of the Social
(“Commissioner”). The plaintiff challenges the
ALJ's finding that she was not disabled. Ms. Twilley
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 jurisdiction of the undersigned
magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 626(c).
Accordingly, the court enters this memorandum opinion.
Twilley was 40 years old at the time of the Administrative
Law Judge's (“ALJ's”) decision, and she
has a college education, including a master's degree.
(Tr. at 41). Her past work experience is as a fifth-grade
teacher. (Tr. at 43). Ms. Twilley claims that she became
disabled on March 1, 2013, because of lupus, mitral valve
prolapse, hypertension, Bell's palsy, fibromyalgia,
irritable bowel syndrome (“IBS”), and cervical
degenerative disc disease. (Tr. at 157).
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 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 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. pt. 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 she does 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
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
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, but 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.
Twilley was not under a disability within the meaning of the
Social Security Act since March 1, 2013, the alleged onset
date. (Tr. at 31). He determined that Ms. Twilley has not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since the date of the
alleged onset of her disability. (Tr. at 21). According to
the ALJ, claimant's systemic lupus, arthralgias, and
depression are considered “severe” based on the
requirements set forth in the regulations. (Id.) He
further determined that these impairments neither meet nor
medically equal any of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. at 23). The ALJ found
Ms. Twilley's allegations regarding the intensity,
persistence, and limiting effects of her symptoms to be
“not entirely credible.” (Tr. at 26).
further determined that the claimant has the residual
functional capacity to perform a range of light work. (Tr. at
25). The ALJ further found that the claimant should be
subject to exertional limitations of being able to lift and
carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently,
and that she can stand/walk for six hours during an
eight-hour work day with normal breaks, and can sit for six
hours during an eight-hour work day with normal breaks. (Tr.
at 25). In addition, the ALJ stated that the plaintiff could
push and pull hand and foot controls with the same
limitations as for lifting; that she can climb ramps and
stairs occasionally, but that she can never climb ladders,
ropes, or scaffolds; that she can balance and stoop
frequently; and can occasionally kneel, crouch, and crawl.
(Id.) He stated that she should avoid concentrated
exposure to extreme heat and cold, and cannot perform a job
involving vibration. (Id.) She should avoid
concentrated exposure to fumes, odors, dusts, gases, and poor
ventilation. (Id.) She should avoid concentrated
exposure to unprotected heights and direct sunlight.
(Id.) The ALJ also imposed the following
nonexertional limitations: that she can understand and
remember simple instructions and maintain attention and
concentration sufficiently to carry out simple tasks during
an eight-hour workday with[out] the need for special
supervision or extra rest breaks; contact with the general
public, co-workers, and supervisors should be occasional;
changes in the workplace should be infrequent and
well-explained. (Tr. at 25).
to the ALJ, Ms. Twilley is unable to perform her past
relevant work; and she was a “younger individual age
18-49” on the alleged onset date. (Tr. at 30). The ALJ
further found that jobs exist in significant numbers in the
national economy that the claimant could perform. (Tr. at
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. Fed. Mar. Commn, 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 Adespite 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).
Twilley alleges that the ALJ's adverse decision should be
reversed and remanded because the ALJ: (1) failed to give
proper weight to the opinion of an examining psychologist,
Dr. Barry S. Wood, and a non-examining reviewer, Dr. Robert
Estock; and (2) failed to consider the plaintiffs exemplary
work history when evaluating her credibility. (Doc. 16). The
Commissioner asserts that the ALJ properly evaluated the
evidence from Drs. Wood and Estock regarding her
psychological conditions, and that the ALJ's credibility
determination comported with the applicable legal standards.