United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION
SCOTT COOGLER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
plaintiff, Patricia Diane Garner, appeals from the decision
of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying her application for a
period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”). Plaintiff 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),
was fifty-six years old at the time of the ALJ's
decision, and she has a general education diploma
(“GED”). (Tr. at 30, 240, 283.) Her past work
includes employment as a forklift operator, punch press
operator, and inspector packager. (Tr. at 58.) Plaintiff
claims she became disabled on September 11, 2009, due to
breast cancer. (Tr. at 282.) She later added depression,
panic disorder, anxiety, dizziness, and severe pain as
disabling conditions. (Tr. at 331, 350.)
Social Security Administration has established a five-step
sequential evaluation process for determining whether an
individual is disabled and thus eligible for DIB.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920;
see also Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th
Cir. 2001). The evaluator will follow the steps in order
until making a finding of either disabled or not disabled; if
no finding is made, the analysis will proceed to the next
step. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4),
416.920(a)(4). The first step requires the evaluator to
determine whether the plaintiff is engaged in substantial
gainful activity (“SGA”). See Id.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). If the
plaintiff is not engaged in SGA, the evaluator moves on to
the next step.
second step requires the evaluator to consider the combined
severity of the plaintiff's medically determinable
physical and mental impairments. See Id.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). An
individual impairment or combination of impairments that is
not classified as “severe” and does not satisfy
the durational requirements set forth in 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1509 and 416.909 will result in a finding of
not disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). The decision depends
on the medical evidence contained in the record. See Hart
v. Finch, 440 F.2d 1340, 1341 (5th Cir. 1971)
(concluding that “substantial medical evidence in the
record” adequately supported the finding that plaintiff
was not disabled).
the third step requires the evaluator to consider whether the
plaintiff's impairment or combination of impairments
meets or is medically equal to the criteria of an impairment
listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii),
416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the criteria of a listed impairment
and the durational requirements set forth in 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1509 and 416.909 are satisfied, the
evaluator will make a finding of disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii).
plaintiff's impairment or combination of impairments does
not meet or medically equal a listed impairment, the
evaluator must determine the plaintiff's residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) before proceeding to
the fourth step. See Id. §§ 404.1520(e),
416.920(e). The fourth step requires the evaluator to
determine whether the plaintiff has the RFC to perform the
requirements of her past relevant work. See Id.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the
plaintiff's impairment or combination of impairments does
not prevent her from performing her past relevant work, the
evaluator will make a finding of not disabled. See
fifth and final step requires the evaluator to consider the
plaintiff's RFC, age, education, and work experience in
order to determine whether the plaintiff can make an
adjustment to other work. See Id. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v). If the plaintiff can
perform other work, the evaluator will find her not disabled.
Id.; see also 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(g), 416.920(g). If the plaintiff cannot perform
other work, the evaluator will find her disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 404.1520(g),
the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ first found that
Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social
Security Act through September 30, 2015. (Tr. at 23.) The ALJ
then found that Plaintiff had not engaged in SGA since the
alleged onset of her disability. (Id.) The ALJ found
Plaintiff's degenerative disc disease, anxiety, and
depression “severe” based on the requirements set
forth in the regulations. (Tr. at 23-24.) However, she found
that these impairments neither met nor medically equaled any
of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1. (Tr. at 24.) The ALJ did not find Plaintiff's
allegations to be totally credible, and determined that
Plaintiff has the following RFC:
[Plaintiff can] floor to knuckle lift fifteen pounds maximum
and five pounds occasionally. She can knuckle to shoulder
lift twenty pounds maximum and five pounds occasionally. She
can carry fifteen pounds occasionally and push/pull fifteen
pounds occasionally. [She] can constantly sit, stand[, ] and
walk with a sit/stand option every hour or so to change
positions. She can frequently bend and squat and occasionally
kneel and climb stairs. She cannot work around unprotected
heights or dangerous machinery. She cannot climb ladders,
ropes[, ] or scaffolds. She can handle casual non-intensive
interaction with co-workers and the general public. She can
concentrate for two hours at a time to complete an eight-hour
(Tr. at 25-27.)
enlisting the help of a Vocational Expert (“VE”),
the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff is able to perform her past
relevant work as an inspector packager because it does not
require the performance of work-related activities precluded
by her RFC. (Tr. at 29.) The ALJ concluded her findings by
stating that Plaintiff “has not been under a
disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from
September 11, 2009, 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 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)). This 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).
this 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
this Court finds that the proof preponderates ...