United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
WILLIAM E. CASSADY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Security Claimant/Plaintiff Valerie Joyce Simmons brought
this action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and
1383(c)(3) seeking judicial review of a final decision of the
Defendant Commissioner of Social Security (the
“Commissioner”) denying her applications for a
period of disability (“PoD”) and disability
insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq.,
and supplemental security income (“SSI”) under
Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1381,
et seq. The parties have consented to the exercise
of jurisdiction by the Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 636(c), for all proceedings in this Court.
(Doc. 14 (“In accordance with the provisions of 28
U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, the parties in this
case consent to have a United States Magistrate Judge conduct
any and all proceedings in this case, including the trial,
order the entry of a final judgment, and conduct all
consideration of the briefs of the parties, (Docs. 16 &
19), the administrative record, (Docs. 11-13), (hereinafter
cited as “(R. [page number(s) in lower-right corner of
transcript])”), and the arguments presented during the
hearing held on March 27, 2017, it is determined that the
Commissioner's decision is due to be
was born on September 16, 1966, (R. 226 [SSA Ex. 1E]). The
highest grade of school Simmons completed was the eleventh
grade. (R. 231 [SSA Ex. 2E]). Simmons was employed as an
insurance billing clerk, a home health aid, and a claims
processor. (R. 231 [SSA Ex. 3E]). Simmons filed applications
for PoD and DIB with the Social Security Administration (the
“SSA”),  on March 25, 2013. (R. 57). Simmons, also,
filed an application for SSI on March 25, 2013. (R. 57). In
Simmons's applications, she alleged disability beginning
on August 15, 2012. (R. 57). After Simmons's claim was
denied, she requested a hearing, which was held before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) for the SSA on
June 16, 2014. (R. 57). On November 26, 2014, the ALJ issued
an unfavorable decision on Simmons's claims, finding her
“not disabled” under sections 216(i) and 223(d)
of the Social Security Act. (R. 54-75).
requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals
Council for the SSA's Office of Disability Adjudication
and Review. (R. 24-27). The Appeals Council denied
Simmons's request for review on April 18, 2016, which
made the ALJ's the final decision of the Commissioner.
(R. 1-7). On September 30, 2016, Simmons filed this action
pursuant to § 405(g) and § 1383(c)(3) to review the
final decision of the Commissioner. (Doc. 1, at 1-2).
Standard of Review
Social Security appeals, [the Court] must determine whether
the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial
evidence and based on proper legal standards. Substantial
evidence is more than a scintilla and is such relevant
evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Winschel v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011)
(citations and internal quotations omitted). The Court
“may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence,
or substitute [its] judgment for that of the
[Commissioner].” Id. (citations omitted).
“Even if the evidence preponderates against the
Commissioner's findings, [the Court] must affirm if the
decision reached is supported by substantial evidence.”
Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir.
1990) (citing Sewell v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 1065, 1067
(11th Cir. 1986); MacGregor v. Bowen, 786 F.2d 1050,
1053 (11th Cir. 1986); and Bloodsworth v. Heckler,
703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983)). “Yet, within
this narrowly circumscribed role, [the Court does] not
‘act as automatons.'” Bloodsworth,
703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983) (citing Ware v.
Schweiker, 651 F.2d 408, 411 (5th Cir. 1981), cert.
denied, 455 U.S. 912, 102 S.Ct. 1263, 71 L.Ed.2d 452
(1982)). The Court “must scrutinize the record as a
whole, [Ware, 651 F.2d at 411]; Lewis v.
Weinberger, 515 F.2d 584, 586-87 (5th Cir. 1975), to
determine if the decision reached is reasonable, Simmons
v. Harris, 602 F.2d 1233, 1236 (5th Cir. 1979), and
supported by substantial evidence, Scharlow v.
Schweiker, 655 F.2d 645, 648 (5th Cir. 1981).”
Bloodsworth, 703 F.2d at 1239.
contrast to the deferential review accorded to the
[Commissioner's] findings of fact, the
[Commissioner's] conclusions of law, including applicable
review standards are not presumed valid.”
Martin, 894 F.2d at 1529 (citing MacGregor,
786 F.2d at 1053; Smith v. Heckler, 707 F.2d 1284,
1285 (11th Cir. 1983), Wiggins v. Schweiker, 679
F.2d 1387, 1389 (11th Cir. 1982); Smith v.
Schweiker, 646 F.2d 1075, 1076 (5th Cir. Unit A June
1981). “The [Commissioner's] failure to apply the
correct legal standard or to provide the reviewing court with
sufficient basis for a determination that proper legal
principles have been followed mandates reversal.”
Martin, 894 F.2d at 1529 (citing Gibson v.
Heckler, 779 F.2d 619, 622 (11th Cir. 1986); Bowel
v. Heckler, 748 F.2d 629, 635-36 (11th Cir. 1984);
Smith, 707 F.2d at 1285; Wiggins, 679 F.2d
at 1389; Ambers v. Heckler, 736 F.2d 1467, 1470
(11th Cir. 1984)).
The Social Security Regulations outline a five-step,
sequential evaluation process used to determine whether a
claimant is disabled: (1) whether the claimant is currently
engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the
claimant has a severe impairment or combination of
impairments; (3) whether the impairment meets or equals the
severity of the specified impairments in the Listing of
Impairments; (4) based on a residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) assessment, whether the claimant can
perform any of his or her past relevant work despite the
impairment; and (5) whether there are significant numbers of
jobs in the national economy that the claimant can perform
given the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work
Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178 (citing 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v), 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v);
Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, at 1237-39
(11th Cir. 2004)).
Claims on Judicial Review
“The ALJ Erred in Rejecting the Opinion of Dr. Ney, a
Treating Psychiatrist.” (Doc. 16, at 2).
“The ALJ Improperly Evaluated Ms. Simmons'[s]
Complaints of Pain.” (Doc. 16, at 2).
the first step, the ALJ must consider the claimant's
current working situation. If the claimant is ‘doing
substantial gainful activity, [the ALJ] will find that [the
claimant is] not disabled.'” Phillips, 357
F.3d at 1237 (alterations in original) (quoting 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i) & (b)). “If however, the
claimant is not currently ‘doing gainful activity'
then the ALJ moves on to the second step.”
Phillips, 357 F.3d at 1237. At the first step, the
ALJ determined Simmons had “not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since August 15, 2012, the alleged onset
date.” (R. 59).
At the second step, the ALJ is to “consider the medical
severity of [the claimant's] impairment(s).” 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). When considering the
severity of the claimant's medical impairments, the ALJ
must determine whether the impairments, alone or in
combination, “significantly limit” the
claimant's “physical or mental ability to do basic
work skills.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). If the ALJ
concludes that none of the claimant's impairments are
medically severe, the ALJ is to conclude that the claimant is
not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii) & (c).
If, however, the ALJ concludes that the claimant's
impairments are medically severe, then the ALJ moves on to
the third step.
Phillips, 357 F.3d at 1237 (alterations in
original). At Step Two, the ALJ determined Simmons had the
following severe impairments:
[M]ild to moderate degenerative osteoarthritis and
degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine, a
history of sarcoidosis now in remission, fibromyalgia, and a
mood disorder with mixed emotional features.
At the third step, the ALJ again considers the “medical
severity of [the claimant's] impairment(s)” in
order to determine whether the claimant's impairment(s)
“meets or equals” one of the listed disabilities.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). Although the list is
too voluminous to recite here, the idea is that the listings
“streamline[ ] the decision process by identifying
those claimants whose medical impairments are so severe that
it is likely they would be found disabled regardless of their
vocational background.” Bowen v. Yuckert, 482
U.S. 137, 153, 107 S.Ct. 2287, 2297, 96 L.Ed.2d 119 (1987).
If the ALJ concludes that the claimant's impairments meet
or equal one of the listed disabilities and meet the duration
requirement, the ALJ will conclude that the claimant is
disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii) & (d). If,
however, the ALJ concludes that the claimant's
impairments do not meet or equal the listed impairments, then
the ALJ will move on to step four.
Phillips, 257 F.3d at 1238 (alterations in
original). At Step Three, the ALJ found that Simmons
“does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
one of the listed impairments” in 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d),
416.925, and 416.926. (R. 60).
At the fourth step, the ALJ must assess: (1) the
claimant's [RFC]; and (2) the claimant's ability to
return to her past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(iv). As for the claimant's RFC, the
regulations define RFC as that which an individual is still
able to do despite the limitations caused by his or her
impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a). Moreover, the ALJ
will “assess and make a finding about [the
claimant's RFC] based on all the relevant medical and
other evidence” in the case. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(e). Furthermore, the RFC determination is used both
to determine whether the claimant: (1) can return to her past
relevant work under the fourth step; and (2) can adjust to
other work under the fifth step . . . . 20 C.F.R. §
If the claimant can return to her past relevant work, the ALJ
will conclude that the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv) & (f). If the claimant cannot
return to her past ...