United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION 
G. CORNELIUS U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
plaintiff, Sterling Somerset, seeks review of the final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his
application for a period of disability and Supplemental
Security Income (“SSI”). (Doc. 1). Mr. Somerset
timely pursued and exhausted his administrative remedies, and
the case is therefore ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
FACTS, FRAMEWORK, AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
time he applied for benefits, June 13, 2013, Mr. Somerset was
59 years old. (R. 28, 65, 66). He is a high school graduate
with one year of college. (R. 159). Mr. Somerset previously
worked as a bricklayer and a carpenter. (Id.). Mr.
Somerset alleged he stopped working in November 2012 due to
high blood pressure, severe arthritis, COPD, and
hypoglycemia. (R. 158). After the Social Security
Administration (“SSA”) denied his application,
Mr. Somerset requested a hearing before an Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”), which was held on December 29,
2014. (R. 33, 76, 82). After the hearing, the ALJ found the
plaintiff did not have an impairment or a combination of
impairments listed in, or medically equivalent to, one listed
in the Listings of Impairments. (R. 22). The ALJ further
found the plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity
to perform a reduced range of medium work and, while he could
perform no past relevant work, jobs exist in the national
economy in significant numbers which the plaintiff could
perform. (R. 22, 28). In light of these findings, the ALJ
denied the plaintiff's request for a period of disability
on April 16, 2015. (R. 29).
plaintiff sought Appeals Council review of the ALJ's
decision, which the Appeals Council denied. (R. 1, 14).
Therefore, the ALJ's decision is the final decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security. The plaintiff then filed
the appeal in this court on September 26, 2016, seeking
reversal of the Commissioner's decision. (Docs. 1, 12).
regulations require the Commissioner to follow a five-step
sequential evaluation to determine whether a claimant is
eligible for a period of disability and SSI. See 20
C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(1)-(2). First, the Commissioner must
determine whether the claimant is engaged in
“substantial gainful activity.” Bowen v.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). If the claimant is
engaged in substantial gainful activity, the Commissioner
will find that the claimant is not disabled, regardless of
the claimant's medical condition or age, education, and
work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(b). If the claimant
is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the
Commissioner must next determine whether the claimant suffers
from a severe impairment or combination of impairments that
significantly limit the claimant's physical or mental
ability to do basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4)(ii), (c). The burden is on the claimant to
“provide medical evidence showing ...
impairment(s)” and the severity of them during the time
the claimant alleges disability. 20 C.F.R. § 416.912(c).
An impairment is “severe” if it
“significantly limits [a] claimant's physical or
mental ability to do basic work activities.”
Crayton v. Callahan, 120 F.3d 1217, 1219 (11th Cir.
1997). “An impairment can be considered as not severe
only if it is a slight abnormality which has such a minimal
effect on the individual that it would not be expected to
interfere with the individual's ability to work,
irrespective of age, education, or work experience.”
Brady v. Heckler, 724 F.2d 914, 920 (11th Cir.
claimant has a severe impairment, the Commissioner must then
determine whether the claimant's impairment meets the
duration requirement and whether it is equivalent to any one
of the listed impairments. 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4)(iii), (d)-(e); § 416.925; § 416.926.
Listed impairments are so severe that they prevent an
individual from performing substantial gainful activity. 20
C.F.R. § 416.920(d); see 20 C.F.R. pt. 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1 (The Listings). If the claimant's
impairment meets or equals a Listing, the Commissioner must
find the claimant disabled, regardless of the claimant's
age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(d). If the impairment does not meet or equal the
criteria of any Listing, the claimant must prove that his
impairment prevents him from performing his past relevant
work. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv), (f).
four, the Commissioner “will first compare [the
Commission's] assessment of [the claimant's] residual
functional capacity [“RFC”] with the physical and
mental demands of [the claimant's] past relevant
work.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.960(b). If the claimant is
capable of performing his past relevant work, the
Commissioner will find he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
416.960(b)(3). If the claimant establishes he is unable to
perform his past relevant work, the Commissioner must show
that the claimant-in light of his RFC, age, education, and
work experience-is capable of performing other work that
exists in substantial numbers in the national economy. 20
C.F.R. § 416.960(c)(1). If the claimant is not capable
of performing such other work, the Commissioner must find the
claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(g).
these steps, the ALJ determined the plaintiff had not engaged
in substantial gainful employment since his alleged onset
date. (R. 21). At step two, the ALJ found the plaintiff
suffered from the severe impairments of scoliosis,
degenerative disease of the lumbar spine, degenerative joint
disease of the right knee, skin carcinoma, and hypertension.
(Id.). The ALJ found the plaintiff's seborrheic
keratosis, alcohol dependence, and anxiety to be non-severe
impairments because they did not cause more than minimal
limitation in the plaintiff's ability to perform work
related activities. (Id.). Next, the ALJ found the
plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that met or medically equaled any Listing. (R.
22). The ALJ determined the plaintiff had the RFC to perform
medium work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(c), with
the following limitations: frequent use of right foot
controls; frequent climbing of ramps and stairs; no climbing
ladders or scaffolding; occasionally crouching, kneeling, and
crawling; and only routine and repetitive tasks and simple
work-related decisions. (R. 22-23). Considering this RFC, at
step four the ALJ determined the plaintiff could not perform
past relevant work but found at step five, through the use of
Vocation Expert (“VE”) testimony, that the
plaintiff could perform jobs which exist in the national
economy in significant numbers, such as sandblaster, factory
helper, and washer. (R. 28-29).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
reviewing claims brought under the Social Security Act, this
court is limited to an inquiry into whether substantial
evidence exists to support the findings of the Commissioner
and whether the correct legal standards were applied.
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)). The
court gives deference to the factual findings of the
Commissioner but reviews questions of law de novo.
Ingram v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 496 F.3d 1253,
1260 (11th Cir. 2007). The court “may not decide the
facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its]
judgment for that of the [Commissioner], ” Dyer v.
Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005), rather
it must “scrutinize the record as a whole to determine
if the decision reached is reasonable and supported by
substantial evidence.” Henry v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 802 F.3d 1264, 1267 (11th Cir. 2015). “The
Commissioner's factual findings are conclusive if
supported by substantial evidence.” Wilson v.
Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002).
“Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but
rather such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Moore
v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211 (11th Cir. 2005).
plaintiff contends the ALJ's determination of the
plaintiff's RFC is not consistent with the requirements
of medium work or the medical evidence. (Doc. 12 at 7-8). The
plaintiff continues that, because he should have been found
to be limited to light work, and based on his age, he then
would have been found disabled under the Medical Vocations
Rules (the “Grids”), specifically Rule 202.06.
(Id., at 9). Moreover, the plaintiff asserts the ALJ
should have obtained a medical source opinion
(“MSO”) for assistance in determining the
plaintiff's RFC. (Id., at 10). The Commissioner
responds that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's RFC
determination, the ALJ properly relied on the VE's
testimony rather than the Grids, and the ALJ was not
obligated to obtain additional evidence from a medical
expert. (Doc. 14 at 5, 14, 17, 21).
Substantial Evidence Supports the ALJ's ...