United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION 
G. CORNELIUS U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
plaintiff, James Norris, seeks review of the final decision
of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his
application for a period of disability, disability insurance
benefits (“DIB”), and Supplemental Security
Income (“SSI”). (Doc. 1). Mr. Norris timely
pursued and exhausted his administrative remedies, and the
case is ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
FACTS, FRAMEWORK, AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
time he applied for benefits, January 9, 2014, Mr. Norris was
47 years old. (R. 19, 71-72). He completed the tenth grade
and had training as an automobile mechanic. (R. 32, 33). Mr.
Norris has past work as a delivery driver, repossessor,
construction laborer, cabinet assembler, cabinet finisher,
stockyard attendant, and farm laborer. (R. 46-47). Mr. Norris
claims he became disabled as of November 1, 2012, due to
bulging discs and chronic back pain. (R. 40, 187). After the
Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denied his
applications (R. 73, 78), he requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) (R. 27, 86).
After the June 3, 2015 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. 15, 27). The ALJ further found
the plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity to
perform a reduced range of light work (R. 15-16) and, while
he had no transferrable job skills, jobs exist in the
national economy in significant numbers which the plaintiff
could perform (R. 19). In light of these findings, the ALJ
denied Mr. Norris's request for a period of disability on
August 7, 2015. (R. 20).
Norris requested the Appeals Council review the ALJ's
decision (R. 8), which the Appeals Council denied (R.
Therefore, the ALJ's decision is the final decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security. (Id.) Mr.
Norris then filed a complaint in this court on January 17,
2017, seeking reversal of the Commissioner's decision.
(Docs. 1, 15).
regulations require the Commissioner to follow a five-step
sequential evaluation to determine whether a claimant is
eligible for a period of disability, SSI, and DIB.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(1)-(2);
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 his age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(b); 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. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(ii), (c); 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. §§
404.1512(c); 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. 1984).
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. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(iii), (d)-(e); 416.920(a)(4)(iii), (d)-(e);
§§ 404.1525; 416.925; §§ 404.1526;
416.926. Listed impairments are so severe that they prevent
an individual from performing substantial gainful activity.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d); 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. §§ 404.1520(d); 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. §§ 404.1520(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. §§ 404.1560(b); 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. §§ 404.1560(b)(3); 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.
§§ 404.1560(c)(1); 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.
§§ 404.1520(g); 416.920(g).
these steps, the ALJ determined that Mr. Norris had not
engaged in substantial gainful employment since his alleged
onset date. (R. 14). At step two, the ALJ found Mr. Norris
suffered from the severe impairments of spine disorder,
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and obesity.
(Id.). The ALJ found Mr. Norris's anxiety to be
non-severe because it did not cause more than minimal
limitation in his ability to perform work related activities.
(Id.). Next, the ALJ found Mr. Norris did not have
an impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled any Listing. (R. 15). The ALJ determined
Mr. Norris had the RFC to perform light work, as defined in
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), reduced by
limitations of: lifting 10 pounds frequently and 20 pounds
occasionally; no concentrated exposure to extreme heat, cold,
vibration, or pulmonary irritants; no work around hazardous
machinery or unprotected heights; and no continuous overhead
reaching. (R. 15-16). At step four, considering this RFC, the
ALJ determined Mr. Norris could not perform any past relevant
work, but found at step five, through the use of Vocation
Expert testimony, that he could perform jobs which exist in
the national economy in significant numbers, such as parts
assembler, packer/inspector, and cashier. (R. 18, 19).
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).
Norris contends the ALJ failed to consider his subjective
pain testimony, the side effects of medication, and the
length of time of treatment, requiring reversal of the
ALJ's decision. (Doc. 15 at 8-12). The Commissioner
responds that the ALJ's decision was supported by
substantial evidence, particularly the lack of any objective
medical findings. (Doc. 17 at 7-14).
cases where a plaintiff claims disability solely based on
pain, the Eleventh Circuit has instructed ...