United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
N. JOHNSON, JR. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Michael James Baker seeks judicial review pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g) of an adverse, final decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner” or “Secretary”),
regarding his claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB).
The court has carefully considered the record, and for the
reasons stated below, AFFIRMS the
AND STANDARD OF REVIEW
qualify for disability benefits and establish his entitlement
for a period of disability, the claimant must be disabled as
defined by the Social Security Act and the Regulations
promulgated thereunder. The Regulations define
“disabled” as the “inability to do any
substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically
determinable physical or mental impairment which can be
expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be
expected to last for a continuous period of not less than
twelve (12) months.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a). To
establish an entitlement to disability benefits, a claimant
must provide evidence of a “physical or mental
impairment” which “must result from anatomical,
physiological, or psychological abnormalities which can be
shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory
diagnostic techniques.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1508.
determining whether a claimant suffers a disability, the
Commissioner, through an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ),
works through a five-step sequential evaluation process.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The burden rests upon
the claimant on the first four steps of this five-step
process; the Commissioner sustains the burden at step five,
if the evaluation proceeds that far. Jones v. Apfel,
190 F.3d 1224, 1228 (11thCir. 1999).
first step, the claimant must prove he is not currently
engaged in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(b). Second, the claimant must prove his impairment
is “severe” in that it “significantly
limits his physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities . . . .” Id. at § 404.1520(c).
three, the evaluator must conclude the claimant is disabled
if he proves that his impairments meet or are medically
equivalent to one of the impairments listed at 20 C.F.R. Part
404, Subpart P, App. 1, §§ 1.00-114.02.
Id. at § 404.1520(d). If a claimant's
impairment meets the applicable criteria at this step, that
claimant's impairments would prevent any person from
performing substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 404.1525. That is, a
claimant who satisfies steps one and two qualifies
automatically for disability benefits if he suffers from a
listed impairment. See Jones, 190 F.3d at 1228
(“If, at the third step, she proves that her impairment
or combination of impairments meets or equals a listed
impairment, she is automatically found disabled regardless of
age, education, or work experience.”) (citing 20 C.F.R.
plaintiff's impairment or combination of impairments does
not meet or medically equal a listed impairment, the
evaluation proceeds to the fourth step where the claimant
bears the burden of proving he is incapable of meeting the
physical and mental demands of his past relevant work. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). At this step, the evaluator must
determine whether the plaintiff has the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform the requirements of
his past relevant work. See Id. §
404.1520(a)(4)(iv). If the plaintiff's impairment or
combination of impairments does not prevent him from
performing his past relevant work, the evaluator will
determine the plaintiff is not disabled. See id.
claimant is successful at the preceding step, the fifth step
shifts the burden to the Commissioner to prove, considering
claimant's RFC, age, education and past work experience,
whether he is capable of performing other work. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(f)(1). If the plaintiff can perform other
work, the evaluator will not find him disabled. See
Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v); see also 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(g). If the plaintiff cannot perform
other work, the evaluator will find him disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 404.1520(g).
review, the court reviews the ALJ's “'decision
with deference to the factual findings and close scrutiny of
the legal conclusions.'” Parks ex rel. D.P. v.
Commissioner, Social Sec. Admin., 783 F.3d 847, 850
(11th Cir. 2015) (quoting Cornelius v.
Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145 (11th Cir.
1991)). The court must determine whether substantial evidence
supports the Commissioner's decision and whether the
Commissioner applied the proper legal standards. Winschel
v. Comm'r of Social Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178
(11th Cir. 2011). Although the court must
“scrutinize the record as a whole . . . to determine if
the decision reached is reasonable and supported by
substantial evidence, ” Bloodsworth v.
Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983)
(citations omitted), the court “may not decide the
facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its]
judgment” for that of the ALJ. Winschel, 631
F.3d at 1178 (citations and internal quotation marks
omitted). “Substantial evidence is more than a
scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable
person would accept as adequate to support a
conclusion” Id. (citations omitted).
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Baker applied for DIB on June 20, 2012 (Doc. 9-6 at 5). The
Commissioner denied his claim, and Mr. Baker timely filed a
request for a hearing on August 3, 2012. (Doc. 9-5 at 2, 12).
The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a
hearing on Mr. Baker's claim on September 11, 2013. (Doc.
9-3 at 33). Mr. Baker was 62 years old at the time of his
hearing. (See doc. 9-5 at 45; Doc. 9-6 at 5). The
ALJ issued an opinion denying Mr. Baker's claim on
October 17, 2013. (Doc. 9-3 at 17).
opinion, the ALJ first determined that Mr. Baker met the
Social Security Act's insured status requirements through
December 31, 2015. (Doc. 9-3 at 22). Applying the five-step
sequential process, the ALJ found at step one that Mr. Baker
had not engaged in substantial gainful activity from his
alleged onset date of February 8, 2012, through the date of
the ALJ's opinion, October 17, 2013. (Id.). At
step two, the ALJ found that Mr. Baker exhibited during the
relevant time period the following severe impairments:
osteoarthritis of the left knee, status post 2012
arthroscopic left knee surgery, and hypertension.
(Id.). At step three, the ALJ found that Mr.
Baker's impairments, or combination of impairments, did
not meet or equal any impairment for presumptive disability
listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
(Id. at 23).
the ALJ found that Mr. Baker exhibited the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform medium
work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(c) with the
following limitations: Mr. Baker can lift and carry 50 pounds
occasionally and 25 pounds frequently; he can occasionally
climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, and can frequently climb
ramps or stairs, kneel, crouch, or crawl; and he cannot
perform in concentrated exposure to work hazards. (Doc. 9-3
four, the ALJ determined that Mr. Baker can perform his past
relevant work as a service observer. (Id. at 27).
The ALJ's determination at step four directs a finding
that Mr. Baker is not disabled, but the ALJ also continued in
the alternative to step five of the sequential process. At
step five, the ALJ determined that, considering Mr.
Baker's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there
exist a significant number of other jobs in the national
economy that Mr. Baker could perform. (Id.). Based
on his findings at step four and, in the alternative, at step
five, the ALJ concluded Mr. Baker was not disabled as defined
by the Social Security Act at any time from February 8, 2012,
through October 17, 2013, the date of the ALJ's decision.
(Id. at 28).
28, 2015, the Appeals Council denied review, which deems the
ALJ's decision as the Commissioner's final decision.
(Doc. 9-3 at 2). Mr. Baker filed his complaint with the ...