United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Eastern Division
DEBORAH J. HOLLEY, Plaintiff,
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff Deborah Holley seeks
judicial review of a final adverse decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security. The Commissioner denied Ms.
Holley's claim for a period of disability and disability
insurance benefits. After careful review, the Court affirms
the Commissioner's decision.
Holley applied for a period of disability and disability
insurance benefits on August 23, 2013. (Doc. 7-4, p. 2). Ms.
Holley initially alleged that her disability began August 23,
2013, but she later amended her alleged disability onset date
to November 15, 2013. (Doc. 7-3, pp. 21, 49; Doc. 7-4, p. 2).
The Commissioner initially denied Ms. Holley's claim on
April 25, 2014. (Doc. 7-5, pp. 2-5). Ms. Holley requested a
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Doc. 7-5,
p. 8). Subsequently, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision
on January 26, 2016. (Doc. 7-3, pp. 18-38). On June 3, 2016,
the Appeals Council declined Ms. Holley's request for
review (Doc. 7-3, p. 1), making the Commissioner's
decision final and a proper candidate for this Court's
judicial review. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
scope of review in this matter is limited. “When, as in
this case, the ALJ denies benefits and the Appeals Council
denies review, ” the Court “review[s] the
ALJ's ‘factual findings with deference' and
[his] ‘legal conclusions with close
scrutiny.'” Riggs v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 522 Fed.Appx. 509, 510-11 (11th Cir. 2013)
(quoting Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th
Court must determine whether there is substantial evidence in
the record to support the ALJ's factual findings.
“Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is
such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Crawford v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir.
2004). In evaluating the administrative record, the Court may
not “decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence,
” or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ.
Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 631 F.3d
1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (internal quotations and citation
omitted). If substantial evidence supports the ALJ's
factual findings, then the Court “must affirm even if
the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's
findings.” Costigan v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec.
Admin., 603 Fed.Appx. 783, 786 (11th Cir. 2015) (citing
Crawford, 363 F.3d at 1158).
respect to the ALJ's legal conclusions, the Court must
determine whether the ALJ applied the correct legal
standards. If the Court finds an error in the ALJ's
application of the law, or if the Court finds that the ALJ
failed to provide sufficient reasoning to demonstrate that
the ALJ conducted a proper legal analysis, then the Court
must reverse the ALJ's decision. Cornelius v.
Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).
SUMMARY OF THE ALJ'S DECISION
determine whether a claimant has proven that she is disabled,
an ALJ follows a five-step sequential evaluation process. The
(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 experience.
Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178.
case, the ALJ found that Ms. Holley has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since November 15, 2013, the
alleged onset date. (Doc. 7-3, p. 23). The ALJ determined
that Ms. Holley suffers from the following severe
impairments: Meniere's disease; bilateral sensory hearing
loss; history of migraines; Barrett's syndrome with
esophagitis; osteoarthritis, not specified, status post
surgeries to right foot; mild lumbar scoliosis; obstructive
sleep apnea; major depressive disorder, recurrent, moderate;
and anxiety disorder, not otherwise specified. (Doc. 7-3, p.
23). The ALJ also found that Ms. Holley has the following
non-severe impairments: hypertension, hyperlipidemia,
diabetes mellitus, and coronary artery disease. (Doc. 7-3, p.
24). Based on a review of the medical evidence, the ALJ
concluded that Ms. Holley does not have an impairment or a
combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the
severity of any of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part
404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Doc. 7-3, p. 25).
light of Ms. Holley's impairments, the ALJ evaluated Ms.
Holley's residual functional capacity. (Doc. 7-3, p. 29).
The ALJ determined that Ms. Holley has the RFC to perform:
medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) except she can
only frequently use right foot controls. She can frequently
climb ramps and stairs, but never climb ladders and
scaffolds. She can frequently balance and stoop, but never
kneel, crouch, or crawl. The claimant would require the
occasional use of a single-handed walking device to ambulate
as well as balance. She can never be exposed to unprotected
heights, dangerous tools, dangerous machinery, or hazardous
processes. She can never operate commercial motor vehicles.
The claimant can tolerate moderate noise levels in the
workplace. She would be limited to simple tasks and simple
work-related decisions. She would be unable to perform at
production-rate pace but could do goal-oriented work. The
claimant would be able to accept constructive
non-confrontational criticism and work in small group
settings. She would be able to accept changes in a work place
setting if introduced gradually and infrequently. In addition
to normal breaks, the claimant would be off-task
approximately five percent of an eight-hour workday, in
(Doc. 7-3, p. 29).
on Ms. Holley's RFC, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Holley is
not able to perform her past relevant work as an apartment
house manager, home health aide, and convenience store
manager. (Doc. 7-3, pp. 35-36). Relying on testimony from a
vocational expert, the ALJ found that jobs exist in the
national economy that Ms. Holley can perform, including
checker, marker, and chick grader. (Doc.7-3, p. 37).
Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Ms. Holley has not been
under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security
Act. (Doc. 7-3, p. 37).