United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
E. OTT, CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Dovie Renee Owens brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g), seeking review of the final decision of the
Acting Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying her application for
supplemental security income (“SSI”). (Doc.
The case has been assigned to the undersigned United States
Magistrate Judge pursuant to this court's general order
of reference. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction
of this court for disposition of the matter. (See
Doc. 8). See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Fed.R.Civ.P.
73(a). Upon review of the record and the relevant law, the
undersigned finds that the Commissioner's decision is due
to be affirmed.
filed her current SSI application in April 2013, alleging she
became disabled beginning January 31, 2011. It was initially
denied. An administrative law judge (“ALJ”) held
a hearing on January 9, 2015 (R. 37) and issued an
unfavorable decision on April 10, 2015 (R. 7-14). The Appeals
Council (“AC”) denied Plaintiff's request for
review. (R. 1-6).
was 46 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. (R.
25). Plaintiff alleged onset of disability due to physical
impairments of diabetes mellitus with peripheral neuropathy,
rheumatoid arthritis, chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive
pulmonary disease (“COPD”), and obesity, and
mental impairments of depression and panic disorder.
a hearing, applying the five-step sequential evaluation
process, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the just-mentioned
severe impairments. (R. 20). He noted that Plaintiff also
alleged fibromyalgia and hyperlipidemia impairments, but
determined that those conditions were not severe.
(Id.) The ALJ also found Plaintiff did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1. (R. 21).
He further found Plaintiff retained the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform a reduced range of
light work, with various postural limitations and no exposure
to hazards. (R. 15). The ALJ then found that Plaintiff was
limited to work that requires no more than understanding,
remembering, and carrying out simple instructions; she can
sustain such activity for two hours with normal breaks over
an eight-hour workday; she is capable of occasional decision
making and interaction with the public, coworkers, and
supervisors, but can have no more than infrequent changes in
the work setting; instructions or tasks of the job cannot be
conveyed in a written format and can only be conveyed or
demonstrated orally. (R. 25). Lastly, the ALJ found Plaintiff
is likely to miss two or fewer days per month from work.
found that Plaintiff could perform work that exists in
significant numbers in the national economy, considering
Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC. (R.
31-32, 74-75). He then concluded that Plaintiff was not
disabled. (R. 33).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
court's review of the Commissioner's decision is
narrowly circumscribed. The function of the court is to
determine whether the Commissioner's decision is
supported by substantial evidence and whether proper legal
standards were applied. Richardson v. Perales, 402
U.S. 389, 390, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1422 (1971); Mitchell v.
Comm'r Soc. Sec., 771 F.3d 780, 782 (11th Cir. 2015;
Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir.
2002). 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).
Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a
reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Id. It is “more than a
scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Id.
court must uphold factual findings that are supported by
substantial evidence. However, it reviews the ALJ's legal
conclusions de novo because no presumption of
validity attaches to the ALJ's determination of the
proper legal standards to be applied. Davis v.
Shalala, 985 F.2d 528, 531 (11th Cir. 1993). If the
court finds an error in the ALJ's application of the law,
or if the ALJ fails to provide the court with sufficient
reasoning for determining that the proper legal analysis has
been conducted, it must reverse the ALJ's decision.
See Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46
(11th Cir. 1991). The court must affirm the ALJ's
decision if substantial evidence supports it, even if other
evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's
findings. See Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.,
363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004) (quoting Martin v.
Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir.1990)).
STATUTORY AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK
qualify for benefits a claimant must show the inability to
engage in “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 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A).
A physical or mental impairment is “an impairment that
results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological
abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable
clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 42
U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(D).
of disability under the Social Security Act requires a five
step analysis. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4),
416.920(a)(4). Specifically, the Commissioner must determine
whether the claimant: (1) is unable to engage in substantial
gainful activity; (2) has a severe medically determinable
physical or mental impairment; (3) has such an impairment
that meets or equals a Listing and meets the duration
requirements; (4) can perform his past relevant work, in
light of his residual functional capacity; and (5) can make
an adjustment to other work, in light of his residual
functional capacity, age, education, and work experience.
Evans v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 551 F. App'x
521, 524 (11th Cir. 2014) (citing 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). The
plaintiff bears the burden of proving that she was disabled
within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Moore v.
Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211 (11th Cir. 2005). The
applicable regulations “place a very heavy burden on
the claimant to demonstrate both a qualifying disability and
an inability to perform past relevant work.”