United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c), plaintiff
Teresa Macon seeks judicial review of a final adverse
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. The
Commissioner denied Ms. Macon's claims for a period of
disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental
security income. After careful review, the Court affirms the
Macon applied for a period of disability, disability
insurance benefits and, supplemental security income on
February 20, 2013. (Doc. 6-5, pp. 2-3). Ms. Macon alleges
that her disability began on September 15, 2012. (Doc. 6-5,
pp. 2-3). The Commissioner initially denied Ms. Macon's
claims on May 31, 2013. (Doc. 6-5, pp. 2-3). Ms. Macon
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
(Doc. 6-6, p. 2). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on
October 30, 2014. (Doc. 6-4, pp. 11-24). On April 29, 2016,
the Appeals Council declined Ms. Macon's request for
review (Doc. 6-3, p. 2), 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. Macon has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since September 15, 2012, the
alleged onset date. (Doc. 6-4, p. 13). The ALJ determined
that Ms. Macon suffers from the following severe impairments:
insulin dependent diabetes mellitus, diabetic neuropathy,
hypertension, obesity, metabolic syndrome, and status post
left nephrectomy. (Doc. 6-4, p. 13). The ALJ concluded that
Ms. Macon has the following non-severe impairments:
depression, hyperlipidemia, and lumbago. (Doc. 6-4, pp.
14-16). Based on a review of the medical evidence, the ALJ
concluded that Ms. Macon does not have an impairment or
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. 6-4, pp. 16-18).
light of Ms. Macon's impairments, the ALJ evaluated Ms.
Macon's residual functional capacity or RFC. The ALJ
determined that Ms. Macon has the RFC to perform:
sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and
416.967(a) except that she can engage in no more than
frequent pushing/pulling with the bilateral lower
extremities; she is precluded from climbing
ladders/ropes/scaffolds; she is precluded from concentrated
exposure to extreme cold, extreme heat, humidity, or
pulmonary irritants; she is precluded work around unprotected
heights; and she should avoid hazardous moving machinery.
(Doc. 6-4, p. 18).
on this RFC, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Macon is not able to
perform her past relevant work as a store laborer, poultry
deboner, hand packager, teacher's aide, or cashier. (Doc.
6-4, p. 22). Relying on testimony from a vocational expert,
the ALJ found that jobs exist in the national economy that
Ms. Macon can perform, including telephone quotation clerk,
charge account clerk, and addressing clerk. (Doc. 6-4, p.
23). Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Ms. Macon has not
been under a disability within the meaning of the Social
Security Act. (Doc. 6-4, p. 24).
Macon argues that she is entitled to relief from the
ALJ's decision because the Appeals Council failed to
properly consider new evidence, the ALJ did not properly
evaluate the medical opinion evidence, the ALJ did not
consider all of Ms. Macon's impairments or combination of
impairments, and the ALJ did not properly evaluate Ms.
Macon's subjective complaints of pain.
Ms. Macon's New Evidence Does Not Warrant
her case was pending before the Appeals Council, Ms. Macon
submitted additional evidence for the Appeals Council's
review, including treatment notes from visits to CED Mental
Health dated December 11, 2014 through January 13, 2016.
(Doc. 6-3, pp. 9-29, 33-53). Ms. Macon argues that the
Appeals Council erroneously failed to consider this new
evidence that post-dates the ALJ's May 30, 2014 decision.
(Doc. 8, pp. 20-31; Doc. 10, pp. 1-4).
a few exceptions, a claimant is allowed to present new
evidence at each stage of the administrative process, '
including before the Appeals Council.” Washington
v. Soc. Sec. Admin., Comm'r, 806 F.3d 1317, 1320
(11th Cir. 2015) (quoting Ingram v. Soc. Sec.
Admin., 496 F.3d 1253, 1261 (11th Cir. 2007)). The
Appeals Council must review evidence that is new, material,
and chronologically relevant. Ingram, 496 F.3d at
1261. The Court reviews de novo whether supplemental
evidence is new, material, and chronologically relevant.
Washington, 806 F.3d at 1321.
Macon contends that the Appeals Council did not consider
whether her new evidence is chronologically relevant. (Doc.
8, p. 21). Her argument rests on this paragraph from the
Appeals Council's decision:
We also looked at medical records from CED Mental Health
dated December 11, 2014, through March 3, 2015 - 21 pages and
medical records from CED Mental Health dated April 29, 2015,
through January 13, 2016 - 21 pages. The Administrative Law
Judge decided your case through October 30, 2014. This new
information is about a later time.
Therefore, it does not affect the decision about whether you
were disabled begging on or before October 30, 2014.
(Doc. 8, p. 21) (quoting Doc. 6-3, p. 3) (emphasis in Appeals
Council's decision). The Eleventh Circuit Court of
Appeals rejected a similar argument in Hargress v. Soc.
Sec. Admin., Comm'r, ___ F.3d ___, 2018 WL 1061567
(11th Cir. Feb. 27, 2018). The Eleventh Circuit stated:
the record does not support Hargress's claim that the
Appeals Council refused to consider her new evidence-the
medical records from Drs. Teschner and Sparks and from
Trinity Medical Center dated after the ALJ's hearing
decision-without considering whether it was chronologically
relevant. The Appeals Council stated that the new records
were “about a later time” than the ALJ's
February 24, 2015 hearing decision and
“[t]herefore” the new records did “not
affect the decision about whether [Hargress was] disabled
beginning on or before February 24, 2015.” In short,
the Appeals Council declined to consider these new medical
records because they were not chronologically relevant. The
Appeals Council ...