United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION 
G. CORNELIUS, U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Virginia Whittle brings this action pursuant to Sections
205(g) and 1383(c)(3) of the Social Security Act (the
“Act”). Plaintiff seeks review of the decision by
the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying her claim for disability
insurance benefits (“DIB”). (Doc. 1). Based on
the court's review of the record and briefs submitted by
the parties, the court finds the decision of the Commissioner
is due to be affirmed.
Facts, Framework, and Procedural History
time of the decision, Plaintiff was fifty-eight years old,
with a high school education. (R. 23, 25, 50). She was
5'6” and weighed 260 pounds. (R. 58). She
previously worked as a sewing machine operator which is
classified as semi-skilled, light work. (R. 25). Plaintiff
stopped working in 2010 when the sock factory where she
worked closed. (R. 37, 318). She received unemployment
benefits until November 2012. (R. 318). Since the 1990s,
Plaintiff has experienced problems with anxiety, including
panic attacks and problems being around people when she was
working. (R. 41, 59). Plaintiff testified her physical
problems involve her back, which was injured in a car
accident, and her left arm which hurts from pulling socks.
(R. 46, 56). She also testified she experiences pain in her
heel which limits her walking, and she must elevate her feet
if she stands for periods of time. (R. 46, 48).
daily activities include performing self-care tasks, going to
church, going to the store, washing dishes, doing laundry,
sweeping the floor, and doing light housework. (R. 41, 45,
319-20). She drives to town and to her sister's house for
visits. (R. 53, 320). She cares for a dog and prepares simple
meals. (R. 212-13). Plaintiff watches television, reads the
newspaper, and calls her mother regularly. (R. 320). She
testified medications help her mental and emotional issues.
filed her applications for DIB on April 3, 2013, alleging
disability since March 16, 2013. (R. 14, 102). The Social
Security Administration denied Plaintiff's application.
(R. 106-11). On July 16, 2013, Plaintiff filed a Request for
Hearing and received a hearing before Administrative Law
Judge Jerome L. Munford (“ALJ”) on March 16,
2015. (R. 112-13, 31-68). On May 29, 2015, the ALJ determined
Plaintiff was not disabled under the criteria set forth in 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520. (R. 14-27). On June 25, 2015,
Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council review the ALJ's
decision. (R. 7). The appeal was denied on September 12,
2016. (R. 1-3). Accordingly, the final decision of the
Commissioner is properly before the court for appellate
evaluating the disability of individuals over the age of
eighteen, the regulations prescribe a five-step sequential
evaluation process. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520, 416.920; Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274,
1278 (11th Cir. 2001). The first step requires a
determination whether the claimant is performing substantial
gainful activity (“SGA”). 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i). If the claimant is engaged in SGA, he or
she is not disabled and the evaluation stops. Id. If
the claimant is not engaged in SGA, the Commissioner proceeds
to consider the combined effects of all the claimant's
physical and mental impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). These impairments must
be severe and must meet durational requirements before a
claimant will be found disabled. Id. The decision
depends on the medical evidence in the record. See Hart
v. Finch, 440 F.2d 1340, 1341 (5th Cir. 1971). If the
claimant's impairments are not severe, the analysis
stops. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii),
416.920(a)(4)(ii). Otherwise, the analysis continues to step
three, at which the Commissioner determines whether the
claimant's impairments meet the severity of an impairment
listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii).
If the impairments fall within this category, the claimant
will be found disabled without further consideration.
Id. If the impairments do not fall within the
listings, the Commissioner determines the claimant's
residual functional capacity (“RFC”). 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e).
four the Commissioner determines whether the impairments
prevent the claimant from returning to past relevant work. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If
the claimant is capable of performing past relevant work, he
or she is not disabled, and the evaluation stops.
Id. If the claimant cannot perform past relevant
work, the analysis proceeds to the fifth step, at which the
Commissioner considers the claimant's RFC, as well as the
claimant's age, education, and past work experience, to
determine whether he or she can perform other work.
Id; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v),
416.920(a)(4)(v). If the claimant can do other work, he or
she is not disabled. Id.
the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ determined
Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since her alleged onset date of March 16, 2013. At the second
step, Plaintiff was found to have the following severe
impairments: bipolar disorder, anxiety, left shoulder pain,
obesity, and chronic lower back pain. (R. 17-19).
three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's impairments or
combination of impairments, although severe, do not meet or
functionally equal one of the listed impairments necessary to
constitute a disability under the Act. (R. 20-21). As to
Plaintiff's physical impairments, the ALJ found Listing
1.02, major dysfunction of a joint, was not met because
Plaintiff is able to ambulate effectively and perform fine
gross movements with each upper extremity. (R. 20). The ALJ
further found Listing 1.04, disorders of the spine, was not
met because there was no evidence of compression of a nerve
root, spinal arachnoiditis, or lumbar spinal stenosis
resulting in pseudoclaudication. (Id.). As to
Plaintiff's mental impairments, the ALJ found, considered
singly and in combination, the severity of her mental
impairments do not meet or equal the criteria of Listings
12.04 and 12.06. (R. 20-21).
proceeding to step four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the
RFC to perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §
416.967(c), with the following limitations: no frequent
stooping or crouching; no more than occasional climbing; no
work at unrestricted heights; no driving; no work requiring
production goals or quotas; simple, non-complex tasks; work
primarily with or around things and not people; and only
casual contact with the general public. (R. 22). Because the
ALJ determined Plaintiff was unable to perform any past
relevant work at step four (R. 25), the ALJ relied on the
testimony of a vocational expert (“VE”) in
finding a significant number of jobs in the national economy
Plaintiff can perform. (R. 26). Thus, Plaintiff was found not
to be disabled at step five of the five-step sequential
evaluation process. (R. at 27).
Standard of Review
court's role in reviewing claims brought under the Social
Security Act is a narrow one. The scope of its review is
limited to determining (1) whether there is substantial
evidence in the record as a whole to support the findings of
the Commissioner, and (2) whether the correct legal standards
were applied. See Stone v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec,
544 Fed.Appx. 839, 841 (11th Cir. 2013) (citing Crawford
v. Comm 'r of Soc. Sec, 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th
Cir. 2004)). A court gives deference to the factual findings
of the Commissioner, provided those findings are supported by
substantial evidence, but applies close scrutiny to the legal
conclusions. See Miles v. Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400
(11th Cir. 1996).
a court may not decide facts, weigh evidence, or substitute
its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Dyer v.
Barnhart,395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005) (quoting
Phillips v. Barnhart,357 F.3d 1232, 1240 n.8 (11th
Cir. 2004)). “The substantial evidence standard permits
administrative decision makers to act with considerable
latitude, and ‘the possibility of drawing two
inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does not prevent
an administrative agency's finding from being supported
by substantial evidence.'” Parker v.
Bowen,793 F.2d 1177, 1181 (11th Cir. 1986) (Gibson, J.,
dissenting) (quoting Consolo v. Fed. Mar.
Comm'n,383 U.S. 607, 620 (1966)). Indeed, even if a
court finds that the proof preponderates ...