United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION 
G. CORNELIUS U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Plaintiff Theresa Ann Vanpelt appeals from the decision of
the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying her application for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). (Doc. 1).
Plaintiff timely pursued and exhausted her administrative
remedies, and the decision of the Commissioner is ripe for
review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).
For the reasons stated below, the Commissioner's decision
is due to be remanded.
FACTS, FRAMEWORK, AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
was forty-eight years old at the time of her alleged onset
date. (R. 125). She attended four or more years of college
and previously worked as an aerospace engineer and a systems
engineer. (R. 28, 160, 170). These jobs are classified at the
sedentary and skilled level. (R. 28, 62). Plaintiff claimed
an onset date of May 16, 2014, and stated she had not engaged
in substantial gainful activity (“SGA”) since
that time. (R. 21, 125).
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 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),
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, Administrative Law Judge
Lori J. Williams (“ALJ”) found Plaintiff had not
engaged in SGA since the alleged onset of her disability. (R.
21). At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff suffered from the
following severe impairments: major depressive disorder;
posttraumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”); an
anxiety disorder; and an eating disorder. (R. 21-22). The ALJ
specifically found no physical impairments. (R. 22).
three, the ALJ found Plaintiff did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments meeting or medically equaling any
of the listed impairments. (R. 22-23). Before proceeding to
step four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the RFC to
perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but
with the following nonexertional limitations:
She can perform simple routine tasks requiring no more than
short simple instructions and simple work related decision
making with few work place changes. She can have occasional
interactions with co-workers and supervisors and no
interactions with members of the general public.
four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff was unable to perform any
of her past relevant work. (R. 28). Because the
Plaintiff's RFC did not allow for the full range of work,
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. 29). The ALJ
concluded by finding Plaintiff was not disabled at the fifth
step. (R. 29-30).
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 ...