United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Jasper Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION 
G. CORNELIUS U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Plaintiff Melissa Ann Benefield 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 reversed and remanded.
FACTS, FRAMEWORK, AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
was forty-seven years old at the time of the Administrative
Law Judge's (“ALJ's”) decision. (R. 19,
199). She has a high school education and speaks English. (R.
19, 201, 203). Her past relevant work includes work as a
chemical processing technician. (R. 18, 204). This job is
classified as heavy, semi-skilled with specific vocational
preparation. (R. 18). Plaintiff claimed an onset date of June
14, 2013, and stated she had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity (“SGA”) since that time. (R. 12,
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
(“ALJ”) Michael L. Levinson found Plaintiff had
not engaged in SGA since the alleged onset of her disability.
(R. 13). At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff suffered from
the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease
of the lumbar spine and morbid obesity. (R. 13-14). Although
the ALJ considered her hypertension and borderline diabetes,
he found they were not severe because they did not meet the
durational requirement or were adequately controlled by
medication. (R. 14). Additionally, the ALJ found
Plaintiff's alleged depression was not a medically
determinable impairment because her allegations of a
depressive disorder were not corroborated by the record
three, the ALJ found Plaintiff did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments meeting or medically equaling any
of the listed impairments. (R. 14). Before proceeding to step
four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the RFC to perform
sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR § 404.1567(a) with
the following limitations:
She can lift and carry items weighing up to 20 pounds
occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, sit for four hours and
stand and/or walk for four hours in a normal eight-hour
workday. She can occasionally climb, balance, stoop, kneel,
crouch, and crawl.
four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff was unable to perform any
of her past relevant work. (R. 18). Because the
Plaintiff's RFC did not allow for the full range of
sedentary work, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a
vocational expert (“VE”) as evidence for finding
a significant number of jobs in the national economy
Plaintiff can perform. (R. 19). The ALJ concluded by finding
Plaintiff was not disabled at the fifth step. (Id.).
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 ...