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Wells v. Commissioner, Social Security Administration

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division

March 13, 2018

SHANNON WELLS, Plaintiff
v.
COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HERMAN N. JOHNSON, JR. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Shannon Wells seeks judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of an adverse, final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner” or “Secretary”), regarding her claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB). The undersigned has carefully considered the record, and for the reasons stated below, AFFIRM the Commissioner's decision.

         LAW AND STANDARD OF REVIEW

         To qualify for disability benefits and establish his entitlement for a period of disability, the claimant must be disabled as defined by the Social Security Act and the Regulations promulgated thereunder. The Regulations define “disabled” as the “inability to do 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 twelve (12) months.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a). To establish an entitlement to disability benefits, a claimant must provide evidence of a “physical or mental impairment” which “must result from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which can be shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1508.

         In determining whether a claimant suffers a disability, the Commissioner, through an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), works through a five-step sequential evaluation process. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The burden rests upon the claimant on the first four steps of this five-step process; the Commissioner sustains the burden at step five, if the evaluation proceeds that far. Jones v. Apfel, 190 F.3d 1224, 1228 (11thCir. 1999).

         In the first step, the claimant cannot be currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). Second, the claimant must prove the impairment is “severe” in that it “significantly limits [the] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities . . . .” Id. at § 404.1520(c).

         At step three, the evaluator must conclude the claimant is disabled if the impairments meet or are medically equivalent to one of the impairments listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 1, §§ 1.00-114.02. Id. at § 404.1520(d). If a claimant's impairment meets the applicable criteria at this step, that claimant's impairments would prevent any person from performing substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 404.1525, 416.920(a)(4)(iii). That is, a claimant who satisfies steps one and two qualifies automatically for disability benefits if he suffers a listed impairment. See Jones, 190 F.3d at 1228 (“If, at the third step, [the claimant] proves that [an] impairment or combination of impairments meets or equals a listed impairment, [the] is automatically found disabled regardless of age, education, or work experience.”) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.920).

         If the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments does not meet or medically equal a listed impairment, the evaluation proceeds to the fourth step where the claimant demonstrates an incapacity to meet the physical and mental demands of past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). At this step, the evaluator must determine whether the plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform the requirements of his past relevant work. See Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments does not prevent performance of past relevant work, the evaluator will determine the claimant is not disabled. See id.

         If the claimant is successful at the preceding step, the fifth step shifts the burden to the Commissioner to prove, considering claimant's RFC, age, education and past work experience, whether the claimant is capable of performing other work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f)(1). If the plaintiff can perform other work, the evaluator will not find the claimant disabled. See Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v); see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g). If the plaintiff cannot perform other work, the evaluator will find the claimaint disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 404.1520(g), 416.920(a)(4)(v), 416.920(g).

         The court reviews the ALJ's “‛decision with deference to the factual findings and close scrutiny of the legal conclusions.'” Parks ex rel. D.P. v. Comm'r, Social Sec. Admin., 783 F.3d 847, 850 (11th Cir. 2015) (quoting Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145 (11thCir. 1991)). The court must determine whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision and whether the Commissioner applied the proper legal standards. Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011). Although 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) (citations omitted), the court “may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its] judgment” for that of the ALJ. Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion” Id. (citations omitted).

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         After a hearing on January 2, 2015, the ALJ issued his decision on April 6, 2015. In his decision, the ALJ first determined that Ms. Wells met the Social Security Act's insured status requirements through December 31, 2018. The ALJ further found Wells has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 20, 2011, the alleged onset date. At step two, the ALJ found the following severe impairments: depressive disorder; anxiety disorder; anorexia nervosa; pain; disorder associated with psychological factors and general medical condition; pectus excavatum; chronic back pain; chronic chest wall pain; and restrictive lung disease due to pectus excavatum. (Tr. 41).

         The ALJ concluded at step three Ms. Wells's combination of severe impairments do not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. (Tr. 41). At step four, the ALJ found Wells cannot perform her past relevant work as a stock manager and front desk worker. He ruled Wells exhibits the RFC to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(a), with certain limitations.[1] (Tr. 43-44). At step five, the ALJ determined Wells's age, education, work experience, and RFC allow her to perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the local and national economy, such as order clerk, charge account clerk, and surveillance system monitor. (Tr. 50).

         On August 5, 2016, the Appeals Council denied review, which deems the ALJ's decision as the Commissioner's final decision. (Tr. 1). Ms. Wells filed her complaint with the ...


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