United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION 
H. ENGLAND, III UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Greta Washington (“Washington”) seeks review,
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), § 205(g) of the
Social Security Act, of a final decision of the Commissioner
of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”), denying her application for
Supplemental Security Income. (“SSI”). (Doc. 1).
Washington timely pursued and exhausted her administrative
remedies. This case is therefore ripe for review under 42
U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). The undersigned has
carefully considered the record and, for the reasons stated
below, the Commissioner's decision is
Factual and Procedural History
protectively filed her application for SSI on February 21,
2013, alleging she became unable to work beginning November
1, 2010. (Tr. 43, 168-172). The Agency initially
denied Washington's application (tr. 43, 107-17), and
Washington requested a hearing (tr. 43, 128-30) where she
appeared on August 11, 2014 (tr. 43, 60-106). After the
hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
denied Washington's claim on October 31, 2014. (Tr.
40-59). Washington sought review by the Appeals Council, but
it declined her request on March 21, 2016. (Tr. 1-7). On that
date, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the
Commissioner. On May 24, 2016, Washington initiated this
action. (See doc. 1).
1968, Washington was forty-seven-years old when the ALJ
denied her claim. (Tr. 55, 168). She has a GED (tr. 208), and
previously worked as a fast food cashier, cleaner, packer,
and at a plant nursery (tr. 209). Washington alleges
disability due to a dislocated shoulder, heel spurs,
arthritis, high blood pressure, bad ankles, left side
constantly hurts, carpal tunnel, and back pain. (Tr. 207).
Washington states she stopped working on November 1, 2010,
because of her condition. (Id.).
Standard of Review
court's review of the Commissioner's decision is
narrowly circumscribed. The function of this Court is to
determine whether the decision of the Commissioner is
supported by substantial evidence and whether proper legal
standards were applied. Richardson v. Perales, 402
U.S. 389, 390 (1971); Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d
1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002). This 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). Substantial evidence is
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Id. It is “more than a scintilla, but less
than a preponderance.” Id.
Court must uphold factual findings supported by substantial
evidence. “Substantial evidence may even exist contrary
to the findings of the ALJ, and [the reviewing court] may
have taken a different view of it as a factfinder. Yet, if
there is substantially supportive evidence, the findings
cannot be overturned.” Barron v. Sullivan, 924
F.2d 227, 230 (11th Cir. 1991). However, the Court reviews
the ALJ's legal conclusions de novo because no
presumption of validity attaches to the ALJ's
determination of the proper legal standards to be applied.
Davis v. Shalala, 985 F.2d 528, 531 (11th Cir.
1993). If the court finds an error in the ALJ's
application of the law, or if the ALJ fails to provide the
court with sufficient reasoning for determining the proper
legal analysis has been conducted, it must reverse the
ALJ's decision. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d
1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).
Statutory and Regulatory Framework
qualify for disability benefits and establish his or her
entitlement for a period of disability, a 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 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.
Regulations provide a five-step process for determining
whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i-v). The Commissioner must determine in
(1) whether the claimant is currently employed;
(2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment;
(3) whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals an
impairment listed by the [Commissioner];
(4) whether the claimant can perform his or her past work;
(5) whether the claimant is capable of performing any work in
the national economy.
Pope v. Shalala, 998 F.2d 473, 477 (7th Cir. 1993)
(citing to the formerly applicable C.F.R. section),
overruled on other grounds by Johnson v. Apfel, 189
F.3d 561, 562-63 (7th Cir. 1999); accord McDaniel v.
Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir. 1986). “Once
the claimant has satisfied steps One and Two, she will
automatically be found disabled if she suffers from a listed
impairment. If the claimant does not have a listed impairment
but cannot perform her work, the burden shifts to the
[Commissioner] to show that the claimant can perform some
other job.” Pope, 998 F.2d at 477; accord
Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1559 (11th Cir. 1995).
The Commissioner must further show such work exists in the
national economy in significant numbers. Id.
Findings of the Administrative Law Judge
consideration of the entire record and application of the
sequential evaluation process, the ALJ made the following
One, the ALJ found Washington had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since February 21, 2013, the application
date. (Tr. 45). At Step Two, the ALJ found Washington has the
following severe impairments: plantar fasciitis (heel pain)
NOS, chronic left hip pain, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome
(CTS), depression, and anxiety. (Id.). At Step
Three, the ALJ found Washington did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one
of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1. (Tr. 45-47).
proceeding to Step Four, the ALJ determined Washington's
residual functioning capacity (“RFC”), which is
the most a claimant can do despite her impairments.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1). The ALJ
determined that Washington had the RFC to perform light work
as defined in 20 C.F.R. 416.967(b), with certain exertional
and non-exertional limitations. (Tr. 47-53).
Four, the ALJ determined Washington is unable to perform any
past relevant work. (Tr. 53). At Step Five, the ALJ
determined, based on Washington's age, education, work
experience, and RFC, jobs exist in significant numbers in the
national economy Washington could perform. (Tr. 53-54).
Therefore, the ALJ determined Washington has not been under a
disability and denied her claim. (Tr. 54-55).
the court may only reverse a finding of the Commissioner if
it is not supported by substantial evidence or because
improper legal standards were applied, “[t]his does not
relieve the court of its responsibility to scrutinize the
record in its entirety to ascertain whether substantial
evidence supports each essential administrative
finding.” Walden v. Schweiker, 672 F.2d 835,
838 (11th Cir. 1982) (citing Strickland v. Harris,
615 F.2d 1103, 1106 (5th Cir. 1980)). The court, however,
“abstains from reweighing the evidence or substituting
its own judgment for that of the [Commissioner].”
Id. (citation omitted).
substantial evidence supports the ALJ's determination
Washington failed to demonstrate a disability, and the ALJ
applied the proper standards to reach this conclusion.
Washington challenges the Commissioner's decision on
eight grounds. (See doc. 10 at 1-2, 4). These
challenges will be addressed as follows: (A) challenges based
on lack of substantial evidence: (1) Dr. Herrera's
opinion and (2) the ALJ's RFC assessment; (B) challenge
to finding regarding severe impairments; (C) evaluation of