United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MICHAEL PUTNAM UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
plaintiff, Susan Corley, appeals from the decision of the
Commissionerof the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying her application for a
period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”). Ms. Corley timely pursued and exhausted
her administrative remedies, and the decision of the
Commissioner is ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Â§'
405(g), 1383(c)(3). The parties have consented to the
jurisdiction of the undersigned magistrate judge pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 626(c). (Doc. 18).
Corley was 52 years old at the time of the Administrative Law
Judge's (“ALJ's”) decision,
she has a high school education. (Tr. at 21). Her past work
experiences include employment as a receptionist,
administrative assistant/secretary, bookkeeper, purchasing
clerk, and payroll clerk. (Tr. at 20-21). Ms. Corley claims
that she became disabled on January 15, 2010, due to bipolar
disorder with rapid cycling, anxiety, depression,
diverticulitis, sleep apnea, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel
syndrome (“IBS”), gastroesophageal reflux
disorder (“GERD”), hidradenitis suppurativa,
folliculitis, and methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus
(“MRSA”). (Tr. at 226).
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; see also Doughty v. Apfel, 245
F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001). The first step requires a
determination of whether the claimant is “doing
substantial gainful activity.” 20 C.F.R. ''
404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). If she is, the claimant
is not disabled and the evaluation stops. Id. If she
is not, the Commissioner next considers the effect of all of
the physical and mental impairments combined. 20 C.F.R.
'' 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). These
impairments must be severe and must meet the durational
requirements before a claimant will be found to be disabled.
Id. The decision depends upon 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, which is a determination of
whether the claimant's impairments meet or equal the
severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1. 20 C.F.R. ''
404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the
claimant's impairments fall within this category, she
will be found disabled without further consideration.
Id. If they do not, a determination of the
claimant's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) will be made and the analysis proceeds to
the fourth step. 20 C.F.R. '' 404.1520(e),
416.920(e). Residual functional capacity is an assessment
based on all relevant evidence of a claimant's remaining
ability to do work despite her impairments. 20 C.F.R. '
fourth step requires a determination of whether the
claimant's impairments prevent her from returning to past
relevant work. 20 C.F.R. '' 404.1520(a)(4)(iv),
416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant can still do her past
relevant work, the claimant is not disabled and the
evaluation stops. Id. If the claimant cannot do past
relevant work, then the analysis proceeds to the fifth step.
Id. Step five requires the court to consider the
claimant's RFC, as well as the claimant's age,
education, and past work experience, in order to determine if
she can do other work. 20 C.F.R. ''
404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v). If the claimant can do
other work, the claimant is not disabled. Id. The
burden of demonstrating that other jobs exist which the
claimant can perform is on the Commissioner; and, once that
burden is met, the claimant must prove her inability to
perform those jobs in order to be found to be disabled.
Jones v. Apfel, 190 F.3d 1224, 1228 (11th Cir.
the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that Ms.
Corley has not been under a disability within the meaning of
the Social Security Act from the date of onset through the
date of his decision. (Tr. at 22). He determined that Ms.
Corley has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since
the alleged onset of her disability. (Tr. at 13). According
to the ALJ, the plaintiff's bipolar disorder, depressive
disorder, and degenerative joint disease of the knees are
considered “severe” based on the requirements set
forth in the regulations. (Tr. at 14). He further determined
that these impairments neither meet nor medically equal any
of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1. (Tr. at 14). The ALJ did not find Ms.
Corley's allegations regarding the intensity,
persistence, and limiting effects of her symptoms to be
entirely credible. (Tr. at 17). He determined that the
plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform
light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) with the
following limitations: she will have occasional difficulty
remembering multi-step and complex instructions but no
difficulty with simple work procedures; she will have
problems carrying out detailed and complex instructions but
no difficulty carrying out simple instructions; she will
require breaks every two to four hours during a workday; her
contact with coworkers, supervisors, and the public should be
casual, infrequent, non-intensive, and not prolonged; she can
accept supportive feedback; she will require assistance with
long-term planning but should have no difficulty with daily
work routines. (Tr. at 16).
to the ALJ, Ms. Corley is unable to perform any of her past
relevant work. (Tr. at 20). The ALJ concluded his findings by
stating that Plaintiff was not disabled at any time from the
alleged onset date through the date last insured. (Tr. at
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 Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 390, 401 (1971); Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d
1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002). The court approaches the factual
findings of the Commissioner with deference, but applies
close scrutiny to the legal conclusions. See Miles v.
Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996). The Court
may not decide facts, weigh evidence, or substitute its
judgment for that of the Commissioner. Id.
“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
this court finds that the evidence preponderates against the
Commissioner's decision, the court must affirm if the
decision is supported by substantial evidence.
Miles, 84 F.3d at 1400. No decision is automatic,
however, for “despite this deferential standard [for
review of claims] it is imperative that the Court scrutinize
the record in its entirety to determine the reasonableness of
the decision reached.” Bridges v. Bowen, 815
F.2d 622, 624 (11th Cir. 1987). Moreover, failure to apply
the correct legal standards is grounds for reversal. See
Bowen v. Heckler, 748 F.2d 629, 635 (11th Cir. 1984).
Corley alleges that the ALJ's decision should be reversed
and remanded because the ALJ: (1) failed to properly apply
Social Security Ruling 96-7p in evaluating the credibility of
the Plaintiff's allegations regarding her limitations,
and (2) failed to assign proper weight to the opinions of the
Plaintiff's treating psychiatrist, Dr. Fred Habeeb, Jr.
(Doc. 14). The Commissioner has asserted that the ALJ
followed the controlling law in evaluating the credibility of
the plaintiff's description of her limitations and
symptoms, and that he properly weighed Dr. Habeeb's
opinions in accordance with the governing standards. (Doc.
Assessment of Credibility
Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has held that an ALJ must
“clearly ‘articulate explicit and adequate
reasons' for discrediting the claimant's allegations
of completely disabling symptoms.” Dyer v.
Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (2005) (quoting Foote
v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1561-62 (11th Cir. 1995). A
credibility determination is not permitted to be a
“broad rejection” that would demonstrate to the
court that the ALJ did not consider the claimant's
medical condition as a whole. Dyer, 395 at 1211
(quoting Foote, 67 F.3d at 1561). An ALJ has
“wide latitude as a finder of fact” to evaluate
credibility, but that evaluation must rest on a “clear
articulation” of the relevant facts and the governing
law. See Owens v. Heckler, Admin.,
Comm'r, No. 17-11683, 2018 WL 1061567 (11th Cir.
Feb. 27, 2018) (holding that the rule “applies only
prospectively and does not provide a basis for
remand”). Accordingly, the court evaluates the
ALJ's assessment in light of SSR 96-7p. 748 F.2d 1511,
1514 (11th Cir. 1984). Pursuant to Social Security Ruling
96-7p, the ALJ has a duty to consider the claimant's
explanations for her lack of medical treatment or her
noncompliance with medical advice, without prejudging her. It
has been established that an “ALJ's discretionary
power to determine the credibility of testimony is limited by
his obligation to place on the record explicit and adequate
reasons for ...