United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION 
G. CORNELIUS U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Bertha Shankle appeals from the decision of the Commissioner
of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying her application for
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI"”) and
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 affirmed.
FACTS, FRAMEWORK, AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
was forty-eight at the time of the Administrative Law
Judge's (“ALJ's”) decision. (See
R. 21, 23). Plaintiff did not attend high school, never
received her GED, and speaks English. (R. 32).
Plaintiff's past work experience includes work as a
nurse's assistant. (R. 143). Plaintiff alleged disability
due to problems with her neck, right shoulder, and back, as
well as mental problems. (R. 151).
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 substantial
gainful activity ("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), 416.920(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, the ALJ found Plaintiff
had not engaged in SGA since the alleged onset of her
disability. (R. 11). At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff
suffered from the following severe impairments: cervical and
lumbar degenerative disc disease ("DDD"); major
depressive disorder; anxiety disorder NOS; and pain disorder.
three, the ALJ found Plaintiff did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments meeting or medically equaling any
of the listed impairments. (R. 12-13). Before proceeding to
step four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the RFC to
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR § and 416.967(b)
with the following limitations:
[T]he claimant can occasionally climb, balance, stoop, kneel,
crouch, and crawl. The claimant can occasionally perform
overhead work with the right upper extremity. The claimant
can tolerate no exposure to heights, moving machinery, and
driving. The claimant can understand, remember, and carry out
short and simple instructions and make judgments on simple
work-related decisions. The claimant can tolerate occasional
contact with the public.
four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had no past relevant work.
(R. 21). Because the Plaintiff's RFC did not allow for
the full range of light 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. 22). The ALJ concluded by finding Plaintiff
was not disabled. (R. 22-23).
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 against the
Commissioner's decision, it must affirm if the decision
is supported by substantial evidence. Miles, 84 F.3d
at 1400 (citing Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520,
1529 (11th Cir. 1990)).
decision is automatic, for “despite th[e] deferential
standard [for review of claims], it is imperative that th[is]
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) (citing
Arnold v. Heckler, 732 F.2d 881, 883 (11th Cir.
1984)). Moreover, failure to apply the correct legal
standards is grounds for reversal. See Bowen v.
Heckler, 748 F.2d 629, 635 (11th Cir. 1984).
argues the Commissioner's decision should be reversed and
remanded because the ALJ failed to properly evaluate her
testimony of disabling symptoms in light of the Eleventh
Circuit's pain standard. (Doc. 15 at 3). In particular,
Plaintiff contends the ALJ's decision is not supported by
substantial evidence insofar as it discounted Plaintiff's
testimony concerning the nature and severity of her symptoms.
(Id. at 4). Plaintiff primarily relies on her
longitudinal treatment history for both physical and
psychological ailments. (Id. at 5-8). Plaintiff also
takes issue with the ALJ's disagreement with the opinions
of treating and examining physicians. (Id. at 9-10).
The evidence and issues regarding Plaintiff's
psychological and physical impairments will be discussed in
Plaintiff's Mental Impairments
testified she cannot sleep and cries often. (R. 35-36).
Plaintiff further testified she suffers from frequent panic
attacks; although she testified the medication helped, she
estimated she has three panic attacks per week, each attack
lasting approximately thirty (30) minutes. (R. 35). Plaintiff
testified her last employment, in 2013, was ...