United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division
SHERRY S. CHAMPION, Plaintiff,
NANCY BERRYHILL,  Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
F. BIVINS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Sherry S. Champion (hereinafter “Plaintiff”)
seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner
of Social Security denying her claim for a period of
disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental
security income under Titles II and XVI of the Social
Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq.,
and 1381, et seq. On October 5, 2017, the parties
consented to have the undersigned conduct any and all
proceedings in this case. (Doc. 17). Thus, the action was
referred to the undersigned to conduct all proceedings and
order the entry of judgment in accordance with 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(c) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73. Upon
careful consideration of the administrative record and the
memoranda of the parties, it is hereby
ORDERED that the decision of the
Commissioner be AFFIRMED.
filed her application for benefits on August 19, 2013,
alleging disability beginning July 12, 2013, based on
“restless leg syndrome, plate in right arm, rods in
left arm, [and] major depression.” (Doc. 12-5 at 2, 6;
Doc. 12-6 at 2, 6). Plaintiff's application was denied
and upon timely request, she was granted an administrative
hearing before Administrative Law Judge Renee Blackmon Hagler
(hereinafter “ALJ”) on February 18, 2015. (Doc.
12-2 at 34). Plaintiff attended the hearing with her counsel
and provided testimony related to her claims. (Id.).
A vocational expert (“VE”) also appeared at the
hearing and provided testimony. (Doc. 12-2 at 57). On May 21,
2015, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding that
Plaintiff is not disabled. (Id. at 16). The Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on
September 1, 2016. (Id. at 2). Therefore, the
ALJ's decision dated May 21, 2015, became the final
decision of the Commissioner.
exhausted her administrative remedies, Plaintiff timely filed
the present civil action. (Doc. 1). Oral argument was
conducted on October 25, 2017 (Doc. 20), and the parties
agree that this case is now ripe for judicial review and is
properly before this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§
405(g) and 1383(c)(3).
Issues on Appeal
1.Whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's
assignment of little weight to the opinions of
Plaintiff's treating physician?
2.Whether substantial evidence supports the Residual
Functional Capacity (“RFC”)?
was born on September 12, 1967, and was forty-seven years of
age at the time of her administrative hearing on February 18,
2015. (Doc. 12-2 at 38). Plaintiff graduated from high school
and attended two years of college, after which she obtained a
certificate for completing computer training. (Id.
last worked in July 2013 as a waitress at Ezell's Fish
Camp and, prior to that, in 2012, she worked as a waitress at
Old Mexico. (Doc. 12-2 at 40; Doc. 12-6 at 20). From 2010 to
2011, Plaintiff worked at the Clarke County Jail as a
cafeteria worker. (Doc. 12-2 at 40; Doc. 12-6 at 20). From
2009 to 2010, she worked as an Assistant Manager at Dollar
General, during which time her duties included unloading
trucks and stocking shelves. (Doc. 12-2 at 40; Doc. 12-6 at
20). Prior to that, Plaintiff worked as the Night Manager for
Old School Truck Stop, during which time her duties included
sweeping, mopping, and cleaning the bathrooms, as well as
supervising other employees. (Doc. 12-2 at 41). She also
worked as a Department Manager for Fred Stores and as a
Customer Service Manager for Walmart. (Doc. 12-2 at 41).
testified that she can no longer work due to problems with
her back and legs which prevent her from working positions
involving heavy lifting and a lot of standing. (Doc. 12-2 at
42-43). Plaintiff further testified that her depression also
prevents her from working. (Id. at 43).
Plaintiff's medical treatments, consisting primarily of
injections in her back and neck and medications, have
provided her some relief. (Doc. 12-2 at 44).
Standard of Review
reviewing claims brought under the Act, this Court's role
is a limited one. The Court's review is limited to
determining 1) whether the decision of the Secretary is
supported by substantial evidence and 2) whether the correct
legal standards were applied. Martin v. Sullivan, 894
F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990). A court may not decide the
facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute its judgment
for that of the Commissioner. Sewell v. Bowen, 792
F.2d 1065, 1067 (11th Cir. 1986). The Commissioner's
findings of fact must be affirmed if they are based upon
substantial evidence. Brown v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d
1233, 1235 (11th Cir. 1991); Bloodsworth v. Heckler,
703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983) (holding substantial
evidence is defined as “more than a scintilla, but less
than a preponderance” and consists of “such
relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.”). In determining
whether substantial evidence exists, a court must view the
record as a whole, taking into account evidence favorable, as
well as unfavorable, to the Commissioner's decision.
Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir.
1986); Short v. Apfel, 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10163,
*4 (S.D. Ala. June 14, 1999).
Statutory and Regulatory Framework
individual who applies for Social Security disability
benefits must prove his or her disability. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1512, 416.912. Disability is defined as the
“inability to engage in 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 12 months.” 42 U.S.C.
§§ 423(d)(1)(A); see also 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1505(a), 416.905(a). The Social Security
regulations provide a five-step sequential evaluation process
for determining if a claimant has proven his disability. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.
claimant must first prove that he or she has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity. The second step requires the
claimant to prove that he or she has a severe impairment or
combination of impairments. If, at the third step, the
claimant proves that the impairment or combination of
impairments meets or equals a listed impairment, then the
claimant is automatically found disabled regardless of age,
education, or work experience. If the claimant cannot prevail
at the third step, he or she must proceed to the fourth step
where the claimant must prove an inability to perform their
past relevant work. Jones v. Bowen, 810 F.2d 1001,
1005 (11th Cir. 1986). At the fourth step, the ALJ must make
an assessment of the claimant's RFC. See Phillips v.
Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1238 (llth Cir. 2004). The RFC
is an assessment, based on all relevant medical and other
evidence, of a claimant's remaining ability to work
despite his impairment. See Lewis v. Callahan, 125
F.3d 1436, 1440 (llth Cir. 1997).
claimant meets his or her burden at the fourth step, it then
becomes the Commissioner's burden to prove at the fifth
step that the claimant is capable of engaging in another kind
of substantial gainful employment which exists in significant
numbers in the national economy, given the claimant's
residual functional capacity, age, education, and work
history. Sryock v. Heckler,764 F.2d 834, 836 (11th
Cir. 1985). If the Commissioner can demonstrate that there
are such jobs the claimant can perform, the claimant must
prove inability to perform those jobs in order to be found
disabled. Jones v. Apfel, 190 ...