United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS, United States District Judge
Kimberlyn Denise Riggins (“Riggins”) brings this
action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Riggins seeks review of
a final adverse decision of the Commissioner of the Social
Security Administration (“Commissioner”), who
denied her application for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) and supplemental security income
(“SSI”). Riggins filed her application on January
10, 2014. After that, Riggins exhausted the administrative
remedies available before the Commissioner. This case is now
ripe for judicial review under section 205(g) of the Social
Security Act (the “Act”), 42 U.S.C. §
appeals the ALJ's decision on seven different grounds.
After reviewing the entire record and the arguments set
forth, this Court AFFIRMS the
“was 46 years old . . . on [her] alleged disability
onset date.” (Tr. 82). Her past relevant work includes
being “a patient insurance clerk, an inventory clerk,
and a warehouse worker.” (Id.). The alleged
onset date is August 1, 2013. (Id. at 73). On
January 10, 2014, Riggins applied for SSI and DIB.
(Id.). The Social Security Administration denied
that application on March 17, 2014. (Id.). On
November 10, 2015, Administrative Law Judge Lisa M. Johnson
held a video hearing. (Id.). The ALJ issued her
decision on December 4, 2015, which was unfavorable to
Riggins. (Id. at 84). The ALJ determined that
Riggins suffers from numerous severe impairments but found
that her impairments did not meet the severity of the ones
included in the Code of Federal Regulations. (Id. at
75-76). The ALJ also determined that Riggins could still
perform substantial gainful activity. (Id. at
82-83). Riggins requested the Appeals Council review her
claim. (Id. at 1-4). They refused. (Id.).
filed her Complaint in the Northern District of Alabama on
March 7, 2017. (Doc. 1). She filed her brief in support of
her Complaint on November 8, 2017. (Doc. 8). The Commissioner
responded on January 10, 2018. (Doc. 11). Riggins replied on
January 24, 2018. (Doc. 12).
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). This court will determine that
the ALJ's opinion is supported by substantial evidence if
it finds “such relevant evidence as a reasonable person
would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Id. Substantial evidence is “more than a
scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Id.
Factual findings that are supported by substantial evidence
must be upheld by the court.
ALJ's legal conclusions, however, are reviewed 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 that the
proper legal analysis has been conducted, the ALJ's
decision must be reversed. 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 an entitlement to disability benefits, a claimant
must provide evidence about a “physical or mental
impairment” that “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 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). The sequential analysis
goes as follows:
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
Pope, 998 F.2d at 477; accord Foote v.
Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1559 (11th Cir. 1995).
Commissioner must further show that such work exists in the
national economy in significant numbers. Id.
Findings of the Administrative Law Judge
considering the record, the ALJ made the following findings:
1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through December 31, 2017.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since August 1, 2013, the alleged onset date (20 CFR
404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments:
degenerative disc disease with lumbar pain and cervicalgia,
gastroesophageal disease (GERD), narcolepsy, and rheumatoid
arthritis (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or a combination
of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), ...