United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff Melissa Cobb seeks
judicial review of a final adverse decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security. The Commissioner denied Ms.
Cobb's claim for supplemental security income. After
careful review, the Court reverses the Commissioner's
Cobb applied for supplemental security income on April 1,
2014. (Doc. 6-3, p. 18; Doc. 6-4, p. 25). Ms. Cobb initially
alleged that her disability began July 7, 2013, but she later
amended her alleged disability onset date to April 1, 2014.
(Doc 6-3, p. 40). The Commissioner initially denied Ms.
Cobb's claim on July 23, 2014. (Doc. 6-5, pp. 2-6). Ms.
Cobb requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(ALJ). (Doc. 6-5, pp. 7-8). The ALJ issued an unfavorable
decision on June 17, 2016. (Doc. 6-3, pp. 18-31). On April
25, 2017, the Appeals Council declined Ms. Cobb's request
for review (Doc. 6-3, pp. 2-4), making the Commissioner's
decision final and a proper candidate for this Court's
judicial review. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
scope of review in this matter is limited. “When, as in
this case, the ALJ denies benefits and the Appeals Council
denies review, ” the Court “review[s] the
ALJ's ‘factual findings with deference' and
[his] ‘legal conclusions with close
scrutiny.'” Riggs v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 522 Fed.Appx. 509, 510-11 (11th Cir. 2013)
(quoting Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th
Court must determine whether there is substantial evidence in
the record to support the ALJ's factual findings.
“Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is
such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Crawford v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir.
2004). In evaluating the administrative record, the Court may
not “decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence,
” or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ.
Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 631 F.3d
1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (internal quotations and citation
omitted). If substantial evidence supports the ALJ's
factual findings, then the Court “must affirm even if
the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's
findings.” Costigan v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec.
Admin., 603 Fed.Appx. 783, 786 (11th Cir. 2015) (citing
Crawford, 363 F.3d at 1158).
respect to the ALJ's legal conclusions, the Court must
determine whether the ALJ applied the correct legal
standards. If the Court finds an error in the ALJ's
application of the law, or if the Court finds that the ALJ
failed to provide sufficient reasoning to demonstrate that
the ALJ conducted a proper legal analysis, then the Court
must reverse the ALJ's decision. Cornelius v.
Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).
SUMMARY OF THE ALJ'S DECISION
determine whether a claimant has proven that she is disabled,
an ALJ follows a five-step sequential evaluation process. The
(1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial
(2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment or
combination of impairments; (3) whether the impairment meets
or equals the severity of the specified impairments in the
Listing of Impairments; (4) based on a residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) assessment, whether the claimant
can perform any of his or her past relevant work despite the
impairment; and (5) whether there are significant numbers of
jobs in the national economy that the claimant can perform
given the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work
Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178.
case, the ALJ found that Ms. Cobb has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since April 1, 2014, Ms.
Cobb's amended onset date. (Doc. 6-3, p. 20; see
Doc. 6-3, pp. 40-41). The ALJ determined that Ms. Cobb
suffers from the following severe impairments: generalized
anxiety disorder; dysthymia (persistent depressive disorder);
right-side stroke from bacterial endocarditis; history of
restless leg syndrome; chronic hepatitis C; status-post drug
overdose complicated by sepsis; stroke; renal failure;
asthma; opiate addiction; celiac disease; history of
gastroparesis; and borderline personality disorder. (Doc.
6-3, p. 20). The ALJ also found that Ms. Cobb has the
following non-severe impairments: hypothyroidism and anemia.
(Doc. 6-3, p. 20). Based on a review of the medical evidence,
the ALJ concluded that Ms. Cobb does not have an impairment
or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals
the severity of any of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Doc. 6-3, pp. 21-23).
light of Ms. Cobb's impairments, the ALJ evaluated Ms.
Cobb's residual functional capacity. (Doc. 6-3, pp.
23-29). The ALJ determined that Ms. Cobb has the RFC to
sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a) except she can
only ambulate short distances up to 100 yards on flat, hard
surfaces per instance. With her non-dominant right hand she
can occasionally use hand controls and reach overhead but can
frequently handle, finger, and feel. She can occasionally
climb ramps and stairs but can never climb ladders or
scaffolds. She can frequently balance, stoop, crouch, and
kneel, but only occasionally crawl. Claimant should never be
exposed to unprotected heights, dangerous machinery,
dangerous tools, hazardous processes, or operate commercial
motor vehicles. She should never be exposed to concentrated
dust, fumes, gases, or other pulmonary irritants. Claimant
could only remember short, simple instructions and could only
engage in simple, routine, and repetitive tasks. She would be
limited to making simple, work-related decisions. She would
be able to accept constructive, non-confrontational
criticism, work in small group settings, and accept changes
in the workplace if such changes ...