United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Southern Division
WALLACE CAPEL, JR. CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
30, 2013, Jonathan Troy Esterlein (“Plaintiff”)
filed an application for Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security
Act (“the Act”) alleging disability beginning on
November 21, 2011. Plaintiff's application for SSI was
initially denied on December 6, 2013. Plaintiff then
requested and received a hearing before an Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) on July 27, 2015. Plaintiff was not
represented by counsel. After the July hearing, the ALJ
ordered that a consultative examination be performed, and a
subsequent hearing was held on November 19, 2015, at which
time Plaintiff was represented. Following the second hearing,
the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff had not been
under a disability since November 21, 2011, as defined in the
Social Security Act. Plaintiff appealed to the Appeals
Council and, on February 27, 2017, the Appeals Council denied
review of the ALJ's decision. Accordingly, the ALJ's
decision consequently became the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”). See Chester v. Bowen,
792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986). The case is now before
the court for review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Pursuant
to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), both parties have consented to
the conduct of all proceedings and entry of a final judgment
by the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. Pl.'s
Consent to Jurisdiction (Doc. 15); Def.'s Consent to
Jurisdiction (Doc. 14). Based on the court's review of
the record and the briefs of the parties, the court AFFIRMS
the decision of the Commissioner.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A), a person is entitled to
benefits when the person is unable 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
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).
this determination, the Commissioner employs a five-step,
sequential evaluation process. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520, 416.920.
(1) Is the person presently unemployed?
(2) Is the person's impairment severe?
(3) Does the person's impairment meet or equal one of the
specific impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt.
P, App. 1 [the Listing of Impairments]?
(4) Is the person unable to perform his or her former
(5) Is the person unable to perform any other work within the
economy? An affirmative answer to any of the above questions
leads either to the next question, or, on steps three and
five, to a finding of disability. A negative answer to any
question, other than step three, leads to a determination of
McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir.
burden of proof rests on a claimant through Step Four.
See Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1237-39
(11th Cir. 2004). A claimant establishes a prima facie case
of qualifying disability once they have carried the burden of
proof from Step One through Step Four. At Step Five, the
burden shifts to the Commissioner, who must then show there
are a significant number of jobs in the national economy the
claimant can perform. Id.
perform the fourth and fifth steps, the ALJ must determine
the claimant's Residual Functional Capacity
(“RFC”). Id. at 1238-39. The RFC is what
the claimant is still able to do despite the claimant's
impairments and is based on all relevant medical and other
evidence. Id. It may contain both exertional and
nonexertional limitations. Id. at 1242-43. At the
fifth step, the ALJ considers the claimant's RFC, age,
education, and work experience to determine if there are jobs
available in the national economy the claimant can perform.
Id. at 1239. To do this, the ALJ can either use the
Medical Vocational Guidelines (“grids”) or call a
vocational expert (“VE”). Id. at
grids allow the ALJ to consider factors such as age,
confinement to sedentary or light work, inability to speak
English, educational deficiencies, and lack of job
experience. Each factor can independently limit the number of
jobs realistically available to an individual. Id.
at 1240. Combinations of these factors yield a
statutorily-required finding of “Disabled” or
“Not Disabled.” Id.
court's review of the Commissioner's decision is a
limited one. This court must find the Commissioner's
decision conclusive if it is supported by substantial
evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Graham v. Apfel,
129 F.3d 1420, 1422 (11th Cir. 1997). “Substantial
evidence is more than a scintilla, but less than a
preponderance. It is such relevant evidence as a reasonable
person would accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 401 (1971); see also Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004) (“Even
if the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's
findings, [a reviewing court] must affirm if the decision
reached is supported by substantial evidence.”). A
reviewing court may not look only to those parts of the