United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Sarah Whitten (“Ms. Whitten”) brings this action
under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Ms. Whitten seeks a review of
a final adverse decision of the Commissioner of the Social
Security Administration (“Commissioner”), who
denied her application for supplemental security income
(“SSI”). Ms. Whitten 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. § 405(g).
Court carefully reviewed the record and
AFFIRMS the ALJ's decision.
amended alleged onset date is December 12, 2013. (Tr. 51).
Ms. Whitten suffers from numerous severe impairments, but the
ALJ found that none rendered her disabled. (Id. at
53-54, 67). Ms. Whitten filed an application for Social
Security benefits on December 12, 2013. (Id. at 51).
The Social Security Administration denied that application on
March 16, 2014. (Id.). Administrative Law Judge
Bruce W. MacKenzie held a hearing on September 24, 2015.
(Id. at 51, 67). The ALJ issued his decision on
December 28, 2015, which was unfavorable to Ms. Whitten.
(Id. at 67). In that opinion, the ALJ found that Ms.
Whitten did not meet the disability standard at Steps Three
and Five. (Id. at 54, 66). Ms. Whitten requested the
Appeals Council review the claim. (Id. at 2-5). The
Appeals Council refused. (Id.).
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). The
Commissioner must further show that such work exists in the
national economy in significant numbers. Id.
Finding of the Administrative Law Judge
considering the record, the ALJ made the following findings:
1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since December 12, 2013, the application date (20
CFR 416.971 et seq.).
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments:
obesity; status post lumbar laminectomy L4/5; degenerative
disc disease of the lumbar spine at ¶ 1/2; degenerative
joint disease of the right knee; degenerative joint disease
of the left shoulder; and major depressive disorder (20 CFR
3. The claimant does not have an impairment or 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 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
4. After careful consideration of the entire record, the
undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual
functional capacity, generally, to perform light work as
defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b). The undersigned further finds,
however, that the full range of light work that could be
performed by the claimant is reduced by the following
exertional and non-exertional, functional limitations: the
claimant would require a sit/stand option with the retained
ability to stay on or at a work station in no less than 30
minute increments each without significant reduction of
remaining on task and she is able to ambulate short distances
up to 100 yards per instance on flat hard surfaces. She is
able to frequently use foot controls bilaterally. She can
frequently reach overhead bilaterally. She can occasionally
climb ramps and stairs but never climb ladders or scaffolds.
She can frequently balance but can only occasionally stoop
and never crouch, kneel, or crawl. The claimant should never
be exposed to unprotected heights, dangerous machinery,
dangerous tools, hazardous processes or operate commercial
motor vehicles. She can tolerate frequent exposure to
weather, atmospheric conditions, humidity and wetness. She
can tolerate occasional exposure to extreme heat and
vibration and should never be exposed to extreme cold. She
should be exposed to no more than moderate noise levels. The
undersigned further finds that the claimant could only
remember short simple instructions and would be unable to
deal with detailed or complex instructions. She could do
simple routine repetitive tasks but would be unable to do
detailed or complex tasks. She would be limited to making
simple work related decisions and should have no more than
occasional contact with the general public but could have
frequent interaction with co-workers and ...