United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
E. OTT CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Misty Ann Jemison brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g), seeking review of the final decision of the
Acting Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying her disability insurance
benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income
(“SSI”) benefits. (Doc. 1). The case has been
assigned to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge
pursuant to this court's general order of reference. The
parties have consented to the jurisdiction of this court for
disposition of the matter. See 28 U.S.C. §
636(c), Fed.R.Civ.P. 73(a). (Doc. 9). Upon review of the
record and the relevant law, the undersigned finds that the
Commissioner's decision is due to be affirmed.
first filed for DIB on July 30, 2009, alleging disability
since June 15, 2009. She also filed for SSI on August 17,
2009. In a decision dated December 21, 2010, an
administrative law judge (“ALJ”) found Plaintiff
not disabled. (R. 1155). The Appeals Council (“AC”)
reviewed this decision and found that the ALJ failed to
adequately address certain opinion evidence and
Plaintiff's mental residual functional capacity and
vacated and remanded the decision on May 31, 2011.
(Id.). On September 14, 2012, the previous ALJ found
again that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Id.). The AC
denied Plaintiff's request for review on May 20, 2014.
(Id.). Plaintiff appealed to the United States
District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, Northern
Division and on February 10, 2015, that Court found that the
ALJ failed to fully develop the record regarding
Plaintiff's impairments, failed to consider
Plaintiff's inability to afford medical treatment, and
failed to adequately resolve conflicting reports of the
physicians regarding the need for medications. (R. 1155-56).
The Court reversed the hearing decision and remanded the case
to the Commissioner. (Id.). On May 31, 2017, another
ALJ decided for a third time that Plaintiff is not disabled.
(R. 1198). The AC denied Plaintiff's request for review
on July 31, 2017. (Doc. 1 at 1).
was 41 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision that
is under review. (R. 1163). She has completed high school and
she has taken three or four college courses. (Id.)
She previously worked as a clerk and bookkeeper. (R. 1196).
She alleges disability due to various medical issues
including neck and back pain, headaches, bipolar disorder,
anxiety, and depression. (R. 354).
Plaintiff's administrative hearing, the ALJ found that
she had the medically determinable severe impairments of mild
osteoarthritis with disc bulge of the cervical spine; mild
multi-level degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine;
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; obesity; bipolar
disorder; personality disorder; and anxiety/panic
disorder/obsessive compulsive disorder. (R. 1158). She also
found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that met or equaled the severity
of a listed impairment. (R. 1159). She further found that
Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform light work with limitations.
(R. 1162). She determined that Plaintiff could not perform
her past relevant work but could perform the requirements of
representative occupations such as a garment sorter, folder,
or small parts assembler. (R. 1197). The ALJ ultimately
concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Id.).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
court's review of the Commissioner's decision is
narrowly circumscribed. The function of the court is to
determine whether the Commissioner's decision is
supported by substantial evidence and whether proper legal
standards were applied. Richardson v. Perales, 402
U.S. 389, 390, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1422 (1971); Mitchell v.
Comm'r Soc. Sec., 771 F.3d 780, 782 (11th Cir.
2015); Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th
Cir. 2002). The 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).
Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a
reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Id. It is “more than a
scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Id.
court must uphold factual findings that are supported by
substantial evidence. However, it reviews the ALJ's legal
conclusions 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, it must reverse the ALJ's decision.
See Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46
(11th Cir. 1991). The court must affirm the ALJ's
decision if substantial evidence supports it, even if other
evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's
findings. See Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.,
363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004) (quoting Martin v.
Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990)).
STATUTORY AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK
qualify for benefits a claimant must show 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. § 1382c(a)(3)(A).
A physical or mental impairment is “an impairment that
results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological
abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable
clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 42
U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(D).
of disability under the Social Security Act requires a five
step analysis. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). Specifically,
the Commissioner must determine in sequence:
whether the claimant: (1) is unable to engage in substantial
gainful activity; (2) has a severe medically determinable
physical or mental impairment; (3) has such an impairment
that meets or equals a Listing and meets the duration
requirements; (4) can perform his past relevant work, in
light of his residual functional capacity; and (5) can make
an adjustment to other work, in light of his residual
functional capacity, age, education, and work experience.
Evans v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 551 Fed.Appx. 521,
524 (11th Cir. 2014). The claimant bears the burden of proving
that she was disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act. Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211
(11th Cir. 2005); see also 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a), 416.920(a). The applicable “regulations
place a very heavy burden on the claimant to demonstrate both
a qualifying disability and an inability to perform past
relevant work.” Id.
asserts that the ALJ erred in that she (1) failed to pose a
complete hypothetical question to the vocational expert
(“VE”) and (2) failed to properly credit (a) the
side effects of Plaintiff's prescribed medication upon
her ability to work and (b) Dr. Nicholas Pantaleone's
opinion regarding the same. (Doc. 10 at 4-5). More
specifically, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to include
all of Plaintiff's limitations in the hypothetical
question and did not provide adequate rationale with respect
to the effects and resulting limitations imposed by her
medications. (Id. at 11, 13). The Commissioner
argues that the ALJ properly evaluated Plaintiff's