United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
N. JOHNSON, JR. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Monica Caudle seeks judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g) of an adverse, final decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner” or “Secretary”),
regarding her claim for Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
The undersigned has carefully considered the record, and for
the reasons stated below, AFFIRMS the
AND STANDARD OF REVIEW
qualify for disability benefits and establish entitlement for
a period of disability, the 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 of a “physical or mental
impairment” which “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.
determining whether a claimant suffers a disability, the
Commissioner, through an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ),
works through a five-step sequential evaluation process.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The burden rests upon
the claimant on the first four steps of this five-step
process; the Commissioner sustains the burden at step five,
if the evaluation proceeds that far. Jones v. Apfel,
190 F.3d 1224, 1228 (11thCir. 1999).
first step, the claimant cannot be currently engaged in
substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b).
Second, the claimant must prove the impairment is
“severe” in that it “significantly limits
his physical or mental ability to do basic work activities .
. . .” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c).
three, the evaluator must conclude the claimant is disabled
if the impairments meet or are medically equivalent to one of
the impairments listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App.
1, §§ 1.00-114.02. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). If
a claimant's impairment meets the applicable criteria at
this step, that claimant's impairments would prevent any
person from performing substantial gainful activity. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 404.1525. That is, a
claimant who satisfies steps one and two qualifies
automatically for disability benefits if they suffer from a
listed impairment. See Jones, 190 F.3d at 1228
(“If, at the third step, [the claimant] proves that
[an] impairment or combination of impairments meets or equals
a listed impairment, [the claimant] is automatically found
disabled regardless of age, education, or work
experience.”) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.920).
claimant's impairment or combination of impairments does
not meet or medically equal a listed impairment, the
evaluation proceeds to the fourth step where the claimant
demonstrates an incapacity to meet the physical and mental
demands of past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e).
At this step, the evaluator must determine whether the
plaintiff has the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform the requirements of past
relevant work. See 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant's impairment or
combination of impairments does not prevent performance of
past relevant work, the evaluator will determine the claimant
is not disabled. See id.
claimant is successful at the preceding step, the fifth step
shifts the burden to the Commissioner to prove, considering
claimant's RFC, age, education and past work experience,
whether the claimant is capable of performing other work. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(f)(1). If the claimant can perform
other work, the evaluator will not find the claimant
disabled. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v);
see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g). If the
claimant cannot perform other work, the evaluator will find
the claimant disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v),
court reviews the ALJ's “‛decision with
deference to the factual findings and close scrutiny of the
legal conclusions.'” Parks ex rel. D.P. v.
Comm'r, Social Sec. Admin., 783 F.3d 847, 850
(11th Cir. 2015) (quoting Cornelius v.
Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145 (11thCir.
1991)). The court must determine whether substantial evidence
supports the Commissioner's decision and whether the
Commissioner applied the proper legal standards. Winschel
v. Comm'r of Social Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178
(11th Cir. 2011). Although 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)
(citations omitted), the court “may not decide the
facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its]
judgment” for that of the ALJ. Winschel, 631
F.3d at 1178 (citations and internal quotation marks
omitted). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and
is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept
as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id.
(citations omitted). Nonetheless, substantial evidence exists
even if the evidence preponderates against the
Commissioner's decision. Moore v. Barnhart, 405
F.3d 1208, 1211 (11th Cir. 2005).
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Caudle protectively filed an application for SSI on January
5, 2016, alleging disability beginning July 18, 2015. (Tr.
18, 123). The Commissioner denied her claims, and Caudle
timely filed a request for a hearing on April 26, 2016. (Tr.
96-98). The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held
a hearing on October 18, 2016. (Tr. 35-71). The ALJ issued an
opinion denying Caudle's claim on January 30, 2017. (Tr.
the five-step sequential process, the ALJ found at step one
that Ms. Caudle had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since January 15, 2016. (Tr. 20). At step two, the
ALJ found that Ms. Caudle's impairments of obesity,
borderline intellectual functioning, personality disorder,
and depression were “severe” impairments during
the relevant time period. (Tr. 20). At step three, the ALJ
found that Ms. Caudle's impairments, or combination of
impairments, did not meet or equal any impairment for
presumptive disability listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart
P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 21).
the ALJ found that Ms. Caudle exhibited the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform medium
work with the following non-exertional limitations: the
claimant can lift 50 pounds occasionally, but never climb
ladder, crouch, or perform around workplace hazards. The
claimant can understand, remember, and carry out simple
instructions. She can sustain attention to routine and
familiar tasks for extended periods. The claimant can
tolerate ordinary work pressure, but should avoid quick
decision-making, rapid changes, and multiple demands. She
would benefit from regular breaks and slower pace, but is
able to maintain a work pace consistent with mental demands
of competitive level work. The claimant's contact with
the public should be occasional and brief, no more than 30
minutes at a time. Feedback should be supportive. She can
adapt to infrequent and well-explained changes in work
setting and work expectations. (Tr. 23).
four, the ALJ determined that Caudle cannot perform her past
relevant work as a floor hanger and retail sales clerk. (Tr.
28). At step five, based on the testimony of a vocational
expert, the ALJ determined that, considering Ms. Caudle's
age, education, work experience, and RFC, a significant
number of other jobs exist in the national economy that Ms.
Caudle could perform, including line machine tender. (Tr.
29). Accordingly, the ALJ ...