United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
K. KALLON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Yvette Nance brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
405(g), seeking review of the final adverse decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“SSA”). This court finds that the Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) applied the correct legal
standard and that his decision-which has become the decision
of the Commissioner-is supported by substantial evidence.
Therefore, the court AFFIRMS the decision
worked as a certified nursing assistant for more than fifteen
years until she stopped working in 2013 at age 41 due to her
alleged disability. Doc. 7-3 at 62, 71. Nance filed her
application for Title II Disability Insurance Benefits on
October 7, 2013, asserting that she suffered from a
disability, beginning September 17, 2013, caused by a failed
lumbar disc repair and several other disabling impairments,
including osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, and depression. Docs.
7-3 at 34; 7-4 at 2-4, 7; 7-6 at 2. The SSA denied
Nance's application, doc. 7-5 at 4, and, shortly
thereafter, Nance requested a formal hearing before an ALJ,
id. at 10.
hearing held on April 7, 2015, Nance was represented by a
non-attorney. Doc. 7-3 at 34, 58. The ALJ subsequently
entered a decision finding that Nance was not disabled.
Id. at 31, 49-50. Nance obtained new representation
and appealed. Id. at 28-29. The SSA Appeals Council
summarily affirmed the ALJ's decision denying disability
benefits, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision
of the Commissioner. Id. at 2. Having exhausted her
administrative remedies, Nance filed this action pursuant to
42 U.S.C. §§ 1383(c)(3) and 405(g). Doc. 1.
Standard of Review
only issues before this court are whether the record contains
substantial evidence to sustain the ALJ's decision,
see 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Walden v.
Schweiker, 672 F.2d 835, 838 (11th Cir. 1982), and
whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards, see
Lamb v. Bowen, 847 F.2d 698, 701 (11th Cir. 1988);
Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir.
1986). Title 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)
mandate that the Commissioner's “factual findings
are conclusive if supported by ‘substantial
evidence.'” Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d
1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990). The district court may not
reconsider the facts, reevaluate the evidence, or substitute
its judgment for that of the Commissioner; instead, it must
review the final decision as a whole and determine if the
decision is “‘reasonable and supported by
substantial evidence.'” Id. (quoting
Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th
evidence falls somewhere between a scintilla and a
preponderance of evidence; “‘[i]t is such
relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.'”
Martin, 894 F.2d at 1529 (quoting
Bloodsworth, 703 F.2d at 1239). If supported by
substantial evidence, the court must affirm the
Commissioner's factual findings even if the preponderance
of the evidence is against those findings. See Id.
While judicial review of the ALJ's findings is limited in
scope, it “does not yield automatic affirmance.”
Lamb, 847 F.2d at 701.
contrast to the deferential review accorded the
Commissioner's factual findings, “conclusions of
law, including applicable review standards, are not presumed
valid” and are subject to de novo review.
Martin, 894 F.2d at 1529. The Commissioner's
failure to “apply the correct legal standards or to
provide the reviewing court with sufficient basis for a
determination that proper legal principles have been
followed” requires reversal. Id.
Statutory and Regulatory Framework
qualify for disability 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 twelve months.” 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(d)(1)(A); 42 U.S.C. § 416(i)(1). A physical
or mental impairment is “an impairment that results
from anatomical, physiological, or psychological
abnormalities which are demonstrated by medically acceptable
clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(3).
of disability under the Social Security Act requires a
five-step analysis. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a).
Specifically, the ALJ must determine in sequence:
(1) whether the claimant is currently unemployed;
(2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment;
(3) whether the impairment meets or equals one listed by the
(4) whether the claimant is unable to perform his or her past
(5) whether the claimant is unable to perform any work in the
See McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th
Cir. 1986). “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 ‘not disabled.'”
Id. (citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)-(f)).
“Once [a] finding is made that a claimant cannot return
to prior work the burden of proof shifts to the Secretary to
show other work the claimant can do.” Foote v.
Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1559 (11th Cir. 1995). However,
the claimant ultimately bears the burden of proving that she
is disabled, and, “consequently [s]he is responsible
for producing evidence in support of he[r] claim.”
See, e.g., Ellison v. Barnhart, 355 F.3d
1272, 1276 (11th Cir. 2003) (citing 20 C.F.R. §
The ALJ's Decision
performing the five-step analysis, the ALJ first determined
that Nance met the insured status requirements of the Social
Security Act through December 31, 2017, and that she had not
engaged in “substantial gainful activity since
September 17, 2013, the alleged onset date” of her
disability. Doc. 7-3 at 35. Accordingly, the ALJ proceeded to
Step Two of the analysis, finding that Nance had the
following severe impairments: “obesity, lumbar
degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis, and
depression.” Id. at 37. The ALJ also
identified numerous non-severe impairments including:
“hypothyroidism, gastroenteritis, vitamin D deficiency,
left ankle/foot sprain, upper respiratory infection,
bursitis, mitral valve prolapse, and hematuria.”
Id. Significantly, the ALJ concluded that Nance had
failed to establish her history of fibromyalgia as a
medically determinable impairment. Id. at 39. In any
event, because he found that three of Nance's impairments
are severe, id. at 37, the ALJ proceeded to Step
Three of the analysis and found that none of Nance's
impairments, considered singly or in combination, met or
“medically equal[ed] the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 . . .
.” Id. at 39.
the ALJ determined Nance's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”), finding that:
[Nance] has the [RFC] to perform light work as defined in 20
CFR § 404.1567(b) except [she], as part of a job
requirement, should not climb ladders, ropes, scaffolds, nor
perform around work hazards. [Nance] could occasionally climb
ramps or stairs, kneel or crawl; and [she] could frequently
stoop or crouch. Additionally, [Nance] could understand and
remember simple instructions and carry out those instructions
and sustain attention to routine tasks for extended periods.
[Nance] cold tolerate ordinary work pressure, but should
avoid quick decision-making, rapid changes and multiple
demands. [Nance] would benefit from regular rest breaks and a
slowed pace but can maintain a work pace consistent with the
mental demands of competitive level work. Contact ...