United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION 
H. ENGLAND, III, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Shannon Wells (“Wells”) seeks review, pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 405(g), § 205(g) of the Social Security
Act, of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social
Security Administration (“Commissioner”), denying
her application for a period of disability and disability
insurance benefits (“DIB”) as well as her
application for supplemental security income
(“SSI”). (Doc. 1). Wells timely pursued and
exhausted her administrative remedies. This case is therefore
ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g),
1383(c)(3). The undersigned has carefully considered the
record and, for the reasons stated below, the
Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.
Factual and Procedural History
September 18, 2014, Wells protectively filed applications for
a period of disability and DIB as well as for SSI, alleging
she became unable to work beginning August 11, 2014. (Tr. 58,
229-38). The Agency initially denied Wells' applications
on December 31, 2014. (Tr. 58, 168-78). Thereafter, Wells
filed a written request for a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 58, 179).
Wells appeared and testified at a hearing held on September
14, 2015, in Gadsden, Alabama. (Tr. 58, 78-130). After the
hearing, the ALJ denied Wells' claim on November 17,
2015. (Tr. 55-77). Wells sought review by the Appeals
Council, but it declined her request on February 13, 2017.
(Tr. 1-7). On that date, the ALJ's decision became the
final decision of the Commissioner. On April 13, 2017, Wells
initiated this action. (See doc. 1).
was thirty-eight-years-old at the time of the hearing. (Tr.
70). Wells has at least a high school education and can
communicate in English. (Tr. 71). Wells' past relevant
work includes being a home health aide, an assistant manager,
an auto detailer, and a sales attendant. (Tr. 70).
Standard of Review
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). 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 supported by substantial
evidence. “Substantial evidence may even exist contrary
to the findings of the ALJ, and [the reviewing court] may
have taken a different view of it as a factfinder. Yet, if
there is substantially supportive evidence, the findings
cannot be overturned.” Barron v. Sullivan, 924
F.2d 227, 230 (11th Cir. 1991). However, the Court 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 the proper
legal analysis has been conducted, it must reverse the
ALJ's decision. 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 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.
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 the 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). “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
other job.” Pope, 998 F.2d at 477; accord
Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1559 (11th Cir. 1995).
The Commissioner must further show such work exists in the
national economy in significant numbers. Id.
Findings of the Administrative Law Judge
consideration of the entire record and application of the
sequential evaluation process, the ALJ made the following
One, the ALJ found Wells met the insured status requirements
of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2016 (her
date last insured or “DLI”), and that Wells had
not engaged in substantial gainful activity from her alleged
onset date of August 11, 2014. (Tr. 61). At Step Two, the ALJ
found Wells has the following severe impairments: arthritis,
scoliosis, anxiety, and depression. (Id.). At Step
Three, the ALJ found Wells did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one
of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1. (Tr. 62-65).
proceeding to Step Four, the ALJ determined Wells'
residual functioning capacity (“RFC”), which is
the most a claimant can do despite her impairments.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1). The ALJ
determined that Wells had the RFC to perform sedentary work
as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(a) and
416.967(a) except Wells is unable to drive. Wells is unable
to have exposure to uneven terrain. Wells is unable to climb.
Wells is unable to have exposure to unprotected heights.
Wells is unable to operate hazardous machinery. Wells is able
to stoop and crouch occasionally. Wells is able to perform
simple, repetitive, non-complex tasks. Wells is able to use
her upper extremities for pushing and for pulling
occasionally. Wells is able to use her lower extremities for
pushing and/or pulling or for foot controls occasionally.
Four, the ALJ determined Wells is unable to perform any past
relevant work. (Tr. 70). At Step Five, the ALJ determined,
based on Wells' age, education, work experience, and RFC,
jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy
Jones could perform. (Tr. 71-72). Therefore, the ALJ
determined Wells has not been under a disability and denied
Wells' claim. (Tr. 72).
the court may only reverse a finding of the Commissioner if
it is not supported by substantial evidence or because
improper legal standards were applied, “[t]his does not
relieve the court of its responsibility to scrutinize the
record in its entirety to ascertain whether substantial
evidence supports each essential administrative
finding.” Walden v. Schweiker, 672 F.2d 835,
838 (11th Cir. 1982) (citing Strickland v. Wells,
615 F.2d 1103, 1106 (5th Cir. 1980)). The court, however,
“abstains from reweighing the evidence or substituting
its own judgment for that of the [Commissioner].”
Id. (citation omitted).
substantial evidence supports the ALJ's determination
Wells failed to demonstrate a disability, and the ALJ applied
the proper standards to reach this conclusion. Wells
challenges the Commissioner's decision on the following
specific grounds: (1) the ALJ is biased against claimants and
such bias affected his decision in this case; (2) the ALJ
failed to accord proper weight to the opinions of treating
physician Dr. Odeane Conner and consulting psychologist Dr.
Jack Bentley, and failed to show cause for rejecting Dr.
Conner's opinion; (3) the decision was not based on
substantial evidence when submissions to the Appeals Council
are considered, as the Appeals Council failed to review new,
material, and chronologically relevant submissions solely
because the records were dated after the date of the
ALJ's decision; (4) the ALJ failed to state adequate
reasons for finding Wells' allegations not credible; and
(5) the ALJ failed to develop the record concerning the side
effects of Wells' pain medication. (Doc. 12 at 2).
Allegations of ALJ Bias
contends the ALJ is biased against social security claimants
and that the ALJ's bias affected his decision in her
case. (Doc. 12 at 30). Wells further asserts the ALJ has a
“pattern and practice [of] substituting his opinion for
the opinions of medical experts.” (Id.). In
support of her argument, Wells contends the ALJ disregarded
her treating physician's opinion, has a low rate of
favorable decisions, and has previously been reversed by
federal courts numerous times. (Id. at 30-37; doc.
18 at 1-3).
Eleventh Circuit explained in Miles ...