United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION
Scott Coogler United States District Judge.
plaintiff, Barbara Blevins, appeals from the decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying her application for
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). Ms. Blevins
timely pursued and exhausted her administrative remedies and
the decision of the Commissioner is ripe for review pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).
Blevins was thirty-nine years old at the time of her
application and forty-one years old at the time of the
Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ's”)
decision. (Tr. at 33, 135.) She has a high school education
and some college, and past work experience as a substitute
teacher. (Tr. at 151, 166-68.) Ms. Blevins claims that she
became disabled on May 25, 2012,  due to adjustment disorder,
depression, obesity, primary fibromyalgia syndrome
(fibromyalgia), hypothyroidism, essential hypertension, and
osteoarthritis. (Tr. at 22.)
Social Security Administration has established a five-step
sequential evaluation process for determining whether an
individual is disabled and thus eligible for DIB or SSI.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920;
see also Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th
Cir. 2001). The evaluator will follow the steps in order
until making a finding of either disabled or not disabled; if
no finding is made, the analysis will proceed to the next
step. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4),
416.920(a)(4). The first step requires the evaluator to
determine whether the plaintiff is engaged in substantial
gainful activity (“SGA”). See id.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). If
plaintiff is not engaged in SGA, the evaluator moves on to
the next step.
second step requires the evaluator to consider the combined
severity of the plaintiff's medically determinable
physical and mental impairments. See id.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). An
individual impairment or combination of impairments that is
not classified as “severe” and does not satisfy
the durational requirements set forth in 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1509 and 416. 909 will result in a finding
of not disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). The decision depends
on the medical evidence contained in the record. See Hart
v. Finch, 440 F.2d 1340, 1341 (5th Cir. 1971)
(concluding that “substantial medical evidence in the
record” adequately supported the finding that the
plaintiff was not disabled).
the third step requires the evaluator to consider whether the
plaintiff's impairment or combination of impairments
meets or is medically equal to the criteria of an impairment
listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii),
416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the criteria of a listed impairment
and the durational requirements set forth in 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1509 and 416.909 are satisfied, the
evaluator will make a finding of disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii).
plaintiff's impairment, or combination of impairments,
does not meet a medically equal a listed impairment, the
evaluator must determine the plaintiff's residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) before proceeding to
the fourth step. See id. §§ 404.1520(e),
416.920(e). The fourth step requires the evaluator to
determine whether the plaintiff has the RFC to perform the
requirements of his past relevant work. See id.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the
plaintiff's impairment or combination of impairments does
not prevent him from performing his past relevant work, the
evaluator will make a finding of not disabled. See
fifth and final step requires the evaluator to consider the
plaintiff's RFC, age, education, and work experience in
order to determine whether the plaintiff can make an
adjustment to other work. See id. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v). If the plaintiff can
perform other work, the evaluator will find him not disabled.
Id.; see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g),
416.920(g). If the plaintiff cannot perform other work, the
evaluator will find him disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(v), 404.1520(g), 416.920(a)(4)(v), 416.920(g).
the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ first determined
that Ms. Blevins has not engaged in SGA since February 5,
2014, the application date. (Tr. at 22.) According to the
ALJ, Plaintiff's adjustment disorder, depression,
obesity, fibromyalgia, hypothyroidism, essential
hypertension, and osteoarthritis are considered
“severe” based on the requirements set forth in
the regulations. (Id.) However, he found that these
impairments neither meet nor medically equal any of the
listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix
1. (Tr. at 23.) The ALJ did not find Ms. Blevins's
allegations to be totally credible, and he determined that
she has the RFC to perform sedentary work as defined in 20
§ C.F.R. § 416.967(a) with additional limitations.
(Tr. at 25). Plaintiff could not climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds, could not work at unprotected heights or on uneven
terrain, could occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch,
crawl, and climb ramps or stairs, could understand, remember
and carry out simple instructions for two-hour periods and
with normal breaks, and sustain those activities over the
course of an eight-hour workday, could tolerate occasional
decision-making and infrequent changes in the work setting,
and could tolerate occasional interaction with the public,
co-workers, and supervisors. (Id.)
to the ALJ, Plaintiff has no past relevant work (because her
past work as a substitute teacher was not performed at SGA
level), she is a “young individual age 18-44, ”
she has “at least a high school education, ” and
she is able to communicate in English, as those terms are
defined by the regulations. (Id.) The ALJ determined
that transferability of job skills is not an issue because
Plaintiff does not have past relevant work. (Id.)
Because Plaintiff cannot perform the full range of sedentary
work, the ALJ enlisted a vocational expert (“VE”)
and used Medical-Vocational Rule 201.27 as a guideline for
finding that there are a significant number of jobs in the
national economy that she is capable of performing, such as
table worker, dowel inspector, and packager. (Tr. at 32.) The
ALJ concluded his findings by stating that Plaintiff has not
been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security
Act, since February 5, 2014, the date the SSI application was
filed. (Tr. at 32.)
Standard of Review
Court's role in reviewing claims brought under the Social
Security Act is a narrow one. The scope of its review is
limited to determining (1) whether there is substantial
evidence in the record as a whole to support the findings of
the Commissioner, and (2) whether the correct legal standards
were applied. See Stone v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.,
544 Fed.Appx. 839, 841 (11th Cir. 2013) (citing Crawford
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th
Cir. 2004)). This Court gives deference to the factual
findings of the Commissioner, provided those findings are
supported by substantial evidence, but applies close scrutiny
to the legal conclusions. See Miles v. Chater, 84
F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996).
this Court may not decide facts, weigh evidence, or
substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner.
Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir.
2005) (quoting Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232,
1240 n.8 (11th Cir. 2004)). “The substantial evidence
standard permits administrative decision makers to act with
considerable latitude, and ‘the possibility of drawing
two inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does not
prevent an administrative agency's finding from being
supported by substantial evidence.'” Parker v.
Bowen, 793 F.2d 1177, 1181 (11th Cir. 1986) (Gibson, J.,
dissenting) (quoting Consolo v. Fed. Mar.
Comm'n, 383 U.S. 607, 620 (1966)). Indeed, even if
this Court finds that the proof preponderates ...