United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Jasper Division
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c), plaintiff Donna
Iheanacho seeks judicial review of a final adverse decision
of the Commissioner of Social Security. The Commissioner
denied Ms. Iheanacho's claims for disability insurance
benefits and supplemental security income. After careful
review, the Court remands the Commissioner's decision.
Iheanacho applied for a period of disability and disability
insurance benefits and supplemental security income on May
14, 2015. (Doc. 7-6, pp. 2, 9). Ms. Iheanacho alleges that
her disability began March 10, 2015. (Doc. 7-6, p. 9). The
Commissioner initially denied Ms. Iheanacho's claims on
July 24, 2015. (Doc. 7-5, p. 4). Ms. Iheanacho requested a
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on August
20, 2015. (Doc. 7-5, p. 9). The hearing took place on March
7, 2016. (Doc. 7-3, p. 32). The ALJ issued an unfavorable
decision on May 26, 2016. (Doc. 7-3, p. 9). On April 26,
2017, the Appeals Council declined Ms. Iheanacho's
request for review (Doc. 7-3, p. 2), making the
Commissioner's decision final for this Court's
appellate review. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g)
STANDARD OF REVIEW
scope of review in this matter is limited. “When, as in
this case, the ALJ denies benefits and the Appeals Council
denies review, ” the Court “review[s] the
ALJ's ‘factual findings with deference' and
[his] ‘legal conclusions with close
scrutiny.'” Riggs v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 522 Fed.Appx. 509, 510-11 (11th Cir. 2013)
(quoting Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th
Court must determine whether there is substantial evidence in
the record to support the ALJ's factual findings.
“Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is
such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Crawford v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir.
2004). In evaluating the administrative record, the Court may
not “decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence,
” or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ.
Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 631 F.3d
1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (internal quotations and citation
omitted). If substantial evidence supports the ALJ's
factual findings, then the Court “must affirm even if
the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's
findings.” Costigan v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec.
Admin., 603 Fed.Appx. 783, 786 (11th Cir. 2015) (citing
Crawford, 363 F.3d at 1158).
respect to the ALJ's legal conclusions, the Court must
determine whether the ALJ applied the correct legal
standards. If the Court finds an error in the ALJ's
application of the law, or if the Court finds that the ALJ
failed to provide sufficient reasoning to demonstrate that
the ALJ conducted a proper legal analysis, then the Court
must reverse the ALJ's decision. Cornelius v.
Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).
SUMMARY OF THE ALJ'S DECISION
determine whether a claimant has proven that she is disabled,
an ALJ follows a five-step sequential evaluation process. The
(1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial
gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a severe
impairment or combination of impairments; (3) whether the
impairment meets or equals the severity of the specified
impairments in the Listing of Impairments; (4) based on a
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) assessment,
whether the claimant can perform any of his or her past
relevant work despite the impairment; and (5) whether there
are significant numbers of jobs in the national economy that
the claimant can perform given the claimant's RFC, age,
education, and work experience.
Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178.
case, the ALJ found that Ms. Iheanacho has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since March 10, 2015, the
alleged onset date. (Doc. 7-3, p. 14). The ALJ determined
that Ms. Iheanacho suffers from two severe impairments:
degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine post
laminectomy x2 and obesity. (Doc. 7-3, p. 14). The ALJ also
determined Ms. Iheanacho has the following non-severe
impairments: hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and
hyperlipidemia. (Doc. 7-3, p. 15). Based on a review of the
medical evidence, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Iheanacho does
not have an impairment or combination of impairments that
meets or medically equals the severity of any of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
(Doc. 7-3, p. 15).
light of Ms. Iheanacho's impairments, the ALJ evaluated
Ms. Iheanacho's residual functional capacity. The ALJ
determined that Ms. Iheanacho has the RFC to perform:
light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b)
except that she can lift and/or carry up to 20 pounds
occasionally and up to 10 pounds frequently; stand and/or
walk, with normal breaks, for a total of 6 hours in an 8-hour
workday; sit, with normal breaks, for a total of 6 hours in
an 8-hour workday; push and/or pull same as for lift and/or
carry; occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but never climb
ladders, ropes or scaffolds; frequently balance; occasionally
stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl; should avoid concentrated
exposure to extreme cold, extreme heat, wetness and humidity;
and should avoid all exposure to hazards, such as moving
unguarded machinery and unprotected heights.
(Doc. 7-3, p. 16).
on this RFC, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Iheanacho is able to
perform her past relevant work as a cashier. (Doc. 7-3, p.
23). Relying on testimony from a vocational expert, the ALJ
found that other jobs exist in the national economy that Ms.
Iheanacho can perform, including garment folder, bagger, and
marker. (Doc. 7-3, p. 25). Accordingly, the ALJ determined
that Ms. Iheanacho has not been under a disability within the
meaning of the Social Security Act. (Doc. 7-3, p. 25).
Iheanacho argues that she is entitled to relief from the
ALJ's decision because the ALJ failed to properly
evaluate the credibility of Ms. Iheanacho's testimony
regarding her pain. (Doc. 9 at 29). This Court agrees because
the ALJ's negative credibility finding is not based on
substantial evidence. Consequently, the Court finds that this
case should be remanded for further development. See
Carpenter v. Astrue, No. 8:10-CV-290-T-TGW, 2011 WL
767652, at *5 (M.D. Fla. Feb. 25, 2011) (“[I]f a
credibility determination is inadequate, a remand to the
agency for further consideration is the proper
Eleventh Circuit pain standard “applies when a
disability claimant attempts to establish disability through
his own testimony of pain or other subjective
symptoms.” Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206,
1210 (11th Cir. 2005). “In order to establish a
disability based on testimony of pain and other symptoms, the
claimant must satisfy two parts of a three-part test showing:
(1) evidence of an underlying medical condition; and (2)
either (a) objective medical evidence confirming the severity
of the alleged pain; or (b) that the objectively determined
medical condition can reasonably be expected to give rise to
the claimed pain.” Wilson v. Barnhart, 284
F.3d 1219, 1225 (11th Cir. 2002) (citing Holt v.
Sullivan, 921 F.2d 1221, 1223 (11th Cir. 1991)). A
claimant's testimony coupled with evidence that meets
this standard “is itself sufficient to support a
finding of disability.” Holt v. Sullivan, 921