United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
N. JOHNSON, JR. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Shannon Helms 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 Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB).
For the reasons stated below, the court
AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision.
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. Washington v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 906 F.3d 1353, 1359
(11th Cir. 2018).
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
[the] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities
. . . .” Id. at § 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. Id. at §
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, 416.920(a)(4)(iii). That is, a
claimant who satisfies steps one and two qualifies
automatically for disability benefits if they suffer from a
listed impairment. See Williams v. Astrue, 416
Fed.Appx. 861, 862 (11th Cir. 2011) (“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
claimant has the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform the requirements of past
relevant work. See Id. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(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 Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v),
416.920(a)(4)(v); see also 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(g), 416.920(g). If the claimant cannot perform other
work, the evaluator will find the claimant disabled. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 404.1520(g),
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
Helms worked for more than 30 years at a hosiery mill, as a
miller, a turn sew operator, an inspector, a knitter, and a
pairer and boarder. In April 2008, Helms underwent right
carpal tunnel release surgery. She continued to work until
2008, when the hosiery mill laid her off. (Tr. 41).
Thereafter, she stayed home to care for her husband after he
underwent two open heart surgeries. (Tr. 42, 64-67). In June
2016, after her date last insured, Helms underwent knee
surgery to address problems occurring after she left the
Helms initially applied for disability benefits on October
27, 2014, alleging disability beginning June 1, 2009. She
alleged disability due to fibromyalgia, hypertension,
diabetes, and hip problems. (Tr. 79). The ALJ held a hearing
on August 23, 2016, at which time Helms was 53 years old. At
the hearing, Helms alleged disability due to knee problems
and overall pain.
December 2, 2016, decision, the ALJ first determined that Ms.
Helms met the Social Security Act's insured status
requirements through June 30, 2013. The ALJ further found
that Helms had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since June 1, 2009, the alleged onset date, through the date
last insured. At step two, the ALJ identified the ...