United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION
Scott Coogler United States District Judge
Jerry Easter, appeals from the decision of the Commissioner
of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying his application for
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). Mr. Easter
timely pursued and exhausted his administrative remedies and
the decision of the Commissioner is ripe for review pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).
Easter was fifty-five years old at the time of the
Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ's”)
decision. (Tr. at 18.) He has a high school education and
past work experience as a painter. (Tr. at 75, 186.) Mr.
Easter claims that he became disabled on July 1, 2014, due to
depression, anxiety, chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive
pulmonary disease (“COPD”), a bad back, and bad
knees. (Tr. at 185.)
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 the
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 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 or 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),
the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ first determined
that Mr. Easter has not engaged in SGA since October 8, 2014,
the SSI application date. (Tr. at 13.) The ALJ found
Plaintiff to have the following severe impairments: history
of drug and alcohol abuse, major depressive disorder, anxiety
disorder, borderline personality disorder, mild COPD, and
status post double coronary artery bypass grafting secondary
to coronary artery disease. (Id.) However, she found
that these impairments neither meet nor medically equal any
of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1. (Id.) The ALJ determined that Mr. Easter
has the RFC to perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.967(c) with the following limitations: he is
unable to climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; he should avoid
concentrated exposure to extreme heat, extreme humidity, and
pulmonary irritants such as fumes, odors, dust, gases,
chemicals and poorly ventilated areas; he should avoid
exposure to unprotected heights and hazardous machinery; and
he is limited to unskilled work and should have no direct
contact with the general public and is limited to occasional
interaction with coworkers. (Tr. at 14.)
the ALJ obtained the testimony of a Vocational Expert
(“VE”) and determined at steps four and five of
the sequential evaluation process that Plaintiff was unable
to perform his past relevant work but could make an
adjustment to other jobs that existed in significant numbers
in the national economy, such as hand packager, automatic
machine tender, and box maker. (Tr. at 18-19.) The ALJ
concluded that the Plaintiff was not under a disability as
defined by the Social Security Act since the date of his
application. (Tr. at 19.)
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 ...