United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION
Scott Coogler United States District Judge.
plaintiff, Paula S. Fullerton, appeals from the decision of
the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying her applications for
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), a period of
disability, and Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”). Ms. Fullerton 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).
Fullerton was 51 years old at the time of the Administrative
Law Judge's (“ALJ's”) decision, and she
has a high school education, as well two years of college
completed. (Tr. at 89, 102, 117-22, 363.) Her past work
experiences include employment as a real estate agent and
courier/interior decorator. (Id.) Ms. Fullerton
claims that she became disabled on January 1, 2014, due to
diabetes, staph infection, anxiety, depression, back
problems, blood clots, and gout. (Tr. at 362).
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 found that
Ms. Fullerton meets the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through the date of her decision. (Tr. at
94.) She further determined that Ms. Fullerton has not
engaged in SGA since the alleged onset of her disability.
(Id.) According to the ALJ, Plaintiff's
degenerative disc disease, diabetes mellitus, generalized
arthritis, polyneuropathy, generalized anxiety disorder,
panic disorder with agoraphobia, bipolar disorder, and
depression are considered “severe” based on the
requirements set forth in the regulations. (Tr. at 95.)
However, she 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 95-96.) The ALJ
determined that Ms. Fullerton has the following RFC: to
perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) in that she can occasionally lift
and carry twenty pounds, frequently lift and carry ten
pounds, sit six of eight hours in a workday, and stand or
walk six of eight hours in a work day; she is further limited
in that she can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds and
can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop,
kneel, and crawl; she can frequently reach overhead; she must
avoid all exposure to workplace hazards, such as dangerous
machinery and unprotected heights; and she can understand,
remember, and carry out simple instructions, maintain
attention and concentration for two-hour periods at a time,
adapt to infrequent and routine workplace changes and simple,
work-related decisions, and have occasional interaction with
the general public and coworkers. (Tr. at 97-98.)
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 her past relevant work but could make an
adjustment to other jobs that exist in significant numbers in
the national economy, such as courier, merchandise price
marker, routing clerk, and label marker. (Tr. at 102-03). The
ALJ concluded her findings by stating that Plaintiff has not
been under a “disability, ” as defined in the
Social Security Act, from the alleged onset date through the
date of the decision. (Tr. at 103.)
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 ...