United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Western Division
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c), plaintiff
Monica Delane Harris seeks judicial review of a final adverse
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. The
Commissioner denied Ms. Harris's claims for a period of
disability and disability insurance benefits. After careful
review, the Court remands this matter for additional
November of 2014, Ms. Harris applied for disability insurance
benefits. (Doc. 7-3, p. 16); (see Doc. 7-4, p. 17
(Box 7 - indicating disability insurance benefits claim and
Box 11 - indicating date of application); see also
Doc. 7-6, p. 2 (Application Summary)). Ms. Harris alleges
that her disability began on May 16, 2014. (Doc. 7-6, p. 2;
Doc. 7-4, p. 17 (Box 11)). The Commissioner denied Ms.
Harris's claim in March of 2015. (Doc. 7-3, p. 16; Doc.
7-5, p. 8).
Harris requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(ALJ). (Doc. 7-3, p. 12). On July 18, 2016, the ALJ held a
hearing in Birmingham, Alabama. (Doc. 7-3, p. 33). The ALJ
issued an unfavorable decision on September 13, 2016. (Doc.
7-3, pp. 13-15, 28). On May 24, 2017, the Appeals Council
declined Ms. Harris's request for review (Doc. 7-3, p.
2), making the Commissioner's decision final for this
Court's judicial review. See 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) and 1383(c).
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 quotation marks
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 the Ms. Harris met the insured
status requirements of the Social Security Act through
December 31, 2018. (Doc. 7-3, p. 18). The ALJ determined that
Ms. Harris had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since May 16, 2014, the alleged onset date. (Doc. 7-3, p.
concluded that Ms. Harris suffers from the severe impairment
of degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine status post
diskectomy. (Doc. 7-3, p. 18). The ALJ determined Ms. Harris
has the following non-severe impairments: complex regional
pain syndrome, essential hypertension, vertigo, obesity, and
anxiety. (Doc. 7-3, pp. 18-20). Based on a review of the
medical evidence, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Harris does not
have an impairment or a combination of impairments that meets
or medically equals the severity of any listed impairments in
20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Doc. 7-3, p. 21).
light of Ms. Harris's impairments, the ALJ evaluated Ms.
Harris's residual functional capacity. The ALJ determined
that Ms. Harris has the RFC to perform:
Sedentary work . . . limited to unskilled work not involving
complex instructions or procedures. The claimant cannot climb
ladders, ropes or scaffolds, or work at unprotected heights
or around hazardous machinery. The claimant can occasionally
climb ramps or stairs, stoop, crawl, crouch and kneel.
Lastly, the claimant can tolerate frequent interaction with
coworkers, supervisors and the general public.
(Doc. 7-3, p. 21)
on this RFC, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Harris cannot perform
her past relevant job as a food service worker. (Doc. 7-3, p.
26). Relying upon testimony from a vocational expert, the ALJ
found that other jobs existed in the national economy that
Ms. Harris could do, including optical goods assembler, wire
wrapper, and stuffer. (Doc. 7-3, pp. 27, 49). Accordingly,
the ALJ determined that Ms. Harris was not under a disability
within the meaning of the Social Security Act at any time
from May 16, 2014, the alleged onset date, through November
18, 2014, the date of the decision. (Doc. 7-3, p. 28).
appeal, Ms. Harris maintains that the ALJ improperly
evaluated her credibility under the Eleventh Circuit pain
standard and disregarded the side effects of her pain
medication. (Doc. 9, pp. 7-11). After considering the
parties' arguments and examining the record, the Court
finds that the record does not contain substantial evidence
to support the ALJ's decision.
establish disability based on testimony about subjective
pain, a claimant must provide “(1) evidence of an
underlying medical condition and either (2) objective medical
evidence that confirms the severity of the alleged pain
arising from that condition or (3) that the objectively
determined medical condition is of such a severity that it
can be reasonably expected to give rise to the alleged
pain.” Holt v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d 1221, 1223
(11th Cir. 1991).
determining the existence of a disability, “[a]
claimant's subjective testimony supported by medical
evidence that satisfies the pain standard is itself
sufficient to support a finding of disability.”
Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1561 (11th Cir. 1995)
(quoting Holt, 921 F.2d at 1223). If an ALJ finds
that the claimant's testimony is not credible, then the
ALJ must explain the reason for discrediting that testimony.
Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1212 n.4 (11th
Cir. 2005) (requiring “explicit articulation of the
reasons justifying a decision to discredit a claimant's
subjective pain testimony”) (internal citation
omitted); Holt, ...