United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION
Scott Coogler, United States District Judge.
plaintiff, Tyrone Pickett, appeals from the decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying his applications for a
Period of Disability and Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”). Mr. Pickett 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).
Pickett was 44 years old at the time of the Administrative
Law Judge's (“ALJ's”) decision. (Tr. at
21, 111.) He has a high school education and past work
experiences as a general manager, sales manager, salesman,
and material handler. (Tr. at 21, 121.) Mr. Pickett claims
that he became disabled on November 23, 2012, as a result of
multiple bulging lumbar discs, patellar/knee pain, anxiety
and panic attacks, and depression. (Tr. at 133.)
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
Mr. Pickett last met the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act on December 31, 2015. (Tr. at 13.) She
further determined that Mr. Pickett did not engage in SGA
from the alleged onset of his disability on November 23,
2012, through the date last insured, December 31, 2015.
(Id.) According to the ALJ, through the date last
insured, Plaintiff's status-post lumbar discectomy,
status-post right knee arthroscopy, and anxiety disorder are
considered “severe” based on the requirements set
forth in the regulations. (Id.) However, she found
that, through the date last insured, these impairments
neither met nor medically equaled any of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
(Tr. at 14.) The ALJ determined that, through the date last
insured, Mr. Pickett had the RFC to lift and carry up to 20
pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; he could stand
or walk up to six hours and sit up to six hours total in an
eight-hour work day; he could push and pull with the right
lower extremity; he could occasionally climb ramps and
stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl, but could
never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; he should avoid
concentrated exposure to extreme heat and cold; he should
never be exposed to hazards such as unprotected heights or
hazardous machinery; he could understand, remember, and carry
out short and simple instructions, but that he would have
difficulty with detailed tasks and instructions; he could
maintain attention and concentration in two-hour increments
with customary breaks; he could have only occasional contact
with the public; he would work best in small groups of
familiar co-workers and work better with things than people;
and that changes in the workplace should be occasional and
introduced gradually. (Tr. at 15-16.)
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 not
capable of performing his past relevant work but that he
could make an adjustment to other jobs that exist in
significant numbers in the national economy, such as
housekeeper, packager, and laundry worker. (Tr. at 21-22).
The ALJ concluded her findings by stating that Plaintiff was
not under a “disability, ” as defined in the
Social Security Act, from the alleged onset date through the
date last insured. (Tr. at 22.)
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 against the
Commissioner's decision, it must affirm if the decision
is supported by substantial evidence. Miles, 84 F.3d
at 1400 (citing Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520,
1529 (11th Cir. 1990)).
no decision is automatic, for “despite th[e]
deferential standard [for review of claims], it is imperative
that th[is] Court scrutinize the record in its entirety to
determine the reasonableness of the decision reached.”
Bridges v. Bowen, 815 F.2d 622, 624 (11th Cir. 1987)
(citing Arnold v. Heckler, 732 F.2d 881, 883 (11th
Cir. 1984)). Moreover, failure to apply the correct legal
standards is grounds for reversal. See Bowen v.
Heckler, 748 F.2d 629, 635 (11th Cir. 1984).