United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
E. Ott, Chief United States Magistrate Judge.
Sebrina Yates appeals from the decision of the Commissioner
of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying her application for
Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”). (Doc. 1). Yates 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). For the following reasons,
the court finds this decision is due to be reversed
and remanded for further consideration.
was forty-eight years old at the time of the ALJ's
decision. (R. 46, 424). She has a high school education and
past work experience as a machine operator and metal
fabricator. (R. 440-41). Yates applied for a period of
disability and DIB on July 25, 2013. (R. 424-25). She alleged
disability beginning on March 15, 2013, due to bipolar I
disorder, diabetes, back injury, anxiety, heart disease,
overactive bladder, hypertension, and manic depression. (R.
439). Her applications were initially denied on October 4,
2013, and she requested a hearing before an administrative
law judge (“ALJ”). (R. 256-82, 283-315). After
the hearing, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled and issued
an unfavorable decision on September 22, 2015. (R. 20-52).
The Appeals Council denied Yates' review request on May
12, 2017. (R. 1-7). This case is now properly before the
STATUTORY AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK
evaluating the disability of individuals over the age of
eighteen, the regulations prescribe a five-step sequential
evaluation process. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520, 416.920; Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274,
1278 (11th Cir. 2001). The first step requires a
determination of whether the claimant is performing
substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i). If the claimant is engaged in substantial
gainful activity, he or she is not disabled and the
evaluation stops. Id. If the claimant is not engaged
in substantial gainful activity, the Commissioner proceeds to
the second step to consider the combined effects of all the
claimant's physical and mental impairments. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). These
impairments must be severe and must meet certain durational
requirements before a claimant will be found disabled.
Id. The decision depends on the medical evidence in
the record. See Hart v. Finch, 440 F.2d 1340, 1341
(5th Cir. 1971). If the claimant's impairments are not
severe, the analysis stops. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). Otherwise, the analysis
continues to step three, at which the Commissioner determines
whether the claimant's impairments meet the severity of
an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii),
416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the impairments fall within this
category, the claimant will be found disabled without further
consideration. Id. If the impairments do not fall
within the listings, the Commissioner determines the
claimant's RFC. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e),
four the Commissioner determines whether the impairments
prevent the claimant from returning to past relevant work. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If
the claimant is capable of performing past relevant work, he
or she is not disabled and the evaluation stops. Id.
If the claimant cannot perform past relevant work, the
analysis proceeds to the fifth step, at which the
Commissioner considers the claimant's RFC, as well as the
claimant's age, education, and past work experience, to
determine whether he or she can perform other work.
Id.; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v),
416.920(a)(4)(v). If the claimant can do other work, he or
she is not disabled. Id.
the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found Yates had
not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 15,
2013, the alleged onset date. (R. 26). At step two, the ALJ
found Yates suffered from the following severe impairments:
anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, chronic pain syndrome,
obesity, history of lumbar disc disease, and cholelithiasis.
three, the ALJ found Yates did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments meeting or medically equaling any
of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1. (R. 38). Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ
determined Yates had the residual function capacity to
perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b)
which allows occasional stooping and crouching but: (1) no
pushing or pulling of the lower extremity; (2) the claimant
should work in a temperature controlled environment; (3) the
claimant should work with or around things as opposed to the
general public; and (4) the claimant should not perform work
requiring her to meet production goals. (R. 40). In reaching
this opinion, the ALJ considered Yates' symptoms, the
opinion evidence, and the medical record. (R. 40).
the ALJ determined Yates was unable to perform any past
relevant work at step four, the ALJ relied on the testimony
of a vocational expert in finding a significant number of
jobs in the national economy Yates can perform. (R. 46-47).
Thus, Yates was found not to be disabled at step five of the
five-step sequential evaluation process. (R. 48).
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)). A 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.
Charter, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996).
a court may not decide facts, weigh evidence, or substitute
its judgment for that of the Commissioner. See 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). Indeed, even if a 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.
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). Moreover, failure to apply the correct legal ...