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Yates v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division

March 1, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.


          John E. Ott, Chief United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff 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).[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[2] finds this decision is due to be reversed and remanded for further consideration.


         Yates was forty-eight years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. (R. 46, 424).[3] 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 court.


         When 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), 416.920(e).

         At step 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.

         Applying 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. (R. 26).

         At step 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).

         Because 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).


         A 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)[4] (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).

         Nonetheless, 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.

         However, 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 ...

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