United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION
Scott Coogler United States District Judge
plaintiff, Karen Gillott, 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. Gillott 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).
Gillott was 47 years old at the time of the Administrative
Law Judge's (“ALJ's”) decision, and she
has a high school education, as well three years of college
completed. (Tr. at 132, 204, 512.) Her past work experiences
include employment as a cosmetologist and a house worker.
(Tr. at 60, 205.) Ms. Gillott claims that she became disabled
on April 30, 2014, due to degenerative disc disease, back
injuries, anxiety, and depression. (Tr. at 203).
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. Gillott met the insured status requirements of the Social
Security Act through the date of her decision. (Tr. at 12.)
She further determined that Ms. Gillott has not engaged in
SGA since the alleged onset of her disability. (Id.)
According to the ALJ, Plaintiff's degenerative disc
disease; status post lumbar laminectomy and hemilaminectomy
on October 27, 2015; status post anterior cervical discectomy
and fusion on September 15, 2015; and essential hypertension
are considered “severe” based on the requirements
set forth in the regulations. (Tr. at 12-13.) 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 14.) The ALJ determined that Ms.
Gillott has the following RFC: to perform light work as
defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b), 416.967(b),
such that she could lift and/or carry 20 pounds on occasion
and 10 pounds frequently; sit, stand, and walk a total of 6
hours each; occasionally push/pull with her non-dominant left
upper extremity; never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds;
occasionally perform all other postural activities; and not
have concentrated exposure to extremes of temperature,
vibrations, and workplace hazards such as unprotected heights
and dangerous moving machinery. (Tr. at 14-18).
the ALJ obtained the testimony of a Vocational Expert
(“VE”) and determined at steps four and five of
the sequential evaluation process that Plaintiff could return
to her past relevant work as a cosmetologist and could also
make an adjustment to other jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy, such as tester, assembler,
and inspector. (Tr. at 18-19). 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 19.)
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 ...