United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Western Division
MICHAEL PUTNAM, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
plaintiff, Vola Smith, appeals from the decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying her application for a
period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”). Smith 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). The parties have consented to the exercise of
dispositive jurisdiction by a magistrate judge pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 636(c). (Doc. 16).
plaintiff was 47 years old on the date of the ALJ's
opinion, on August 23, 2016. (Tr. at 66). Her past work
experience includes employment as a nurse's aide,
teacher's aide, tire builder, and motor vehicle
assembler. (Tr. at 65). The plaintiff claims that she became
disabled on August 21, 2013, from pain arising from or
secondary to right epicondylar release surgery, right hand
stiffness and pain, plantar foot lesions, and severe low back
pain. (Tr. at 144-5).
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; see also Doughty v. Apfel, 245
F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001). The first step requires a
determination of whether the claimant is “doing
substantial gainful activity.” 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). If she is, the claimant
is not disabled and the evaluation stops. Id. If she
is not, the Commissioner next considers the effect of all of
the physical and mental impairments combined. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). These
impairments must be severe and must meet the durational
requirements before a claimant will be found to be 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, which is a determination of
whether the claimant's impairments meet or equal 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
claimant's impairments fall within this category, she
will be found disabled without further consideration.
Id. If they do not, a determination of the
claimant's residual functional capacity will be made and
the analysis proceeds to the fourth step. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). Residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) is an assessment, based on all
relevant evidence, of a claimant's remaining ability to
do work despite his or her impairments. 20 C.F.R. §
fourth step requires a determination of whether the
claimant's impairments prevent her from returning to past
relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv),
416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant can still do her past
relevant work, the claimant is not disabled and the
evaluation stops. Id. If the claimant cannot do past
relevant work, then the analysis proceeds to the fifth step.
Id. Step five requires the court to consider the
claimant's RFC, as well as the claimant's age,
education, and past work experience, in order to determine if
she can do other work. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v). If the claimant can do
other work, the claimant is not disabled. Id. The
burden is on the Commissioner to demonstrate that other jobs
exist which the claimant can perform; once that burden is
met, the claimant must prove her inability to perform those
jobs in order to be found disabled. Jones v. Apfel,
190 F.3d 1224, 1228 (11th Cir. 1999).
the sequential evaluation process in this case, the ALJ found
that the plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since her alleged onset date of May 26, 2014. (Tr.
at 56). According to the ALJ, the plaintiff has the following
impairments that are considered “severe” based on
the requirements set forth in the regulations:
“bilateral foot lesions, degenerative disc disease of
the cervical and lumbar spine, obesity, degenerative joint
disease of the right shoulder, and asthma.”
Id. He also determined that the plaintiff's
“gastroesophageal reflux disease [(GERD)],
hyperlipidemia, and essential hypertension” are
non-severe. Id. The ALJ found that the
plaintiff's severe and non-severe impairments, separately
and in combination, neither meet nor medically equal any of
the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1. Id. at 57. The ALJ found the plaintiff
to have mild restriction in activities of daily life, mild
difficulties in social functioning, mild difficulties with
regard to concentration, and no episodes of decompensation.
(Tr. at 57). The ALJ determined that the plaintiff has the
residual functional capacity to perform work at a sedentary
level of exertion as defined in 20 C.F.R. 416.967(a) with
additional limitations. Id. at 59. The ALJ further
After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that
the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform
sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) with the
following clarifications or exceptions. The claimant can
occasionally push and/or pull with her upper and lower right
extremities. She can occasionally climb ramps or stairs,
although she cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. The
claimant can occasionally balance and stoop, but never kneel,
crouch or crawl. The claimant cannot reach overhead with her
upper right extremity, although she can frequently reach in
all other directions, handle, finger and feel with her right
extremity. The claimant should avoid concentrated exposure to
extreme heat, extreme cold, vibration, fumes, odors,
chemicals, gases, and dust and poorly ventilated areas. The
claimant should not operate a motor vehicle or be exposed to
dangerous machinery, unprotected heights or work requiring
walking on uneven or slippery surfaces.
(Tr. at 59)
to the ALJ, the plaintiff is unable to perform any of her
past relevant work, is a “younger individual, ”
and has “a high school education and is able to
communicate in English” as those terms are defined by
the regulations. (Tr. at 65-6). He determined that
“[t]ransferability of job skills is not material to the
determination of disability because using the
Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding
that the claimant is ‘not disabled,' whether or not
the claimant has transferable job skills.” (Tr. at 66).
Even though the plaintiff can perform only a limited range of
sedentary work, the ALJ determined that there are a
significant number of jobs in the national economy that she
is capable of performing, such as surveillance system
monitor, order clerk, and charge account clerk. (Tr. at 36).
The ALJ concluded his findings by stating that Plaintiff
“has not been under a disability, as defined in the
Social Security Act, from May 26, 2014, through the date of
this decsision.” Id.
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 Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 390, 401 (1971); Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d
1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002). The court approaches the factual
findings of the Commissioner with deference, but applies
close scrutiny to the legal conclusions. See Miles v.
Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996). The court
may not decide facts, weigh evidence, or substitute its
judgment for that of the Commissioner. Id.
“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. Federal Mar.
Comm'n, 383 U.S. 607, 620 (1966)). Indeed, even if
this Court finds that the evidence preponderates against the
Commissioner's decision, the Court must affirm if the
decision is supported by substantial evidence.
Miles, 84 F.3d at 1400. No. decision is automatic,
however, for “despite this deferential standard [for
review of claims] it is imperative that the 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 standards is grounds for reversal. See
Bowen v. Heckler, 748 F.2d 629, 635 (11th Cir. 1984).
court must keep in mind that opinions such as whether a
claimant is disabled, the nature and extent of a
claimant's residual functional capacity, and the
application of vocational factors “are not medical
opinions, . . . but are, instead, opinions on issues reserved
to the commissioner because they are administrative findings
that are dispositive of a case; i.e., that would direct the
determination or decision of disability.” 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1527(e), 416.927(d). Whether the plaintiff
meets the listing and is qualified for Social Security
disability benefits is a question reserved for the ALJ, and
the court “may not decide facts anew, reweigh the
evidence, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the
Commissioner.” Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d
1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005). Thus, even if the court were to
disagree with the ALJ about the significance of certain
facts, the court has no power to reverse that finding as long
as there is substantial evidence in the record supporting it.
Smith argues that the ALJ's decision was erroneous and
should be remanded for two reasons. (Doc. 11, p.1-2). First,
she claims that the ALJ erred in “rejecting the
findings of every treating physician. In doing so, the ALJ
misrepresented or ignored evidence.” Id. at 1.
Second, Smith argues that the Appeals Council failed to
consider medical records provided to it only because the care
was obtained after the ALJ's decision. Id. at 2.