United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
MICHAEL PUTNAM UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
plaintiff, Lawanda Johnette Wiley, 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”). Wiley 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 48 years old on the date of the ALJ's
opinion. (Tr. at 20, 102). Her past work experience includes
employment as an auto assembler, a forklift operator, an
office manager, and a shipping and receiving clerk. (Tr. at
45). The plaintiff claims that she became disabled on January
1, 2014, from right and left shoulder pain, seizure-like
activity, and degenerative joint disease in the hips. (Tr. at
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 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 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, the ALJ found that the
plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since her amended onset date of January 1, 2014. (Tr. at 26).
According to the ALJ, the plaintiff has the following
impairments that are considered “severe” based on
the requirements set forth in the regulations: “status
post left shoulder capsular labral reconstruction with left
shoulder tendinopathy, bicipital tenosynovitis, mild
degenerative joint disease, and adhesive capsulitis; possible
degenerative joint disease of the lumbar spine and hips;
arthritis; obesity; and hypertension.” Id. He
also found that the plaintiff's dyspepsia, overactive
bladder, contusion, lumbar strain, ankle sprain, shoulder
sprain, menopausal/postmenopausal symptoms, neuropathic leg
pain, foot pain, frequent urination, syncope episodes, and
depression were non-severe. Id. at 32-4. 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 35. The ALJ
found the plaintiff to have no limitation in activities of
daily life, no limitation in social functioning, no
limitation 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.
404.1567(a) and 416.967(a). Id. at 37. The ALJ
The claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform
sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.2567(a) and
416.967(a) which allows her to sit for six hours out of eight
hours, no upper extremity pushing or pulling, no overhead
reaching, no climbing, no pushing or pulling with the lower
extremities or foot controls, no unrestricted heights, no
operation of hazardous machinery, no driving, and she can
occasionally stoop and crouch.
(Tr. at 37)
to the ALJ, the plaintiff is “capable of performing her
past relevant work as an office manager as generally
performed.” Id. at 44. The ALJ concluded his
findings by stating that Plaintiff “has not been under
a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from
January 1, 2014, through the date of this decision.”
Id. at 46.
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.