United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division
TARAH S. KNOX, Plaintiff,
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
F. BIVINS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Tarah S. Knox (hereinafter “Plaintiff”) seeks
judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security denying her claim for a period of disability
and disability insurance benefits under Title II of the
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et
seq. On October 12, 2018, the parties consented to have
the undersigned conduct any and all proceedings in this case.
(Doc. 13). Thus, the action was referred to the undersigned
to conduct all proceedings and order the entry of judgment in
accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 73. (Doc. 14). Upon careful consideration of
the administrative record and the memoranda of the parties,
it is hereby ORDERED that the decision of
the Commissioner be AFFIRMED.
Procedural History 
protectively filed her application for benefits on April 20,
2015, alleging disability beginning July 6, 2011, based on
degenerative disc disease; arthritis in her back, neck, legs,
and feet; bulging and herniated discs; right foot injury;
nerve damage in her leg and foot; plantar fasciitis in both
feet; and three surgeries on her right foot to remove two
cysts, repair torn tendons, and remove pieces of her
navicular bone. (Doc. 8 at 70, 113, 132). Plaintiff later
amended the alleged onset date of her disability to February
11, 2013. (Id. at 99). Plaintiff's application
was denied and, upon timely request, she was granted an
administrative hearing before Administrative Law Judge Ben E.
Sheely (hereinafter “ALJ”) on December 20, 2016.
(Id. at 31). Plaintiff attended the hearing with her
counsel and provided testimony related to her claims.
(Id. at 35). A vocational expert also appeared at
the hearing and provided testimony. (Id. at 53). On
March 24, 2017, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision
finding that Plaintiff is not disabled. (Id. at 15).
The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review
on October 13, 2017. (Id. at 4). Therefore, the
ALJ's decision dated March 24, 2017, became the final
decision of the Commissioner. (Id.).
exhausted her administrative remedies, Plaintiff timely filed
the present civil action. (Doc. 1). Oral argument was
conducted on November 19, 2018. (Doc. 20). This case is now
ripe for judicial review and is properly before this Court
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g).
Issue on Appeal
the ALJ reversibly erred in failing to expressly discuss
whether Plaintiff's cervical and lumbar impairments meet
was born on March 16, 1975, and was forty-one years of age at
the time of her administrative hearing on December 20, 2016.
(Doc. 8 at 35, 113). Plaintiff reached, but did not complete,
the eleventh grade in school. (Id. at 35). Plaintiff
is able to read and write. (Id.).
last worked as a shift manager at Starbucks in July 2011.
(Id. at 36). Prior to working at Starbucks, she
worked as a sales representative at a flower shop from 1999
to 2002. (Id. at 37). While working at Starbucks in
2010, Plaintiff tripped and fell over a floor mat, injuring
her right foot and ankle and ultimately resulting in
Plaintiff having three surgeries on her right foot in a span
of approximately a year and a half.
hearing, Plaintiff testified that she would probably be able
to stand for about five minutes before needing to sit down
because of swelling in her feet and radiating pain in her
lower back. (Id. at 45). Plaintiff also testified
that she could sit for “[a] good 15/20 minutes”
before having to stand up because of back and neck pain.
(Id. at 46). Plaintiff's foot and ankle injuries
were treated with medications, such as Neurontin and
Zorvolex, physical therapy, and surgically. (Id. at
39, 44, 46). Her lower back was treated with medications,
injections, and ultimately a surgery in September 2015.
(Id. at 40-41, 44). Plaintiff was prescribed
Voltaren for her neck, and she testified at the hearing that
she planned to have cervical epidural injections.
(Id. at 41, 462).
Standard of Review
reviewing claims brought under the Act, this Court's role
is a limited one. The Court's review is limited to
determining (1) whether the decision of the Commissioner is
supported by substantial evidence and (2) whether the correct
legal standards were applied. Martin v. Sullivan, 894
F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990). A court may not decide the
facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute its judgment
for that of the Commissioner. Sewell v. Bowen, 792
F.2d 1065, 1067 (11th Cir. 1986). The Commissioner's
findings of fact must be affirmed if they are based upon
substantial evidence. Brown v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d
1233, 1235 (11th Cir. 1991). “Substantial evidence is
more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance”
and consists of “such relevant evidence as a reasonable
person would accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d
1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983). In determining whether
substantial evidence exists, a court must view the record as
a whole, taking into account evidence both favorable and
unfavorable to the Commissioner's decision. Chester
v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986); Short
v. Apfel, 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10163, at *4 (S.D. Ala.
June 14, 1999).
Statutory and Regulatory Framework
individual who applies for Social Security disability
benefits must prove his or her disability. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1512. Disability is defined as the “inability to
engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any
medically determinable physical or mental impairment which
can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can
be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than
12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); see
also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a). The Social Security
regulations provide a five-step sequential evaluation process
for determining whether a claimant has proven his or her
disability. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.
claimant must first prove that he or she is not engaged in
substantial gainful activity. Carpenter v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 614 Fed.Appx. 482, 486 (11th Cir. 2015) (per
curiam). The second step requires the claimant to prove that
he or she has a severe impairment or combination of
impairments. Id. If, at the third step, the claimant
proves that the impairment or combination of impairments
meets or equals a listed impairment, then the claimant is
automatically found disabled regardless of age, education, or
work experience. Id. If the claimant cannot prevail
at the third step, the ALJ must determine the claimant's
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) before
proceeding to step four. Id. A claimant's RFC is
an assessment, based on all relevant medical and other
evidence, of a claimant's remaining ability to work
despite his or her impairments. Lewis v. Callahan,
125 F.3d 1436, 1440 (11th Cir. 1997). Once a claimant's
RFC is determined, the evaluation proceeds to the fourth
step, where the claimant must prove an inability to perform
his or her past relevant work. Carpenter, 614
Fed.Appx. at 486.
claimant meets his or her burden at the fourth step, it then
becomes the Commissioner's burden to prove at the fifth
step that the claimant is capable of engaging in another kind
of substantial gainful employment which exists in significant
numbers in the national economy, given the claimant's
RFC, age, education, and work history. Sryock v.
Heckler, 764 F.2d 834, 836 (11th Cir. 1985) (per
curiam). If the Commissioner can demonstrate that there are
such jobs the claimant can perform, the burden then shifts
back to the claimant to prove his or her inability to perform
those jobs in order to be found disabled. Hale v.
Bowen, 831 F.2d 1007, 1011 (11th Cir. 1987) (citing
Francis v. Heckler, 749 F.2d 1562, 1564 (11th Cir.