United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MARY A. JONES, Plaintiff,
NANCY BERRYHILL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION
SCOTT COOGLER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
plaintiff, Mary A. Jones, 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. Jones 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).
Jones was forty-seven years old at the time of the
Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ's”)
decision. (Tr. at 54.) She has a high school education. (Tr.
at 61.) Her past work experiences include employment as a
cashier and as a fast food worker. (Id.) Ms. Jones
claims that she became disabled on June 10, 2010, due to
hypertension, asthma, and a history of polysubstance abuse,
along with depression, anxiety, and an alleged attention span
“like a three year old.” (Tr. at 271, 274-75,
Social Security Administration has established a five-step
sequential evaluation process for determining whether an
individual is disabled and thus eligible for SSI or DIB.
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). If the
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),
fourth step requires the evaluator to determine whether the
plaintiff has the RFC to perform the requirements of her 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 her
from performing her past relevant work, the evaluator will
make a finding of not disabled. See id.
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 found that Ms.
Jones met the insured status requirements of the Social
Security Act through September 30, 2015. (Tr. at 54.) The ALJ
further determined that Ms. Jones has not engaged in SGA
since the alleged onset of her disability. (Id.)
According to the ALJ, Ms. Jones's hypertension, asthma,
depression, anxiety, and a history of polysubstance abuse, in
remission, are considered “severe” based on the
requirements set forth in the regulations. (Id.)
However, the ALJ found that these impairments neither meet
nor medically equal the severity of any of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
(Tr. at 56.) The ALJ determined that Ms. Jones has the
following RFC: light work as defined in 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), except that Ms.
Jones may never climb ropes, ladders, or scaffolds, and she
should perform no more than occasional stooping, kneeling,
crouching, or crawling; any work must not involve excessive
vibration or workplace hazards, such as moving machinery or
unprotected heights, she should not bear concentrated
exposure to excessive humidity or pulmonary irritants, such
as chemicals, dust, fumes, odors, gases, or poor ventilation;
the work must be limited to simple, routine, and repetitive
tasks and decisions while providing no more than occasional
interaction with co-workers, supervisors, and the public; and
she must face no more than occasional, gradually introduced
changes in workplace environment or routine. (Tr. at 58.)
to the ALJ, Ms. Jones is unable to perform any of her past
relevant work. (Tr. at 61.) She is a “younger
individual aged 18-49” and has “at least a high
school education, ” as those terms are defined by the
regulations. (Id.) The ALJ determined that
“transferability of job skills is not an issue in this
case because the claimant's past relevant work is
unskilled.” (Id.) Considering Ms. Jones's
age, education, work experience, and RFC, and based on
testimony from a vocational expert, the ALJ determined that
there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the
national economy that Ms. Jones can perform, such as a
garment sorter, a hand finisher, and a garment folder. (Tr.
at 61-62.) The ALJ concluded her findings by stating that Ms.
Jones “has not been under a disability, as defined in
the Social Security Act, from June 10, 2010, through the date
of this decision.” (Tr. at 62.)
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 against the