United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
JULIAN R. LEE, JR., Plaintiff,
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Commissioner, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION 
G. CORNELIUS U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Julian R. Lee, Jr., appeals from the decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying his application for
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) and
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). (Doc. 1).
Plaintiff timely pursued and exhausted his administrative
remedies, and the decision of the Commissioner is ripe for
review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).
For the reasons stated below, the Commissioner's decision
is due to be affirmed.
FACTS, FRAMEWORK, AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
case has a long history. Plaintiff's claims for DIB and
SSI date back to October 6, 2009, when he protectively filed,
alleging a disability onset of June 28, 2008. (Doc. 15 at 1).
The first ALJ denied Plaintiff's claims on March 24,
2011, and eventually he appealed in this district.
(Id. at 2). See Lee v. Colvin, No.
12-2935-KOB (N.D. Ala. filed Sept. 7, 2012). On
March 31, 2014, Chief Judge Bowdre remanded to the
Commissioner based on the first ALJ's misinterpretation
of a report completed by Ms. Mina Price, a licensed clinical
social worker. Id. at Doc. 11.
Appeals Council remanded, and a second ALJ, Judge Merchant,
issued an unfavorable decision on January 12, 2015. (R.
610-29). The Appeals Council remanded, finding Judge
Merchant's assessment of Ms. Price's opinion was
inconsistent with both Chief Judge Bowdre's order of
remand and SSR 06-03p. (R. 636-37). Judge Merchant issued
another unfavorable decision on June 3, 2016. (R. 642-654).
The Appeals Council denied review, and Plaintiff appealed in
this district. Accordingly, Judge Merchant's June 3, 2016
decision is the relevant opinion for purposes of this appeal.
was thirty-eight at the alleged onset date; he was forty-six
at the time of the ALJ's decision. (See R. 652).
Plaintiff has a high school education and is able to
communicate in English. (Id.). Plaintiff's past
employment experience includes work as a forklift operator,
day laborer, and grocery stocker. (Id.). Plaintiff
alleged disability due to bipolar disorder and
"deteriorating discs in [his] back." (R. 172).
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; Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274,
1278 (11th Cir. 2001). The first step requires a
determination whether the claimant is performing substantial
gainful activity ("SGA"). 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i). If the claimant is engaged in SGA, he or
she is not disabled and the evaluation stops. Id. If
the claimant is not engaged in SGA, the Commissioner proceeds
to consider the combined effects of all the claimant's
physical and mental impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). These impairments must
be severe and must meet durational requirements before a
claimant will be found 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, at which the Commissioner determines whether the
claimant's impairments meet 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 impairments fall within this category, the claimant
will be found disabled without further consideration.
Id. If the impairments do not fall within the
listings, the Commissioner determines the claimant's
residual functional capacity (“RFC”). 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e).
four the Commissioner determines whether the impairments
prevent the claimant from returning to past relevant work. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If
the claimant is capable of performing past relevant work, he
or she is not disabled, and the evaluation stops.
Id. If the claimant cannot perform past relevant
work, the analysis proceeds to the fifth step, at which the
Commissioner considers the claimant's RFC, as well as the
claimant's age, education, and past work experience to
determine whether he or she can perform other work.
Id.; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v),
416.920(a)(4)(v). If the claimant can do other work, he or
she is not disabled. Id.
the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found Plaintiff
had not engaged in SGA since the alleged onset of his
disability. (R. 644). At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff
suffered from the following severe impairments: degenerative
disc disease of the lumbar spine ("DDD"),
depression, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress
disorder ("PTSD"). (Id.).
three, the ALJ found Plaintiff did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments meeting or medically equaling any
of the listed impairments. (R. 645). Before proceeding to
step four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the RFC to
perform sedentary work with the following limitations:
the claimant can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds,
and can do no work around unprotected heights or uneven
terrain. The claimant can occasionally climb ramps and
stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. The
claimant can understand, remember, and carry out simple
instructions for two-hour periods to sustain an eight-hour
workday, provided all customary mid-morning, lunch, and
mid-afternoon breaks are provided. The claimant can have
occasional decision-making and infrequent changes in the work
setting. The claimant can have occasional interaction with
the general public, coworkers, and supervisors.
four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff was unable to perform his
past relevant work. (R. 652). Because the RFC did not allow a
return to past work, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a
vocational expert to find a significant number of jobs in the
national economy Plaintiff could perform. (R. 652-53). The
ALJ concluded by finding Plaintiff was not disabled. (R.