United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION
SCOTT COOGLER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
plaintiff, Shelly Renee Stanford, appeals from the decision
of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying her applications for a
period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”). Ms. Stanford 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).
Stanford was fifty-three years old at the time of the
Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ's”)
decision. (Tr. at 357.) She has a high school education and
has completed two years of college. (Tr. at 362.) Her past
work experiences include employment as a property manager,
short order cook, dietary aide, and packager. (Tr. at 168,
363.) Ms. Stanford claims that she became disabled on May 30,
2014, due to a knee injury, obesity, depression, recurrent
hernias, arthritis, a lower back injury, and a shoulder
injury. (Tr. at 361.)
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.
Stanford met the insured status requirements of the Social
Security Act through December 31, 2018. (Tr. at 20.) The ALJ
further determined that Ms. Stanford has not engaged in SGA
since the alleged onset of her disability. (Id.)
According to the ALJ, Ms. Stanford's affective mood
disorder, obesity, lumbar degenerative changes, paroxysmal
atrial fibrillation status post permanent pacemaker, hernia
repair, and post arthroscopy of left knee 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 21.) The ALJ determined
that Ms. Stanford has the following RFC: she can lift and
carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; sit
for 6 hours and stand/walk for 6 hours in an 8-hour day;
occasionally climb ramps/stairs, balance, stoop, kneel,
crouch, and crawl; never work at unprotected heights, around
dangerous machinery, or on ladders, ramps, or stairs; perform
only simple, unskilled work with an SVP of 2 or less;
concentrate for 2-hour periods throughout an 8-hour day; work
a 5-day workweek with customary breaks; and have only
occasional contact with the general public, coworkers, and
supervisors. (Tr. at 22.)
to the ALJ, Ms. Stanford is unable to perform any of her past
relevant work. (Tr. at 27.) She is an “individual
closely approaching advanced age” and has “at
least a high school education, ” as those terms are
defined by the regulations. (Tr. at 28.) Considering
Ms. Stanford'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. Stanford can
perform, such as a folder of laundry, a hand packager, and an
assembler. (Tr. at 28.) The ALJ concluded his findings by
stating that Ms. Stanford “has not been under a
disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from May
30, 2014, through the date of this decision.” (Tr. at
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
Commissioner's decision, it must affirm if the
Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial
evidence. Miles, 84 F.3d at 1400 (citing Martin
v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990)).
no decision is automatic, for “despite th[e]
deferential standard [for review of claims], it is imperative
that th[is] 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)
(citing Arnold v. Heckler, 732 F.2d 881, 883 (11th
Cir. 1984)). Moreover, failure to apply the correct legal
standards is grounds for reversal. See Bowen v.
Heckler, 748 F.2d 629, 635 (11th Cir. 1984).
Stanford alleges that the ALJ's decision should be
reversed and remanded for several reasons: (1) the ALJ erred
in his credibility finding; (2) the ALJ erred in giving
minimal weight to the July 2012 opinion of one-time
consultative examining physician, Dr. Anil Dhuna, M.D.; and
(3) the Appeals Council ...