United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
OLANDRA L. BLEVINS KENNEDY, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant,
MICHAEL PUTNAM, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
plaintiff, Olandra L. Blevins Kennedy, appeals the decision
of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
("Commissioner") denying her application for
supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Social
Security Act. (R. 75, 137-46), and a period of disability and
disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Act. (R.
15). After the Social Security Administration denied her
applications, Kennedy obtained a hearing before
Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Perry Martin. (R.
775-799). ALJ Martin subsequently found that Kennedy is not
disabled within the meaning of the Act. (R. 12-28). Next,
Kennedy requested administrative review of the ALJ's
Decision (R. 135-36) but the agency's Appeals Council
denied her request. (R. 1-10). Kennedy 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 full dispositive jurisdiction of the undersigned
magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 626(c).
was 38 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision (R.
12), and has completed one-and-a-half years of college. (R.
201, 780-81). Kennedy's past relevant work experience is
as a nursing assistant, a cashier, and a check cashier. (R.
795-96). She first claimed that she became disabled on
January 1, 2014, then amended the alleged onset date to April
1, 2014. (R. 778, 784). Kennedy claims that she became
disabled due to scoliosis, hypertension, irritable bowel
syndrome, depression, and anxiety. (R. 17,
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 she
is not, the Commissioner next considers the effect of all of
the claimant's physical and mental impairments combined.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(h).
These impairments must be severe and must meet the durational
requirements before a claimant will be found to be disabled.
Id. The decision depends upon 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)(h), 416.920(a)(4)(h). 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 ("RFC") will be made, and the analysis
proceeds to the fourth step. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(e), 416.920(e). Residual functional capacity is an
assessment, based on all relevant evidence, of a
claimant's remaining ability to do work despite his or
her impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a).
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 of demonstrating that other jobs exist which the
claimant can perform is on the Commissioner; and, once that
burden is met, the claimant must prove her inability to
perform those jobs in order to be found to be disabled.
Jones v. Apfel, 190 F.3d 1224, 1228 (11th Cir.
the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that Kennedy
has not been under a disability within the meaning of the
Social Security Act from the date of onset through the date
of her decision. (R. 20). First, the ALJ determined that
Kennedy meets the insured statutes requirements of the Social
Security Act through March 31, 2015. (R. 17). Second, the ALJ
found that Kennedy has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since January 1, 2014, the alleged onset
date. (R. 17). Third, according the to the ALJ,
Kennedy's scoliosis, obesity, hypertension, irritable
bowel syndrome, depression, and anxiety are considered
"severe" based on the requirements set forth in the
regulations. (R. 17). Fourth, the ALJ determined that Kennedy
"does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meet or medically equals the severity of one
of the listed impairments" in the regulations. (R. 18).
Fifth and finally, the ALJ found that Kennedy "has the
residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as
defined in 20 C.F.R 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a). . . ."
(R 20). However, the ALJ found that she should only
"occasionally push or pull with her upper and lower
extremities"; she "cannot climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds, but she can occasionally climb ramps and
stairs." (R. 20). Kennedy may also "occasionally
balance, kneel, crouch, stoop, and crawl"; but she
"must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme heat, cold,
and concentrated exposure to vibration." (R. 20).
"Additionally, the claimant should have no exposure to
hazardous machinery or unprotected heights. During a
regularly scheduled workday, or the equivalent thereof, the
claimant can understand and remember short and simple
instructions, but is unable to do so with detailed or complex
instructions." (R. 21). The ALJ continued that Kennedy
"is able to do simple, routine, repetitive tasks, but is
unable to do so with detailed or complex tasks." (R.
21). Further, Kennedy "can have no more than occasional
contact with the general public" and "can deal with
changes in the workplace, if the changes are introduced
occasionally and gradually, and are well explained." (R.
the ALJ determined that Kennedy "is unable to perform
any past relevant work" and that "[considering the
claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual
functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform
. . . ." (R. 27).
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). Substantial evidence is
"more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as
a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a
conclusion." Crawford v. Commissioner of Soc.
Sec, 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004) (quoting
Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1439-40 (11th Cir.
1997)). 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. Fed. 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).
alleges that the ALJ's decision should be reversed and
remanded because: (1) the ALJ failed to properly consider the
opinion of Dr. Craig, Kennedy's treating physician, and
(2) the ALJ failed to properly consider Kennedy's pain
pursuant to the Eleventh Circuit's Three-part Pain
Standard. (Doc. 12, p. 9).
discussion of Kennedy's medical history is necessary in
order to put the ALJ's decision into context. Kennedy
developed scoliosis as a child and underwent surgery to
implant a Harrington rod. (R. 466, 789-90). Kennedy visited
the emergency room in late 2012 complaining of episodes of
anxiety and withdrawal due to running out of her anxiety
medication. (R. 292, 296). On July 7, 2013, Kennedy visited
the emergency room complaining of abdominal pain. (R. 300).
She underwent surgery that same day to remove an inflamed
ovary. (R. 307-08). Kennedy appeared at the emergency room
several times after her surgery complaining of constipation.
(R. 316-24). Kennedy was first prescribed Percocet 10-325mg
after her surgery by Dr. Rodriguez. (R. 314). Kennedy visited
the emergency room multiple times between January 9, 2013 and
February 22, 2014 complaining of anxiety, hypertension
issues, and pain. (R. 326-43).
April 26, 2014, Dr. May examined Kennedy for the purpose of
providing information for a state disability determination.
(R. 357). Dr. May reported that Kennedy was able to walk
normally, squat, and has a slightly limited range of motion
in her legs. (R. 360). Further, Dr. May opined that
Kennedy's irritable bowel syndrome was likely due to her
use of narcotics and "did not sound very