United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Jasper Division
C. BURKE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
January 6, 2018, plaintiff filed a complaint seeking judicial
review of an adverse final decision of the Commissioner of
the Social Security Administration (“the
Commissioner”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)
(Doc. 1). Defendant filed an answer on April 30, 2018 (Doc.
8). On August 13, 2018, plaintiff filed a brief in support
(Doc. 15). On September 12, 2018, the Commissioner filed a
Brief in Support of Commissioner's Decision (Doc. 16).
Plaintiff filed a reply on September 20, 2018 (Doc. 17). The
parties presented oral arguments on June 10, 2019. Therefore,
this matter is ripe for review. For the reasons stated below,
the final decision of the Commissioner is reversed and
August 16, 2012, plaintiff filed application for disability
benefits under Title II, alleging an onset date of June 30,
2011. (Tr. 138). Her first hearing was a video hearing in
Jasper, Alabama on December 12, 2013. The Administrative Law Judge
(ALJ), Bruce W. Mackenzie, found that she was not disabled
from her onset of June 30, 2011 thru the date of the decision
April 29, 2014. (Tr. 147). The Appeals Council reversed and
remanded this decision on November 17, 2015. (Tr. 154).
Specifically, the Appeals Council remanded the decision for
the ALJ to accomplish the following:
• Further evaluate the claimant's mental impairments
in accordance with the special technique described in 20 CFR
404.1520a, documenting application of the technique in the
decision by providing specific findings and appropriate
rationale for each of the functional areas described in 20
• Give further consideration to the claimant's
maximum residual functional capacity and provide appropriate
rationale with specific references to evidence of record in
support of the assessed limitations (20 CFR 404.1545 as well
as Social Security Rulings 85-16 and 96-8p).
• Obtain evidence from a vocational expert to clarify
the effect of the assessed limitations on the claimant's
occupational base (Social Security Ruling 83-14). The
hypothetical questions should reflect the specific
capacity/limitations established by the record as a whole.
The Administrative Law Judge will ask the vocational expert
to identify examples of appropriate jobs and to state the
incidence of such jobs in the national economy (20 CFR
404.1566). Further, before relying on the vocational expert
evidence the Administrative Law Judge will identify and
resolve any conflicts between the occupational evidence
provided by the vocational expert and information in the
Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) and its companion
publication, the Selected Characteristics of Occupations
(Social Security Ruling 00-4p).
• Determine whether the claimant has a medically
determined substance abuse disorder. If it is determined that
the claimant has a substance abuse disorder, the
Administrative Law Judge will then determine whether the
claimant is disabled based upon all impairments, including
the substance abuse disorder. If it is determined that the
claimant is disabled, the Administrative Law Judge will then
determine if the substance abuse disorder is material to the
finding of disability (Social Security Ruling 13-2p).
(Tr. 153-154). Subsequently, the ALJ held a second hearing on
March 12, 2016.
Alabama. (Tr. 10-19). Prior to this
hearing the Plaintiff amended her onset date to September 5,
2013. (Tr. 280). On June 27, 2016 the ALJ issued the current
decision. (Tr. 10-19). In doing so, the ALJ engaged in the
five-step sequential evaluation process promulgated by the
Commissioner to determine whether an individual is disabled.
(Id. at 12-219). The ALJ made the following
1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through December 31, 2016. (Id.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since September 5, 2013, the amended alleged onset
date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq.) (Id.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: major
depressive disorder, single episode continuous, moderate;
generalized anxiety disorder; polysubstance dependence in
reported moderate term remission; obstructive sleep apnea;
history of headache disorder; history of lumbar spine disc
degeneration; history of cervical protrusion at ¶ 5-6;
cervicalgia; and post-traumatic stress disorder (20 CFR
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526).
(Id. at 13).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the
undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual
functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20
CFR 404.1567(b) except she can frequently climb ramps and
stairs but never climb ladders or scaffolds. She can
frequently stoop, crouch, kneel and crawl. The claimant
should never be exposed to unprotected heights, dangerous
machinery, dangerous tools, hazardous processes or operate
commercial motor vehicles. The undersigned further finds that
the claimant person could only remember short simple
instructions and would be unable to deal with detailed or
complex instructions. She could do simple routine repetitive
tasks but would be unable to do detailed or complex tasks.
She would be limited to making simple work related decisions.
The claimant should have no more than occasional interaction
with the general public but could have frequent interaction
with co-workers and supervisors. She would be able to accept
constructive non-confrontational criticism, work in small
group settings and be able to accept changes in the work
place setting if introduced gradually and infrequently. She
would be w1able to perform assembly line work with production
rate pace but could perform other goal-oriented work. In
addition to normal workday breaks, she would be off-task
about five percent of an eight-hour workday, in
non-consecutive minutes. (Id. at 14).
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work
(20 CFR 404.1565). (Id. at 18).
7. The claimant was born on November 5, 1962 and was 50 years
old, which is defined as an individual closely approaching
advanced age, on the amended alleged onset date (20 CFR
8. The claimant has at least a high school education and is
able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564).
9. Transferability of job skills is not material to the
determination of disability because using the
Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding
that the claimant is "not disabled," whether or not
the claimant has transferable job skills (See SSR 82-41 and
20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2) (Id.).
10. 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 (20 CFR 404.1569 and
11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined
in the Social Security Act, from September 5, 2013, the
amended alleged onset date, through the date of this decision
(20 CFR 404.1520(g)). (Id. at 19).
requested a second review by the Appeals Council, which was
denied on November 15, 2017. (Tr. 1). At that point, the
ALJ's decision became the final decision of the
Commissioner. Henry v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 802
F.3d 1264, 1267 (11th Cir. 2015). Plaintiff then filed this
action on September 28, 2017. (Doc. 1).
Social Security Act authorizes payment of disability
insurance benefits and supplemental social security income to
persons with disabilities. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423, 1381
(2012). The law defines disability as the “inability to
do 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.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a),
Standard of Review
Court must determine whether the Commissioner's decision
is supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct
legal standards were applied. Winschel v. Comm'r of
Social Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011).
“Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is
such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Id.
(internal citation and quotation marks omitted). “This
limited review precludes deciding the facts anew, making
credibility determinations, or re-weighing the
evidence.” Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208,
1211 (11th Cir. 2005). Thus, while the Court must scrutinize
the record as a whole, the Court must affirm if the decision
is supported by substantial evidence, even if the evidence
preponderates against the Commissioner's findings.
Henry v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 802 F.3d 1264
(11th Cir. 2015); Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d
1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983).