United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Southern Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
WALLACE CAPEL, JR. CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Lamar Mills (“Mills” or “Plaintiff”)
filed a Title II application for a period of disability and
disability insurance benefits on June 18, 2015. R. 29. He
also filed a Title XVI application for supplemental security
income on June 19, 2015. R. 29. In both applications, he
alleged disability beginning July 14, 2012. R. 29. Both
applications were denied at the initial administrative level
on October 5, 2015. R. 29. Plaintiff then requested and
received a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) on June 19, 2017. R. 29. Following the
hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on November
24, 2017. R. 39. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's
request for review on April 16, 2018. R. 1- 4. The ALJ's
decision consequently became the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”).
See Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir.
1986). The case is now before the Court for review of that
decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). It was referred to
the undersigned Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
636 for all pretrial proceedings and entry of any orders or
recommendations as may be appropriate. Doc. 18. Based on a
review of the record and the briefs of the parties, the
undersigned recommends that the Court AFFIRM the
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Court's review of the Commissioner's decision is a
limited one. The Court's sole function is to determine
whether the ALJ's opinion is supported by substantial
evidence and whether the proper legal standards were applied.
See Jones v. Apfel, 190 F.3d 1224, 1228 (11th Cir.
1999); Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239
(11th Cir. 1983). “The Social Security Act mandates
that ‘findings of the Secretary as to any fact, if
supported by substantial evidence, shall be
conclusive.'” Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d
1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1995) (quoting 42 U.S.C. §405(g)).
Thus, this Court must find the Commissioner's decision
conclusive if it is supported by substantial evidence.
Graham v. Apfel, 129 F.3d 1420, 1422 (11th Cir.
1997). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla - i.e.,
the evidence must do more than merely create a suspicion of
the existence of a fact and must include such relevant
evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to
support the conclusion. Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d
1436, 1440 (11th Cir. 1997) (citing Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389 (1971)); Foote, 67 F.3d
at 1560 (citing Walden v. Schweiker, 672 F.2d 835,
838 (11th Cir. 1982)).
Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial
evidence, the district court will affirm, even if the court
would have reached a contrary result as finder of fact and
even if the evidence preponderates against the
Commissioner's findings. Ellison v. Barnhart,
355 F.3d 1272, 1275 (11th Cir. 2003); Edwards v.
Sullivan, 937 F.2d 580, 584 n.3 (11th Cir. 1991)
(quoting MacGregor v. Bowen, 786 F.2d 1050, 1053
(11th Cir. 1986)). The Court must view the evidence as a
whole, taking into account evidence favorable as well as
unfavorable to the decision. Foote, 67 F.3d at 1560
(citing Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th
Cir. 1986). The Court “may not decide facts anew,
reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its] judgment for that
of the [Commissioner], ” but rather it “must
defer to the Commissioner's decision if it is supported
by substantial evidence.” Miles v. Chater, 84
F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1997) (quoting
Bloodsworth, 703 F.2d at 1239).
Court will also reverse a Commissioner's decision on
plenary review if the decision applies incorrect law or if
the decision fails to provide the district court with
sufficient reasoning to determine that the Commissioner
properly applied the law. Keeton v. Dep't of Health
and Human Servs., 21 F.3d 1064, 1066 (11th Cir. 1994)
(citing Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145
(11th Cir. 1991)). There is no presumption that the
Commissioner's conclusions of law are valid.
Id.; Brown v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d 1233, 1236
(11th Cir. 1991) (quoting MacGregor, 786 F.2d at
STATUTORY AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK
Social Security Act's general disability insurance
benefits program (“DIB”) provides income to
individuals who are forced into involuntary, premature
retirement, provided they are both insured and disabled,
regardless of indigence. See 42 U.S.C. §
423(a). The Social Security Act's Supplemental Security
Income (“SSI”) is a separate and distinct
program. SSI is a general public assistance measure providing
an additional resource to the aged, blind, and disabled to
assure that their income does not fall below the poverty
line. Eligibility for SSI is based on proof of indigence and
disability. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 1382(a),
1382c(a)(3)(A)-(C). However, despite the fact they are
separate programs, the law and regulations governing a claim
for DIB and a claim for SSI are identical; therefore, claims
for DIB and SSI are treated identically for the purpose of
determining whether a claimant is disabled. Patterson v.
Bowen, 799 F.2d 1455, 1456 n.1 (11th Cir. 1986).
under DIB and SSI must prove “disability” within
the meaning of the Social Security Act, which defines
disability in virtually identical language for both programs.
See 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d), 1382c(a)(3),
1382c(a)(3)(G); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a),
416.905(a). A person is entitled to disability benefits when
the person is unable to do the following:
Engage in 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
42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). A
“physical or mental impairment” is one resulting
from anatomical, physiological, or psychological
abnormalities that are demonstrable by medically acceptable
clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. 42 U.S.C.
§§ 423(d)(3), 1382c(a)(3)(D).
Commissioner of Social Security uses a five-step, sequential
evaluation process to determine if a claimant is entitled to
(1) Is the person currently unemployed?
(2) Is the person's impairment(s) severe?
(3) Does the person's impairment(s) meet or equal one of
the specific impairments set forth in Listing of Impairments
in Appendix I of 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P?
(4) Is the person unable to perform his or her former
(5) Is the person unable to perform any other work within the
economy? McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1030
(11th Cir. 1986); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920
(2010). An affirmative answer to any question leads either to
the next question or, on Steps 3 and 5, to a finding of
disability. A negative answer to any question except Step 3
leads to a determination of not disabled. McDaniel v.
Bowen, 800 F.2d at 1030; 20 C.F.R. §
burden of proof rests on a claimant through Step 4. See
Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1237-39 (11th Cir.
2004). Claimants establish a prima facie case of qualifying
for disability once they meet the burden of proof from Step 1
through Step 4. At Step 5, the burden shifts to the
Commissioner, who must then show there are a significant
number of jobs in the national economy the claimant can
perform Steps 4 and 5, the ALJ must first determine the
claimant's Residual Functional Capacity
(“RFC”). Id. at 1238-39. RFC is what the
claimant is still able to do despite his impairments and is
based on all relevant medical and other evidence.
Id. It also can contain both exertional and
non-exertional limitations. Id. at 1242-43. At Step
5, the ALJ considers the claimant's RFC, age, education,
and work experience to determine if there are jobs available
in the national economy the claimant can perform.
Id. at 1239. To do this, the ALJ can either use the
Medical Vocational Guidelines (“grids”) or hear
testimony from a vocational expert (“VE”).
Id. at 1239-40.
grids allow the ALJ to consider factors such as age,
confinement to sedentary or light work, inability to speak
English, educational deficiencies, and lack of job
experience. Each factor can independently limit the number of
jobs realistically available to an individual. Id.
at 1240. Combinations of these factors yield a
statutorily-required finding of “disabled” or
“not disabled.” Id.
was twenty-nine on the alleged date of disability onset. R.
38. Plaintiff has a high school education. R. 38. Following
the administrative hearing and employing the five-step
process, the ALJ found at Step 1 that Plaintiff has not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 14, 2012,
the alleged date of onset. R. 31. At Step 2, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff suffers from the severe impairments of
post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”),
affective disorder, degenerative disc disease, and residual
damage to right arm after lymphoma removal. R. 32. However,
at Step 3, in a detailed analysis of Plaintiff's
limitations, the ALJ found that Plaintiff does not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that meets or
medically equals the severity of one of the listed
impairments in Subpart P of Appendix 1, 20 C.F.R. Part 404.
R. 32-33. The ALJ articulated Plaintiff's RFC as follows:
[T]he claimant has the residual functional capacity to
perform light work … except the claimant can
occasionally handle objects and write with the right hand.
The claimant is limited to low stress work, defined by
occasional decision making required.
In Step 4, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has past relevant
work as a case aid (light, semiskilled work) and a stock
clerk (heavy, semiskilled work). R. 38. The ALJ next
concluded in Step Five that “there are jobs that exist
in significant numbers in the national economy that the
claimant can perform.” R. 38. After consulting with a
VE at the hearing, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff is
unable to perform past relevant work. R. 38. Based on the
testimony of the VE, the ALJ then identified the following
representative occupations that exist in significant numbers
in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform based on
his age, education, work experience, and RFC: public area
attendant, children's ...