United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
M. BORDEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Shawntae Laquetta Ford appeals from the decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the
âCommissionerâ) denying her application for disability
insurance benefits (âDIBâ) and Supplemental Security Income
benefits (âSSIâ). Ford timely pursued and exhausted her
administrative remedies, and the decision of the Commissioner
is ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Â§Â§ 405(g) and
1383(c)(3). The parties have consented to the full
dispositive jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate Judge
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Â§ 626(c). Doc. 11.
was 36 years old at the time of the decision of the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), and she has at
least a high school education. Tr. at 23 & 95. Her past
work experiences include employment as an appointment clerk,
account clerk, and loan clerk. Tr. at 22 & 67-70. Ford
initially claimed that she became disabled in 2005, but at
the hearing before the ALJ she amended her onset date to
March 31, 2015. She asserts that she became unable to work
because of chronic sinusitis, migraine headaches, and chronic
severe pain. Doc. 8 at 4; Tr. at 18.
evaluating the disability of individuals over the age of 18,
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 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 ends. Id. If she is
not, the Commissioner next considers the effect of all of the
claimant's physical and mental impairments in
combination. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii) &
416.920(a)(4)(ii). 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 ends.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii) &
416.920(a)(4)(ii). 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) and
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 work despite 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 still can do her
past relevant work, she is not disabled, and the evaluation
ends. 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, age, education, and past work experience
to determine whether 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 Commissioner bears the burden of
demonstrating that other jobs exist that the claimant can
perform, 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. 1999).
the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that Ford
has not been under a disability within the meaning of the
Social Security Act from the date of onset through the date
of the ALJ's decision. Tr. at 17 & 24. The ALJ first
determined that Ford meets the insured status requirements of
the Social Security Act through December 31, 2020. Tr. at 18.
She next found that Ford has not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since March 31, 2015, the amended alleged
onset date. Tr. at 18. According to the ALJ, Ford's
sinusitis and migraines are “severe” as defined
by the requirements set forth in the regulations. Tr. at
18-19. She further determined that Ford had non-severe
impairments of: a history of herpes, gastro esophageal reflux
disease (“GERD”), obesity, status post fixation
of broken finger left hand, and status post herpes simplex
virus meningitis. Tr. at 19. Finally, the ALJ found that the
thyroid dysfunction and affective disorder claimed by Ford
were not medically determinable impairments because there was
a lack of objective medical evidence to support the existence
of the impairments. Tr. at 19.
found that Ford does not have an impairment or a combination
of impairments that either meets or medically equals any of
the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1. Tr. at 19-20. The ALJ determined that Ford's
statements concerning the intensity, persistence, and
limiting effects of her symptoms were “not entirely
consistent with the medical evidence or other evidence in the
record.” Tr. at 22.
determined that Ford has the RFC to perform medium work
“except that she can frequently climb ramps and stairs;
she should never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; she can
have occasional exposure to extremes of heat and cold,
humidity, and atmospheric conditions (i.e. dusts, odors,
fumes, pulmonary irritants); [and] she should have no
exposure to hazards such as unprotected heights and dangerous
machinery.” Tr. at 20.
fourth step of the analysis, the ALJ concluded that Ford is
able to perform her past relevant work as an appointment
clerk, account clerk, and loan clerk in the way those jobs
generally are performed. Tr. at 22. The ALJ considered the
testimony of a vocational expert (“VE”), and
alternatively determined that, considering the claimant's
age, education, work experience, and RFC, there are jobs that
exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the
plaintiff can perform, such as sandwich maker, hand packager,
and grocery bagger. Tr. at 23. The ALJ concluded her findings
by stating that the plaintiff is not disabled under Section
1520(f) of the Social Security Act. Tr. at 24.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
court's role in reviewing claims brought under the Social
Security Act is a narrow one. The scope of 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. Comm'r 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 some measure of deference but applies close
scrutiny to the legal conclusions. See Miles v.
Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996). The court
should 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. F. 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 [of
review] 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 improperly disregarded the
opinion of Ford's treating physician, Dr. Bradford
Woodworth; and (2) the ALJ improperly evaluated the
plaintiff's complaints of pain under the Eleventh
Circuit's pain standard. Doc. 8. The Commissioner
responds that any failure to discuss the opinion evidence of
Dr. Woodworth was harmless error because the ALJ found that
the plaintiff could perform her past relevant
work. The Commissioner further asserts that the
evaluation of the plaintiff's subjective complaints of
pain was proper. Doc. 9.
Weight Assigned to the Treating ...