United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
ALESHIA P. McKEE, Plaintiff,
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
RUSS WALKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Aleshia P. McKee commenced this action on March 19, 2018,
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review
of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner denying her
applications for supplemental security income benefits
(“SSI”) and disability insurance benefits.
See Doc. 1; R 10-20. Plaintiff filed an application
for disability benefits on May 28, 2015, and for SSI benefits
on July 15, 2015, alleging a disability onset date of April
23, 2015, due to degenerative disc disease, cervical spinal
stenosis, cervical spondylosis, and lumbar spondylosis.
See R. 228. On May 26, 2017, Administrative Law
Judge Ruth Ramsey (“the ALJ”) issued an adverse
decision after holding a hearing on the plaintiff's
applications. See R. 10-20. The Appeals Council
denied plaintiff's request for review, and the ALJ's
decision became the final decision of the Commissioner.
See R. 1-5.
instant appeal, the plaintiff asks the court to reverse the
Commissioner's adverse decision and award benefits or, in
the alternative, to remand this cause to the Commissioner
under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See
Docs. 1 at 2; 12 at 12. This case is ripe for review pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). The parties
have consented to entry of final judgment by the Magistrate
Judge. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); see
also Docs. 7, 8. For the reasons stated herein, the
court finds that the Commissioner's decision is due to be
addition, the plaintiff moves for an award of reasonable
attorney's fees pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice
Act (“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. §
241(d). See Doc. 12 at 12. This motion is
due to be denied.
court's review of the Commissioner's decision is
narrowly circumscribed. The function of this court is to
determine whether the decision of the Commissioner is
supported by substantial evidence and whether the proper
legal standards were applied. Richardson v. Perales,
402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971); Wilson v. Barnhart, 284
F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002). This court must
“scrutinize the record as a whole to determine if the
decision reached is reasonable and supported by substantial
evidence.” Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d
1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983). Substantial evidence is
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Id. It is “more than a scintilla, but less
than a preponderance.” Id. A reviewing court
“may not decide facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or
substitute [its] decision for that of the
[Commissioner].” Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d
1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005). In other words, this court is
prohibited from reviewing the Commissioner's findings of
fact de novo, even where a preponderance of the
evidence supports alternative conclusions.
the court must uphold factual findings that are supported by
substantial evidence, it reviews the ALJ's legal
conclusions de novo because no presumption of
validity attaches to the ALJ's determination of the
proper legal standards to be applied. Davis v.
Shalala, 985 F.2d 528, 531 (11th Cir. 1993). If the
court finds an error in the ALJ's application of the law,
or if the ALJ fails to provide the court with sufficient
reasoning for determining that the proper legal analysis has
been conducted, it must reverse the ALJ's decision.
Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th
qualify for SSI and establish his or her entitlement for a
period of disability, a claimant must be disabled as defined
by the Social Security Act and the Regulations promulgated
thereunder. The Regulations define “disabled” 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 twelve (12) months.” 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1505(a), 416.905(a). To establish an
entitlement to disability benefits, a claimant must provide
evidence about a “physical or mental impairment”
that “must result from anatomical, physiological, or
psychological abnormalities which can be shown by medically
acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic
techniques.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1508, 416.908.
Regulations provide a five-step process for determining
whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(i-v), 416.920(a)(4)(i-v). The Commissioner
must determine in sequence:
(1) whether the claimant is currently employed;
(2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment;
(3) whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals an
impairment listed by the Commissioner;
(4) whether the claimant can perform his or her past work;
(5) whether the claimant is capable of performing any work in
the national economy.
Pope v. Shalala, 998 F.2d 473, 477 (7th Cir. 1993)
(citing to a formerly applicable C.F.R. section),
overruled on other grounds by Johnson v. Apfel, 189
F.3d 561, 562-63 (7th Cir. 1999); accord McDaniel v.
Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir. 1986). The
sequential analysis goes as follows:
Once the claimant has satisfied steps One and Two, she will
automatically be found disabled if she suffers from a listed
impairment. If the claimant does not have a listed impairment
but cannot perform her work, the burden shifts to the
[Commissioner] to show that the claimant can perform some
Pope, 998 F.2d at 477; accord Foote v.
Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1559 (11th Cir. 1995). The
Commissioner must further show that such work exists in the
national economy in significant numbers. Id.
hearing before the ALJ on January 9, 2017, plaintiff
testified that she is married with two adult children. Her
22-year-old daughter moved back home to help care for her.
Plaintiff receives food stamps and Medicaid. Plaintiff's
husband drove her to the hearing. She drives only
occasionally herself, ten miles at a time at most if she
needs to go to the post office. Plaintiff has two years of
college and a licensed practical nurse (LPN) degree. She
worked as an LPN for eight years. Prior to working as an LPN,
she worked as a certified nursing assistant off and on from
1989 until 2007, when she obtained her LPN license. Other
prior work included collections for a trash disposal company,
work in a machine plant and a cotton mill. R. 42-45.
testified that she is unable to work due to pain across her
lower back that runs into her legs, frequent falling, and
numbness and tingling in her hands. She takes multiple
medications for pain and anxiety, and to help her sleep. Side
effects from her medications include loss of appetite, dry
mouth, sleepiness, dizziness, and nausea. She has been
undergoing extensive physical therapy, but she testified that
it has not helped. She was getting injections that did help,
but because she could only get short-term relief from these,
her doctor discontinued the injections until really needed.
R. 45-47, 51.
smokes five to six cigarettes per day, but is trying to quit.
On a typical day, she wakes up, takes her medication, and
tries to eat something. Her daughter cooks breakfast for her.
Plaintiff spends most of her day lying down. She uses a
heating pad or heated blanket. She tries to wash dishes but
has to take frequent breaks to sit. She can sweep some, but
cannot mop or vacuum. Her daughter does the grocery shopping.
Plaintiff does not participate in any activities outside of
the home because she falls so much. She falls sometimes once
per month and at other times up to twice per week. This has
occurred for about eight months. Her doctors attribute her
falling to problems with her sacroiliac joints. R. 47-49.
can lift a small laundry basket but it has to be up high. She
cannot bend over to pick it up. She does not help care for
her grandchildren other than to get them something from the
refrigerator. Her daughter watches ...