United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
N. JOHNSON, JR. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Pamela Gossett seeks judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g) of an adverse, final decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner” or “Secretary”),
regarding her claim for Supplemental Security Income. The
undersigned carefully considered the record, and for the
reasons expressed herein, AFFIRMS the
AND STANDARD OF REVIEW
qualify for disability benefits and establish entitlement for
a period of disability, the 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). To
establish an entitlement to disability benefits, a claimant
must provide evidence of a “physical or mental
impairment” which “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.
determining whether a claimant suffers a disability, the
Commissioner, through an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ),
works through a five-step sequential evaluation process.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The burden rests upon
the claimant on the first four steps of this five-step
process; the Commissioner sustains the burden at step five,
if the evaluation proceeds that far. Washington v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 906 F.3d 1353, 1359
(11th Cir. 2018).
first step, the claimant cannot be currently engaged in
substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b).
Second, the claimant must prove the impairment is
“severe” in that it “significantly limits
[the] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities
. . . .” Id. at § 404.1520(c).
three, the evaluator must conclude the claimant is disabled
if the impairments meet or are medically equivalent to one of
the impairments listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App.
1, §§ 1.00-114.02. Id. at §
404.1520(d). If a claimant's impairment meets the
applicable criteria at this step, that claimant's
impairments would prevent any person from performing
substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 404.1525, 416.920(a)(4)(iii). That is, a
claimant who satisfies steps one and two qualifies
automatically for disability benefits if the claimant suffers
a listed impairment. See Williams v. Astrue, 416
Fed.Appx. 861, 862 (11th Cir. 2011) (“If, at
the third step, [the claimant] proves that [an] impairment or
combination of impairments meets or equals a listed
impairment, [the claimant] is automatically found disabled
regardless of age, education, or work experience.”)
(citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.920; Crayton v.
Callahan, 120 F.3d 1217, 1219 (11th Cir.
claimant's impairment or combination of impairments does
not meet or medically equal a listed impairment, the
evaluation proceeds to the fourth step where the claimant
demonstrates an incapacity to meet the physical and mental
demands of past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e).
At this step, the evaluator must determine whether the
claimant has the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform the requirements of past
relevant work. See Id. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant's
impairment or combination of impairments does not prevent
performance of past relevant work, the evaluator will
determine the claimant is not disabled. See id.
claimant is successful at the preceding step, the fifth step
shifts the burden to the Commissioner to provide evidence,
considering the claimant's RFC, age, education and past
work experience, that the claimant is capable of performing
other work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1512(g). If the
claimant can perform other work, the evaluator will not find
the claimant disabled. See Id. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v); see also 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g). If the claimant
cannot perform other work, the evaluator will find the
claimant disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v),
404.1520(g), 416.920(a)(4)(v), 416.920(g).
court reviews the ALJ's “‛decision with
deference to the factual findings and close scrutiny of the
legal conclusions.'” Parks ex rel. D.P. v.
Comm'r, Social Sec. Admin., 783 F.3d 847, 850
(11th Cir. 2015) (quoting Cornelius v.
Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145 (11th Cir.
1991)). The court must determine whether substantial evidence
supports the Commissioner's decision and whether the
Commissioner applied the proper legal standards. Winschel
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178
(11th Cir. 2011). Although the 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)
(citations omitted), the court “may not decide the
facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its]
judgment” for that of the ALJ. Winschel, 631
F.3d at 1178 (citations and internal quotation marks
omitted). “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. (citations omitted).
Nonetheless, substantial evidence exists even if the evidence
preponderates against the Commissioner's decision.
Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211
(11th Cir. 2005).
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
the five-step sequential process, the ALJ determined at step
one that Gossett had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity from her alleged onset date of May 30, 2014, through
the date of the ALJ's opinion, June 12, 2017. (Tr. 12).
At step two, the ALJ found that Gossett suffers the following
severe impairments: fibromyalgia, diverticulitis, mild
scoliosis, alcohol abuse, major depressive disorder, and
panic disorder with agoraphobia. Id. At step three,
the ALJ concluded that Gossett's impairment or
combination of impairments did not meet or medically equal
any impairment for presumptive disability listed in 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 13).
the ALJ found that Gossett exhibited the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work as defined
in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) but with certain
limitations.(Tr. 14-15). At step four, the ALJ found
that Gossett could not perform her past relevant work as a
teacher for the emotionally disturbed or intellectually
disabled. (Tr. 20). At step five, the ALJ relied upon a
vocational expert to conclude the claimant can perform other
work that exists in significant numbers in the national
economy, such as machine tender, marker, and cleaner. (Tr.
February 27, 2018, the Appeals Council denied review, which
deems the ALJ's decision as the Commissioner's final
decision. (Tr. 1-3). On May 1, 2018, Gossett filed her
complaint with the court seeking review of the ALJ's
decision. (Doc. 1).
appeal, Gossett contends substantial evidence does not
support the ALJ's decision because he failed to conduct a
proper analysis of her fibromyalgia impairment. She faults
the ALJ for allegedly rejecting fibromyalgia as a disabling
severe impairment; therewith, the ALJ failed to assess any
limitations arising from to her fibromyalgia. In addition,
Gossett contends that proper delineation of the fibromyalgia
impairment would have engendered evaluations at step three
whether her condition equaled Listing 14.09D. The court finds
substantial evidence supports the ALJ's opinion regarding
the fibromyalgia assessment.
The ALJ Properly Assessed Gossett's Fibromyalgia and Any
contends the ALJ erred by rejecting her fibromyalgia
diagnosis as a severe impairment and treating it
“somehow not medically proven.” (Doc. 15 at 15,
16).Admittedly, the ALJ's decision obscures
the findings on this issue. Although the ALJ includes
fibromyalgia as a severe impairment at step two of his
analysis, (Tr. 12), he discredits the diagnosis at step four
in finding that the evaluation did not satisfy the applicable
assessment for the condition. (Tr. 17).
challenge still misses the mark, however. First, the
prevailing regulatory standard does not support the propriety
of the fibromyalgia diagnosis, as countenanced by the ALJ.
Second, the ALJ included fibromyalgia as a severe impairment
in the RFC he constructed.
Gossett's Fibromyalgia Diagnosis Does Not Satisfy SSR
faults the ALJ for rejecting her fibromyalgia diagnosis due
to the absence of at least 11 tender points depicting the
presence of the condition. However, the ALJ properly relied
on SSR 12-2p's requirements to find Gossett's
fibromyalgia did not render her disabled, and substantial
evidence supports his determination.
12-2p governs the assessment whether a claimant suffers a
fibromyalgia impairment. See SSR 12-2p, 2012 WL
3104869 (July 25, 2012). When an ALJ determines fibromyalgia
constitutes an impairment, SSR 12-2p directs the ALJ to
evaluate the intensity and persistence of the claimant's
pain or any other symptoms and determine the extent to which
the symptoms limit the claimant's capacity for work.
12-2p states the Social Security Administration “will
find that a person has an MDI [medically determinable
impairment] of FM [fibromyalgia] if the physician diagnosed
FM and provides the evidence we describe in section II.A. or
section II.B., and the physician's diagnosis is not
inconsistent with the other evidence in the person's case
record.” SSR 12-2p, 2012 WL 3104869, at *2. Sections
II.A and II.B include two sets of criteria for diagnosing
fibromyalgia -- the 1990 American College of ...