United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Jasper Division
DAVID PROCTOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Sheri Uptain (“Plaintiff”) brings this action
pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act
(“the Act”), seeking review of the decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security (“the
Commissioner”) denying her claim for supplemental
security income (“SSI”). See 42 U.S.C.
§ 1383(c). Based on this court's review of the
record and the briefs submitted by the parties, the court
finds that the decision of the Commissioner is due to be
filed her application for SSI on September 1, 2015, alleging
a disability onset date of June 19, 2015. (R. 55). The Social
Security Administration (“SSA”) denied the
initial request on December 18, 2015. (R. 69). Plaintiff
thereafter requested a hearing before an Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) (R. 77), and ALJ David L. Horton
held a hearing on July 31, 2017. (R. 1). In his decision
dated December 29, 2017, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff
was not under a disability within the meaning of section
1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act. (R. 36). Because
the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review
on August 18, 2018, which was the final decision of the
Commissioner (R. 19-21), the Commissioner's decision is
now a proper subject for this court's appellate review.
Statement of Facts
who was born on June 26, 1972, was 43-years-old when she
filed her request for SSI and 44 at the time of the ALJ's
decision. (R. 5, 171). She has a high school diploma and held
two relevant jobs over fifteen years: billing clerk and
cosmetic sales consultant. (R. 6, 34). The ALJ found that
Plaintiff suffers from several severe impairments: lumbar
degenerative disc disease, depression, scoliosis, diabetes
mellitus, and obesity. (R. 30).
issues on appeal concern Plaintiff's obesity and
subjective pain regarding her lower back and lower
extremities. (Pl.'s Mem., Doc. # 11 at 9-13). The record
indicates that Plaintiff first reported back pain radiating
into her lower left extremity and sciatica in October 2012;
as a result, the physician prescribed medication for muscle
spasms and pain. (R. 225). The next four years of medical
history tell the same story: Plaintiff visited the doctor for
back and leg pain and was re-prescribed the medication. (R.
190, 212, 249, 272, 311, 314, 321, 398). These visits
evidence that Plaintiff consistently had full range of motion
in her musculoskeletal system. (R. 230, 249, 359, 373). In
October 2015, Plaintiff received an x-ray examination. (R.
305-06). The impression of the results was that Plaintiff has
only eleven rib-bearing thoracic vertebral bodies, multilevel
degenerative disc disease (L3 through L5 levels), a set of
hypoplastic ribs, and scoliosis. (R. 305-06).
addition, during the period at issue in this case, Plaintiff
(who has struggled with weight), put on a substantial amount
of weight. To illustrate, Plaintiff weighed 160 pounds at her
October 2012 visit to Walker Baptist Medical Center (R. 230),
and, in October 2013, Plaintiff weighed 131 pounds. (R. 249).
By her October 6, 2015 visit to Capstone Rural Health Center,
Plaintiff weighed 226 pounds, which results in a body mass
index (“BMI”) of 40.1. (R. 310).At the time, the
physician recommended weight loss and consulted Plaintiff on
her diet and maintaining regular exercise. (R. 314-15).
Plaintiff returned to Capstone Rural eight times (and the
physician continued to consult her about weight loss) until
her final visit in the record on November 9, 2016. (R. 310,
410, 412, 414, 416, 418, 421, 423). At this visit, Plaintiff
weighed 198 pounds, and her BMI measured 35.1. (R. 410).
the hearing, Plaintiff testified that she takes ibuprofen and
Flexeril for her back pain. (R. 8). More recently, after
picking up a four-pound laundry basket, Plaintiff visited the
emergency room where she received morphine and a Norflex
shot. (R. 8-9). On typical days, if she gets out of bed,
Plaintiff's day consists of sitting around and walking
for a few minutes until her pain begins. (R. 10). Plaintiff
estimates that she lies down for 22 hours a day. (R. 10).
Plaintiff does not do housework, nor does she drive anymore
as a result of her pain. (R. 10).
under the Act is determined under a five-step test. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520. First, the ALJ must determine whether the
claimant is engaging in substantial gainful activity. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). “Substantial work
activity” involves significant physical or mental
activities, and “gainful work activity” is work
that is done for pay or profit. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1572. If
the ALJ finds that the claimant engages in substantial
gainful activity, then the claimant cannot claim disability.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b).
the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has a medically
determinable impairment or a combination of medical
impairments that significantly limits the claimant's
ability to perform basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(ii). Absent such impairment, the claimant may
not claim disability. Id.
the ALJ must determine whether the claimant's impairment
meets or medically equals the criteria of an impairment
listed in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525,
404.1526. When the claimant meets these criteria, the ALJ
will find that the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
claimant does not fulfill the requirements necessary to be
declared disabled under the third step, the ALJ may still
hold that the claimant is disabled after the next two steps
of the analysis. The ALJ must first determine the
claimant's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”), which refers to the claimant's
ability to work despite his impairments. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(e). Then, in the fourth step, the ALJ evaluates
whether the claimant has the RFC to perform past relevant
work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). If the ALJ finds
that the claimant is capable of performing past relevant
work, then the claimant is deemed not ...