United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
E. OTT CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Decembrea Labron Rutledge brings this action pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the final decision of
the Acting Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying her Supplemental Social
Security (“SSI”) and Disability Insurance
Benefits (“DIB”). (Doc. 1). The case has been
assigned to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge
pursuant to this court's general order of reference. The
parties have consented to the jurisdiction of this court for
disposition of the matter. See 28 U.S.C. §
636(c), Fed.R.Civ.P. 73(a). (Doc. 10). Upon review of the
record and the relevant law, the undersigned finds that the
Commissioner's decision is due to be remanded.
filed her applications for DIB and SSI on July 13, 2015, and
July 30, 2015, respectively, alleging disability beginning
July 13, 2015. (R. 15, 160-72). After her applications were
denied initially, (R. 90-96), Plaintiff requested a hearing
before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). (R.
99-100). After the video hearing, the ALJ issued a decision
on December 11, 2017, finding Plaintiff not disabled. (R.
15-27). Plaintiff then filed a request for review of the
ALJ's decision, and the Appeals Council
(“AC”) denied Plaintiff's request for review.
(Id. at 1-6). The matter is properly before this
was born on March 9, 1982, and was thirty-three years old at
the time she filed her applications. (R. 25, 160, 167). She
has a seventh grade education. (R. 25, 38). In her
applications, she alleges that she became disabled as of July
13, 2015, as a result of asthma, breathing problems, and
costochondritis. (R. 160, 167, 255). Sometime after filing
her applications, she also alleged disability on account of
bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, and posttraumatic stress
disorder (“PTSD”). (R. 19, 37).
Plaintiff's administrative hearing, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since the onset date of July 13, 2015. (R. 18). The ALJ
further found that Plaintiff had the medically determinable
severe impairments of asthma, anxiety disorder, PTSD and
bipolar disorder. (Id.). She also found that
Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that met or equaled the severity of a listed
impairment. (Id. at 18-22). The ALJ then found that
Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform light work with the following
[S]he can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, stoop and
crouch; she should never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds,
kneel or crawl; she can have only occasional exposure to
extreme heat and cold, humidity at atmospheric conditions
(dust, odors, fumes, pulmonary irritants). She should have no
exposure to hazards such an unprotected heights and dangerous
machinery. She would be capable of performing simple, routine
tasks in an environment where there are only occasional
workplace changes and where contact with supervisors,
co-workers or the general public is occasional.
(R. 22). Based on this RFC and the testimony from the
vocational expert, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could not
return to her past relevant work as a chicken eviscerator.
(R. 25). Given her age, education and RFC, however, the ALJ
found that she could perform other jobs existing in
significant numbers in the national economy. (R. 25-26).
Therefore, the ALJ found Plaintiff was not disabled from July
13, 2015, through the date of the decision. (Id. at
STANDARD OF REVIEW
court's review of the Commissioner's decision is
narrowly circumscribed. The function of the court is to
determine whether the Commissioner's decision is
supported by substantial evidence and whether proper legal
standards were applied. Richardson v. Perales, 402
U.S. 389, 390, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1422 (1971); Mitchell v.
Comm'r Soc. Sec., 771 F.3d 780, 782 (11th Cir.
2015); Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th
Cir. 2002). 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).
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.
court must uphold factual findings that are supported by
substantial evidence. However, 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.
See Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46
(11th Cir. 1991). The court must affirm the ALJ's
decision if substantial evidence supports it, even if other
evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's
findings. See Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.,
363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004) (quoting Martin v.
Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir.1990)).
STATUTORY AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK
qualify for benefits a claimant must show the inability to
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 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A).
A physical or mental impairment is “an impairment that
results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological
abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable
clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 42
U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(D).
of disability under the Social Security Act requires a five
step analysis. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b) &
416.920(a)(4). Specifically, the Commissioner must determine
whether the claimant: (1) is unable to engage in substantial
gainful activity; (2) has a severe medically determinable
physical or mental impairment; (3) has such an impairment
that meets or equals a Listing and meets the duration
requirements; (4) can perform his past relevant work, in
light of his residual functional capacity; and (5) can make
an adjustment to other work, in light of his residual
functional capacity, age, education, and work experience.
Evans v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 551 Fed.Appx. 521,
524 (11th Cir. 2014). The plaintiff bears the burden of proving
that he was disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act. Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211
(11th Cir. 2005); see also 20 C.F.R. §
404.704. The applicable “regulations place a very heavy
burden on the claimant to demonstrate both a qualifying
disability and an inability to perform past relevant
not organized in this manner, Plaintiff essentially asserts
three claims of error by the ALJ: (1) the ALJ failed to
accord proper weight to Plaintiff's treating physicians
and failed to show good cause for discounting their opinions,
(doc. 11 at 25-29); (2) the ALJ erred in finding
Plaintiff's asthma does not meet Listing 3.03,
(id. at 36-37); and (3) the ALJ's RFC finding is
not supported by substantial evidence, is conclusory and
violates SSR 96-8p, (id. at 30-36). The court
addresses each argument in turn and remands on the basis of
the third argument.
Treating Physician Opinions
first argument is that the ALJ erred in discounting the
opinions of her treating physician, Dr. McCain, and her
treating psychiatrist, Dr. Feist. (Doc. 11 at 25-29).
Plaintiff contends that the opinions of both doctors were
well supported by the medical records and should have been
given substantial weight. (Id. at 28). Additionally,
Plaintiff seems to argue that the ALJ did not clearly
articulate the reasons for giving less weight to her treating
physicians. (Id. at 28-29).
treating physician's opinion “must be given
substantial or considerable weight unless ‘good
cause' is shown to the contrary.” Lewis v.
Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1440 (11th Cir.1997). The
Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has stated that “good
cause” exists when the: (1) treating physician's
opinion was not bolstered by the evidence; (2) evidence
supported a contrary finding; or (3) treating physician's
opinion was conclusory or inconsistent with the doctor's
own medical records.” Phillips v. Barnhart,
357 F.3d 1232, 1240-41 (11th Cir. 2004). In rejecting a
medical opinion, the ALJ must clearly articulate his or her
reasons for doing so. Id. The court first addresses
the opinion of Dr. McCain and then moves on the opinion of