United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND DISMISSAL ORDER
N. JOHNSON, JR., UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Donnie Pritchett 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 his claim for Disability Insurance Benefits. 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 found at step one
that Pritchett met the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through December 31, 2018. (Tr. 18). The
ALJ further found Pritchett had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since March 12, 2013, the alleged onset
date, through his date last insured of December 31, 2018.
(Id.) At step two, the ALJ found that Pritchett
suffers the following severe impairments: congestive
obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD); polycythemia vera;
hypertension; non-insulin-dependent diabetes; degenerative
arthritis in the lumbar spine; unspecified depressive
disorder; and mild intellectual disability. (Id.) At
step three, the ALJ concluded that Pritchett'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. 18-19).
four, the ALJ determined Pritchett exhibited no past relevant
work through the date last insured. (Tr. 25). The ALJ
proceeded to step five, finding that, through the date last
insured, Pritchett exhibited the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in 20
C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), with certain
limitations. (Tr. 22). The ALJ relied on the VE's
testimony to conclude Pritchett could perform such jobs as a
sorter, an assembler, or a cashier. (Tr. 26).
21, 2018, the Appeals Council denied review, which deems the
ALJ's decision as the Commissioner's final decision.
(Tr. 1). On July 25, 2018, Pritchett filed his complaint with
the court seeking review of the ALJ's decision. (Doc. 1).
appeal, Mr. Pritchett contends substantial evidence does not
support the ALJ's decision. Specifically, he faults the
ALJ for: (1) providing inadequate reasoning for discounting
Pritchett's subjective complaints regarding the severity
of his pain symptoms; and (2) failing to accord substantial
weight to the treating physician's opinion. After
consideration of the record and the ALJ's decision, the
court finds substantial evidence supports the ALJ's
The ALJ Properly Evaluated Pritchett's Subjective
Complaints and Properly Applied the Pain Standard
establish disability based on testimony of pain and other
symptoms, the claimant must satisfy two parts of a three-part
test by showing: ‘(1) evidence of an underlying medical
condition; and (2) either (a) objective medical evidence
confirming the severity of the alleged pain; or (b) that the
objectively determined medical condition can reasonably be
expected to give rise to the claimed pain.'”
Zuba-Ingram v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 600
Fed.Appx. 650, 656 (11th Cir. 2015)(quoting
Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1225
(11th Cir. 2002)(per curiam)). A
claimant's testimony coupled with evidence that meets
this standard “is itself sufficient to support a
finding of disability.” Holt v. Sullivan, 921
F.2d 1221, 1223 (11th Cir. 1991)(citation
Security Ruling (“SSR”) 16-3p, effective March
28, 2016, eliminates the use of the term
“credibility” as it relates to assessing the
claimant's complaints of pain and clarifies that the ALJ
“will consider any personal observations of the
individual in terms of how consistent those observations are
with the individual's statements about his or her
symptoms as well as with all of the evidence in the
file.” SSR 16-3p, 2016 WL 1119029, *7 (Mar. 16, 2016).
An ALJ rendering findings regarding a claimant's
subjective symptoms may consider a variety of factors,
including: the claimant's daily activities; symptom
location, duration, frequency, and intensity; precipitating
and aggravating factors; type, dosage, effectiveness, and
side effects of medication taken to alleviate the symptoms;
and other factors concerning functional limitations and
restrictions due to symptoms. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1529(c)(3), (4), 416.939(c)(3), (4).
16-3p further explains that the ALJ's decision
“must contain specific reasons for the weight given to
the individual's symptoms, be consistent with and
supported by the evidence, and be clearly articulated so the
individual and any subsequent review can assess how the
adjudicator evaluated the individual's symptoms.”
2016 WL 1119020 at *9; see also Wilson, 284 F.3d at
1225 (if an ALJ discredits a ...