United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
M. BORDEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
plaintiff, Kimberly Parks Allen, appeals from the decision of
the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying her application for a
period of disability and disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income benefits
(“SSI”). Allen timely pursued and exhausted her
administrative remedies, and the decision of the Commissioner
is ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g)
and 1383(c)(3). The parties have consented to the full
dispositive jurisdiction of the undersigned magistrate judge
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 626(c). Doc. 10.
was 47 years old at the time of the decision of the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), and she has at
least a high school education. Tr. at 27-28 & 211. Her
past work experience is as a bus operator. Tr. at 27 &
61. Allen asserts that she became disabled on January 22,
2015. She asserts that she became unable to work because of
chronic back pain from degenerative disc disease, severe pain
in the left shoulder from a rotator cuff tear, and arthritis.
Tr. at 68.
evaluating the disability of individuals over the age of
eighteen, the regulations prescribe a five-step sequential
evaluation process. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520 & 416.920; see also Doughty v. Apfel,
245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001). The first step requires
a determination of whether the claimant is “doing
substantial gainful activity.” 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i) & 416.920(a)(4)(i). If she is, the
claimant is not disabled and the evaluation ends. 2 0 C . F.
R . §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i) & 416.920(a)(4)(i). If
she is not, the Commissioner next considers the effect of all
of the claimant's physical and mental impairments
combined. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii) &
416.920(a)(4)(ii). These impairments must be severe and must
meet the durational requirements before a claimant will be
found to be disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii)
& 416.920(a)(4)(ii). The decision depends upon the
medical evidence in the record. See Hart v. Finch,
440 F.2d 1340, 1341 (5th Cir. 1971). If the claimant's
impairments are not severe, the analysis stops. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii) & 416.920(a)(4)(ii).
Otherwise, the analysis continues to step three, which is a
determination of whether the claimant's impairments meet
or equal the severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(iii) & 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the
claimant's impairments fall within this category, he or
she will be found to be disabled without further
consideration. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii)
& 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If they do not, a determination of
the claimant's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) will be made, and the analysis proceeds
to the fourth step. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e) &
416.920(e). RFC is an assessment, based on all relevant
evidence, of a claimant's remaining ability to do work
despite her impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a).
fourth step requires a determination of whether the
claimant's impairments prevent him or her from returning
to past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(iv) & 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant
can still do her past relevant work, the claimant is not
disabled and the evaluation stops. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(iv) & 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant
cannot do past relevant work, then the analysis proceeds to
the fifth step. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv)
& 416.920(a)(4)(iv). Step five requires the court to
consider the claimant's RFC, as well as the
claimant's age, education, and past work experience, in
order to determine if he or she can do other work. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v) & 416.920(a)(4)(v). If the
claimant can do other work, the claimant is not disabled. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v) & 416.920(a)(4)(v).
The Commissioner bears the burden of demonstrating the
existence of other jobs that the claimant can perform, and
once that burden is met the claimant must prove her inability
to perform those jobs in order to be found to be disabled.
Jones v. Apfel, 190 F.3d 1224, 1228 (11th Cir.
the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that the
plaintiff has not been under a disability within the meaning
of the Social Security Act from the date of onset through the
date of his decision. Tr. at 29. The ALJ first determined
that Allen meets the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through December 31, 2020. Tr. at 21. He
next found that the plaintiff has not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since January 22, 2015, the alleged onset
date. Tr. at 21. According to the ALJ, the plaintiff's
“lumbar degenerative disc disease with intermittent
radiculopathy, obesity, left (non-dominant) rotator cuff
tear, chronic kidney disease, and arthritis” are
considered “severe” based on the requirements set
forth in the regulations. Tr. at 22. He further determined
that Allen has nonsevere impairments of hypertension and
cellulitis. Tr. at 22.
found that Allen does not have an impairment or a combination
of impairments that either meets or medically equals any of
the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1. Tr. at 22-24. The ALJ determined that Allen's
statements concerning the intensity, persistence, and
limiting effects of her symptoms were “not entirely
consistent with the medical evidence or other evidence in the
record.” Tr. at 25.
then determined that the plaintiff has the RFC to perform
sedentary work with certain limitations.
She can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds or reach
overhead with the non-dominant left upper extremity. She can
never crawl or perform around work hazards. She can
occasionally climb ramps or stairs, stoop, kneel, and crouch.
She will require an option to change from an upright
(standing or walking) posture to a seated posture as
frequently as every 30 minutes and is able to perform work
activity in either posture.
Tr. at 24.
on to the fourth step of the analysis, the ALJ concluded that
Allen is unable to perform her past relevant work as a bus
operator. Tr. at 27. The ALJ considered the testimony of a
vocational expert (“VE”), who testified that the
plaintiff remains able to perform work as a surveillance
system monitor, call out operator, and lens inserter. Tr. at
28. The ALJ concluded his findings by stating that the
plaintiff is not disabled under Sections 216(i), 223(d), or
1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act. Tr. at 29.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
court's role in reviewing claims brought under the Social
Security Act is a narrow one. The scope of its review is
limited to determining (1) whether there is substantial
evidence in the record as a whole to support the findings of
the Commissioner and (2) whether the correct legal standards
were applied. See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 390, 401 (1971); Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d
1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is
“more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as
a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004) (quoting
Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1439-40 (11th Cir.
1997)). The court approaches the factual findings of the
Commissioner with deference but applies close scrutiny to the
legal conclusions. See Miles v. Chater, 84 F.3d
1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996). The court may not decide facts,
weigh evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the
Commissioner. Id. “The substantial evidence
standard permits administrative decision makers to act with
considerable latitude, and ‘the possibility of drawing
two inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does not
prevent an administrative agency's finding from being
supported by substantial evidence.'” Parker v.
Bowen, 793 F.2d 1177, 1181 (11th Cir. 1986) (Gibson, J.,
dissenting) (quoting Consolo v. Fed. Mar.
Comm'n, 383 U.S. 607, 620 (1966)). Indeed, even if
this court finds that the evidence preponderates against the
Commissioner's decision, it must affirm if the decision
is supported by substantial evidence. Miles, 84 F.3d
at 1400. No decision is automatic, however, for
“despite this deferential standard [for review of
claims] it is imperative that the Court scrutinize the record
in its entirety to determine the reasonableness of the
decision reached.” Bridges v. Bowen, 815 F.2d
622, 624 (11th Cir. 1987). Moreover, failure to apply the
correct legal standards is grounds for reversal. See
Bowen v. Heckler, 748 F.2d 629, 635 (11th Cir. 1984).