United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Jasper Division
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION
DAVID PROCTOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Jala E. Smith, appeals from the decision of the Commissioner
of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying her applications for
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) and
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). Ms. Smith
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), 1383(c)(3).
was 34 years old at the time of the Administrative Law
Judge's (“ALJ's”) decision, and she has
her GED. (Tr. at 92.) Her past work experiences include
employment as a certified nursing assistant, cashier, and
fast food worker. (Id. at 93-94.) Ms. Smith claims
that she became disabled on July 9, 2016, due to severe
chronic migraines, dizziness, muscles spasms, nausea,
anxiety, depression, numbness to body and face, confusion,
and blackout spells. (Id. at 233, 95-96, 258.)
Social Security Administration (“SSA”) has
established a five-step sequential evaluation process for
determining whether an individual is disabled and thus
eligible for DIB or SSI. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520, 416.920; see also Doughty v. Apfel, 245
F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001). The evaluator will follow
the steps in order until making a finding of either disabled
or not disabled; if no finding is made, the analysis will
proceed to the next step. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). The first step requires the
evaluator to determine whether the plaintiff is engaged in
substantial gainful activity (“SGA”). See
Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). If
the plaintiff is not engaged in SGA, the evaluator moves on
to the next step.
second step requires the evaluator to consider the combined
severity of the plaintiff's medically determinable
physical and mental impairments. See Id.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). An
individual impairment or combination of impairments that is
not classified as “severe” and does not satisfy
the durational requirements set forth in 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1509 and 416.909 will result in a finding of
not disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). The decision depends
on the medical evidence contained in the record. See Hart
v. Finch, 440 F.2d 1340, 1341 (5th Cir. 1971)
(concluding that “substantial medical evidence in the
record” adequately supported the finding that plaintiff
was not disabled).
the third step requires the evaluator to consider whether the
plaintiff's impairment or combination of impairments
meets or is medically equal to the criteria of an impairment
listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii),
416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the criteria of a listed impairment
and the durational requirements set forth in 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1509 and 416.909 are satisfied, the
evaluator will make a finding of disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii).
plaintiff's impairment or combination of impairments does
not meet or medically equal a listed impairment, the
evaluator must determine the plaintiff's residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) before proceeding to
the fourth step. See Id. §§ 404.1520(e),
416.920(e). The fourth step requires the evaluator to
determine whether the plaintiff has the RFC to perform the
requirements of his past relevant work. See Id.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the
plaintiff's impairment or combination of impairments does
not prevent him from performing his past relevant work, the
evaluator will make a finding of not disabled. See
fifth and final step requires the evaluator to consider the
plaintiff's RFC, age, education, and work experience in
order to determine whether the plaintiff can make an
adjustment to other work. See Id. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v). If the plaintiff can
perform other work, the evaluator will find him not disabled.
Id.; see also 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(g), 416.920(g). If the plaintiff cannot perform
other work, the evaluator will find him disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 404.1520(g),
the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that Ms.
Smith has not engaged in SGA since the alleged onset of her
disability. (Tr. at 64.) According to the ALJ,
Plaintiff's depression, migraine headaches, and obesity
are considered “severe” based on the requirements
set forth in the regulations. (Id.) However, she
found that these impairments neither meet nor medically equal
any of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart
P, Appendix 1. (Tr. at 65.) The ALJ determined that Ms. Smith
has the following RFC: medium work, including lifting and/or
carrying fifty pounds occasionally and twenty-five pounds
frequently; sitting for six hours; standing and/or walking
for six hours; pushing/pulling as much as she can lift/carry;
climbing ramps and stairs frequently, but never climbing
ladders, ropes, or scaffolding; frequently balancing,
stooping, kneeling, crouching, and/or crawling; avoiding
unprotected heights or moving mechanical parts; performing
simple, routine tasks; making simple work-related decisions;
and only occasionally interacting with the with general
public. (Id. at 66.)
to the ALJ, Ms. Smith is unable to perform any of her past
relevant work. (Tr. at 72.) She determined that
Plaintiff's “transferability of job skills is not
an issue in this case because the claimant's past
relevant work is unskilled.” (Id. at 73.)
Because Plaintiff cannot perform the full range of medium
work, the ALJ enlisted a vocational expert (“VE”)
and used Medical-Vocation Rule 203.28 as a guideline for
finding that there are a significant number of jobs in the
national economy that she is capable of performing, such as
hand packager, laundry worker, and cleaner. (Id.)
The ALJ concluded her findings by stating that Plaintiff
“has not been under a disability, as defined in the
Social Security Act, from July 9, 2016, through the date of
this decision.” (Id.)
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 Stone v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.,
544 Fed.Appx. 839, 841 (11th Cir. 2013) (citing Crawford
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th
Cir. 2004)). This court gives deference to the factual
findings of the Commissioner, provided those findings are
supported by substantial evidence, but applies close scrutiny
to the legal conclusions. See Miles v. Chater, 84
F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996).
this court may not decide facts, weigh evidence, or
substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner.
Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir.
2005) (quoting Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232,
1240 n.8 (11th Cir. 2004)). “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 proof preponderates against the
Commissioner's decision, it must affirm if the decision
is supported by substantial evidence. Miles, 84 F.3d
at 1400 (citing Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520,
1529 (11th Cir. 1990)).
no decision is automatic, for “despite th[e]
deferential standard [for review of claims], it is imperative
that th[is] 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)
(citing Arnold v. Heckler, 732 F.2d 881, 883 (11th
Cir. 1984)). Moreover, failure to apply the ...