United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
M. BORDEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
James Glen Jones appeals from the decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
denying his application for a period of disability and
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). Jones
timely pursued and exhausted his 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 dispositive jurisdiction of a
magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). Doc. 9.
Accordingly, the court issues the following memorandum
was 46 years old on the date an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) reached an opinion on his application.
Tr. at 13 & 21–22. His past work experience
includes employment as a chicken hatchery worker and rock
mason. Tr. at 21. Jones claims that he became disabled on
April 25, 2014 due to issues with his back, high blood
pressure, rheumatoid arthritis or gout in his joints, asthma,
and bilateral broken ankles. Tr. at 83.
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; 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 he is, the
claimant is not disabled and the evaluation ends.
Id. If he is not, the Commissioner next considers
the effect of all of the plaintiff’s physical and
mental impairments in combination. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(ii) & 416.920(a)(4)(ii). The impairments
must be severe and must meet the durational requirements
before a claimant will be found to be disabled. Id.
The decision depends on 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 ends. 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 will be found to be disabled without
further consideration. Id. 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 work despite his impairments. 20 C.F.R. §
fourth step requires a determination of whether the
claimant’s impairments prevent him 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 perform
his past relevant work, the claimant is not disabled and the
evaluation ends. Id. If the claimant cannot do past
relevant work, then the analysis proceeds to the fifth step.
Id. Step five requires the court to consider the
claimant’s RFC, age, education, and past work
experience to determine whether he 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. Id. The burden is on the Commissioner to
demonstrate that other jobs exist which the claimant can
perform, but once that burden is met the claimant must prove
his inability to perform those jobs in order to be found
disabled. Jones v. Apfel, 190 F.3d 1224, 1228 (11th
the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that Jones
met the insured status requirements of the Social Security
Act through December 31, 2018. Tr. at 13. She further
determined that the plaintiff had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since his alleged onset date of April 25,
2014. Tr. at 13. According to the ALJ, Jones had the
following impairments that are considered
“severe” based on the requirements set forth in
the regulations: “degenerative disk disease,
degenerative joint disease, asthma, and obesity.” Tr.
at 13. She also determined that Jones’ gout,
hypertension, and bilateral ankle fractures are non-severe.
Tr. At 14. The ALJ found that Jones’ allegations of hip
pain were not supported by evidence of a medically
determinable physical or mental condition, and that his
complaints of musculoskeletal pain were a result of his
obesity. Tr. at 14. The ALJ found that Jones’ severe
and non-severe impairments, separately and in combination,
neither meet nor medically equal any of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Tr.
at 14. The ALJ determined that Jones had the RFC to perform
work at a sedentary level of exertion as defined in 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1567(a) with additional restrictions. Tr. at 16.
The ALJ elaborated:
After careful consideration of the entire record, the
undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual
functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in
20 CFR 404.1567(a) with the following limitations addressed
herein. He can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but can
never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He can frequently
balance and stoop, occasionally kneel and crouch, but never
crawl. He can constantly reach, handle, finger, and feel. He
should avoid exposure to hazardous environments such as
Tr. at 16.
to the ALJ, Jones is unable to perform any of his past
relevant work, he is a “younger individual,” and
he has a “limited education,” as those terms are
defined by the regulations. Tr. at 21. She determined that
“[t]ransferability of job skills is not material to the
determination of disability because using the
Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding
that the claimant is ‘not disabled,’ whether or
not the claimant has transferable job skills.” Tr. at
21. Even though Jones cannot perform a full range of
sedentary work, the ALJ determined that there are a
significant number of jobs in the national economy that he is
capable of performing, such as assembler, table worker, and
machine operator feeder/auto grinder. Tr. at 21–22. The
ALJ concluded her findings by stating that Plaintiff
“has not been under a disability, as defined in the
Social Security Act, from April 25, 2014 through the date of
the decision.” Tr. at 22.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
court’s role in reviewing claims brought under the
Social Security Act is a narrow one. The scope of review is
limited to determining (1) whether there is substantial
evidence in the record 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 (1971); Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219,
1221 (11th Cir. 2002). 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. Federal Mar.
Comm’n, 383 U.S. 607, 620 (1966)). Indeed, even if
this court finds that the evidence preponderates against the
Commissioner’s decision, the court must affirm the
decision if it 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).
court must keep in mind that opinions on whether a claimant
is disabled, the nature and extent of a claimant’s RFC,
and the application of vocational factors “are not
medical opinions, . . . but are, instead, opinions on issues
reserved to the commissioner because they are administrative
findings that are dispositive of a case; i.e., that would
direct the determination or decision of disability.” 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(e) & 416.927(d). Whether the
plaintiff meets the listing and therefore is qualified for
Social Security disability benefits is a question reserved
for the ALJ, and the court “may not decide facts anew,
reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its] judgment for that
of the Commissioner.” Dyer v. Barnhart, 395
F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005). Thus, even if the court
were to disagree with the ALJ about the significance of
certain facts, the court has no power to reverse that finding
as long as there is substantial evidence in the record to
argues that the ALJ’s decision that he has the RFC to
perform sedentary work is not supported by substantial
evidence. In general, RFC is a determination of the work that
a claimant can perform in spite of his or her limitations.
SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *2 (July 2, 1996). The RFC is
the ceiling, or the maximum that a claimant is capable of
doing given his or her medical condition. Id. When
there is no allegation of a physical or mental impairment and
the record contains no medical evidence that such an
impairment exists, the ALJ should assume that that there is
no impairment of that functional capacity. Id. at
*3. When establishing an RFC for any claimant, the ALJ must
explain how the evidence supports the RFC. Specifically, SSR
96-8p requires as follows:
The RFC assessment must include a narrative discussion
describing how the evidence supports each conclusion, citing
specific medical facts (e.g., laboratory findings) and
nonmedical evidence (e.g., daily activities, observations).
In assessing RFC, the adjudicator must discuss the
individual’s ability to perform sustained work
activities in an ordinary work setting on a regular and
continuing basis (i.e., 8 hours a day, for 5 days a week, or
an equivalent work schedule), and describe the maximum amount
of each work-related activity the individual can perform
based on the evidence available in the case record. The
adjudicator must also explain how any material
inconsistencies or ambiguities in the evidence in the case
record were considered and resolved. . . .
The RFC assessment must include a discussion of why reported
symptom-related functional limitations and restrictions can
or cannot reasonably be accepted as consistent with the
medical and other evidence. In instances in which the
adjudicator has observed the individual, he or she is not
free to accept or reject that ...