United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
OWEN BOWDRE, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
April 22, 2015, the claimant, Amy Michelle Williams, applied
for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits
under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. (R. 15). In her
application, the claimant alleged disability beginning on
January 20, 2015 because of lumbar degenerative disc disease,
piriformis syndrome, fibromyalgia, migraines, obesity, and
obstructive sleep apnea. (R.18). The Commissioner denied the
claim on June 29, 2015. (R. 15). The claimant filed a timely
request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge, and
the ALJ held a hearing on March 29, 2017. (R. 30).
decision dated April 26, 2017, the ALJ found that the
claimant was not disabled as defined by the Social Security
Act and was thus ineligible for social security disability
benefits. (R. 12-23). On February 16, 2018, the Appeals
Council denied the claimant’s request for review. (R.
1-6). Consequently, the ALJ’s decision became the final
decision of the Commissioner. See Chester v. Bowen,
792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986). The claimant has
exhausted her administrative remedies, and the court has
jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and
1383(c)(3). For the reasons stated below, the court will
affirm the Commissioner’s decision.
claimant presents two issues for review:
(1) Whether the ALJ erred as a matter of law in discrediting
the claimant’s subjective testimony concerning the
limitations caused by her migraines, fibromyalgia, sleep
apnea, and obesity when evaluating her residual functional
(2) Whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s
finding that the claimant could return to her past
work despite the vocational expert testifying that, based on
the claimant’s RFC, the claimant could not
perform her past work.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
standard for reviewing the Commissioner’s decision is
limited. The court must affirm the Commissioner’s
decision if he applied the correct legal standards and if
substantial evidence supports his factual conclusions.
See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Graham v.
Apfel, 129 F.3d 1420, 1422 (11th Cir. 1997); Walker
v. Bowen, 826 F.2d 996, 999 (11th Cir. 1987).
. . . presumption of validity attaches to the
[Commissioner’s] legal conclusions, including
determination of the proper standards to be applied in
evaluating claims.” Walker, 826 F.2d at 999.
The court does not review the Commissioner’s factual
determinations de novo. The court will affirm those
factual determinations that are supported by substantial
evidence. “Substantial evidence” is “more
than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 402 (1971).
Commissioner’s 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(d), 416.927(d). Whether the
claimant meets a listing and 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 substantial evidence in the record supports it.
court must “scrutinize the record in its entirety to
determine the reasonableness of the [ALJ]’s factual
findings.” Walker, 826 F.2d at 999. The court
must not only look to those parts of the record that support
the ALJ’s decision, but also must view the record in
its entirety and take account of evidence that detracts from
the evidence relied on by the ALJ. Hillsman v.
Bowen, 804 F.2d 1179, 1180 (11th Cir. 1986).
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A), a person is entitled to
disability benefits when she is unable 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 . . . .” To determine whether a claimant meets
the § 423(d)(1)(A) criteria, the Commissioner employs a
five-step, sequential evaluation process:
(1) Is the person presently unemployed?
(2) Is the person’s impairment severe?
(3) Does the person’s impairment meet or equal one of
the specific impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404,
subpart P, App. 1?
(4) Is the person unable to perform his or her former
(5) Is the person unable to perform any other work within the
An affirmative answer to any of the above questions leads
either to the next question, or, on step three and five, to a
finding of disability. A negative answer to any question,
other than step three, leads to a determination of “not
McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir.
Eleventh Circuit has established a three-part “pain
standard” that the ALJ must apply “when a
claimant attempts to establish disability through his or her
own testimony of pain or other subjective symptoms.”
Holt v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d 1221, 1223 (11th Cir.
1991). “The pain standard requires (1) evidence of an
underlying medical condition and either (2) objective medical
evidence that confirms the severity of the alleged pain
arising from that condition or (3) that the objectively
determined medical condition is of such a severity that it
can be reasonably expected ...