United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
E. OTT CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Robert King appeals from the decision of the Commissioner of
the Social Security Administration (the
“Commissioner”) denying his application for
supplemental security income (“SSI”) under the
Social Security Act. (Doc. 1).King timely pursued and exhausted
his administrative remedies, and the Commissioner's
decision is ripe for review. For the reasons discussed below,
the court finds that the Commissioner's decision is due
to be affirmed.
was fifty-one years old when he filed his SSI application and
fifty-four years old at the time of the decision. (R. 16-27,
139). He graduated from high
school and has past work experience in the fast
food industry as a worker, cook and manager. (R. 45, 175).
His last job was as a fast food manager in 2008. (R. 175). He
alleges that he is unable to work because of mental health
issues. (R. 174).
alleges he became disabled on December 9, 2015. (R. 16, 170).
When the Social Security Administration (“SSA”)
denied his claims initially, (R. 56-57), King requested a
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”), (R. 79-81). A video hearing was held on
February 15, 2018. (R. 28-52). Following the hearing, the ALJ
denied his claim. (R. 16-27). King appealed the decision to
the Appeals Council (“AC”). After reviewing the
record, the AC declined to further review the ALJ's
decision. (R. 1-6). That decision became the final decision
of the Commissioner and is now ripe for review. See Frye
v. Massanari, 209 F.Supp.2d 1246, 1251 (N.D. Ala. 2001)
(citing Falge v. Apfel, 150 F.3d 1320, 1322 (11th
Statutory and Regulatory Framework
establish his eligibility for disability benefits, a claimant
must show “the inability 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 twelve months.” 42
U.S.C. §§ 416(i)(1)(A), 423(d)(1)(A); see
also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a). The Social Security
Administration employs a five-step sequential analysis to
determine an individual's eligibility for disability
benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(b).
the Commissioner must determine whether the claimant is
engaged in “substantial gainful activity.”
Id. “Under the first step, the claimant has
the burden to show that he is not currently engaged in
substantial gainful activity.” Reynolds-Buckley v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 457 Fed.Appx. 862, 863 (11th
Cir. 2012). If the claimant is engaged in substantial
gainful activity, the Commissioner will determine the
claimant is not disabled. At the first step, the ALJ
determined King has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since December 11, 2015, the date of his
application. (R. 18).
claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the
Commissioner must next determine whether the claimant suffers
from a severe physical or mental impairment or combination of
impairments that has lasted or is expected to last for a
continuous period of at least twelve months. 20 C.F.R. §
416.920 (a)(4)(ii) & (c). An impairment “must
result from anatomical, physiological, or psychological
abnormalities which can be shown by medically acceptable
clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” See
Id. at § 416.921. Furthermore, it “must be
established by medical evidence consisting of signs,
symptoms, and laboratory findings, not only by [the
claimant's] statement of symptoms.” Id.;
see also 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(3). An impairment
is severe if it “significantly limits [the
claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities . . . .” 20 C.F.R. §
416.922(c).“[A]n impairment can be considered as
not severe only if it is a slight abnormality which has such
a minimal effect on the individual that it would not be
expected to interfere with the individual's ability to
work, irrespective of age, education, or work
experience.” Brady v. Heckler, 724 F.2d 914,
920 (11th Cir. 1984); see also 20 C.F.R. §
404.1521(a). A claimant may be found disabled based on a
combination of impairments, even though none of his
individual impairments alone is disabling. 20 C.F.R. §
416.920 The claimant bears the burden of providing medical
evidence demonstrating an impairment and its severity.
Id. at § 416.912(a). If the claimant does not
have a severe impairment or combination of impairments, the
Commissioner will determine the claimant is not disabled.
Id. at § 416.920(a)(4)(ii) and (c). At the
second step, the ALJ determined King has the following severe
impairments: degenerative joint disease of right hip and
bipolar disorder with psychosis. (R. 18).
claimant has a severe impairment or combination of
impairments, the Commissioner must then determine whether the
impairment meets or equals one of the “Listings”
found in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.920(a)(4)(iii) & (d). The claimant bears the
burden of proving his impairment meets or equals one of the
Listings. Reynolds-Buckley, 457 Fed.Appx. at 863. If
the claimant's impairment meets or equals one of the
Listings, the Commissioner will determine the claimant is
disabled. 20 C.F.R § 416.920(a)(4)(iii) and (d). At the
third step, the ALJ determined King did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that meet or
medically equal the severity of one of the Listings. (R.
claimant's impairment does not meet or equal one of the
Listings, the Commissioner must determine the claimant's
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) before
proceeding to the fourth step. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(e). A
claimant's RFC is the most he can do despite his
impairment. See Id. at § 416.945(a). At the
fourth step, the Commissioner will compare the assessment of
the claimant's RFC with the physical and mental demands
of the claimant's past relevant work. Id. at
§ 416.945(a)(4)(iv). “Past relevant work is work
that [the claimant] [has] done within the past 15 years, that
was substantial gainful activity, and that lasted long enough
for [the claimant] to learn to do it.” Id.
§ 416.960(b)(1). The claimant bears the burden of
proving that his impairment prevents him from performing his
past relevant work. Reynolds-Buckley, 457 Fed.Appx.
at 863. If the claimant is capable of performing his past
relevant work, the Commissioner will determine the claimant
is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv) &
proceeding to the fourth step, the ALJ determined King has
the RFC to perform a limited range of medium work. (R. at
21). More specifically, the ALJ found King had the following
limitations with regard to medium work, as defined in 20
C.F.R. § 416.967(c):
He can perform postural activities on an occasional basis. He
should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme temperatures
and industrial hazards (e.g., unprotected heights, moving
machine parts, operating motor vehicles). The claimant can
understand, remember, and carry out detailed tasks and
(Id.). At the fourth step, the ALJ determined King
was capable of performing his past relevant work as a fast
food manager, fast food worker, and fast food cook.
(Id. at 27). With this determination, the inquiry
ended because if the claimant is capable of performing other
work, the Commissioner will determine the claimant is not
disabled. Id.at § 416.920(a)(4)(v) and (g)(1).
The ALJ concluded King had not been under a disability as
defined by the SSA since December 11, 2015. (R. 27).
Standard of Review
of the Commissioner's decision is limited to a
determination whether that decision is supported by
substantial evidence and whether the Commissioner applied
correct legal standards. Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004). A district
court must review the Commissioner's findings of fact
with deference and may not reconsider the facts, reevaluate
the evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the
Commissioner. Ingram v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.
Admin., 496 F.3d 1253, 1260 (11th Cir. 2007); Dyer
v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005).
Rather, a district court must “scrutinize the record as
a whole to determine whether the decision reached is
reasonable and supported by substantial evidence.”
Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th
Cir. 1983) (internal citations omitted). Substantial evidence
is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Id. It is “more than a scintilla, but less
than a preponderance.” Id. A district court
must uphold factual findings supported by substantial
evidence, even if the preponderance of the evidence is
against those findings. Miles v. Chater, 84 F.3d
1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996) (citing Martin v.
Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990)).
district court reviews the Commissioner's legal
conclusions de novo. Davis v. Shalala, 985
F.2d 528, 531 (11th Cir. 1993). “The
[Commissioner's] failure to apply the correct law or to
provide the reviewing court with sufficient reasoning for
determining that the proper legal analysis has been conducted
mandates reversal.” Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936
F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).
makes four arguments in favor of remand. First, he contends
the ALJ failed to accord proper weight to the medical source
opinion from his treating psychiatrist, Dr. Fredric Feist.
(Doc. 11 at 16-23). Second, King argues the ALJ improperly
applied the pain standard. (Id. at 23-32). Third,
King asserts the ALJ's finding that he can perform his
past relevant work is not supported by substantial evidence
and not in accordance with proper legal standards.
(Id. at 32-36). Finally, he contends that the
VE's testimony is not substantial evidence because it was
based on an inaccurate and incomplete hypothetical question.
(Id. at 36-40). The court addresses each argument
Treating Psychiatrist Opinion
first argues that the ALJ erred in discounting the opinion of
Dr. Feist, his treating psychiatrist. (Id. at
16-23). King contends that Dr. Feist's opinion “is
well supported by clinical and laboratory findings, and not
inconsistent with other substantial evidence” and
should have been given substantial weight. (Id. at
treating physician's opinion “must be given
substantial or considerable weight unless ‘good
cause' is shown to the contrary.” Lewis v.
Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1440 (11th Cir.1997). The
Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has stated that
“‘good cause' exists when the: (1) treating
physician's opinion was not bolstered by the evidence;
(2) evidence supported a contrary finding; or (3) treating
physician's opinion was conclusory or inconsistent with
the doctor's own medical records.” Phillips v.
Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1240-41 (11th Cir. 2004). In
rejecting a medical opinion, the ALJ must clearly articulate
his or her reasons for doing so.
contends that the ALJ erred in giving little weight to the
mental health source statement signed by Dr. Feist, on July
19, 2017. (Doc. 11 at 16-23, R. 25-26, 345). The one-page
form provides that Plaintiff had some limitations based on
his mental health. (R. 345). The form asks the person
completing it to circle “yes or no” to the
• Can Mr. King understand, remember or carry out very
short and simple instructions?
• Can Mr. King maintain attention, concentration and /or
pace for periods of ...