United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Valdosta Division
MELISSA J. TILLMAN, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
THOMAS Q. LANGSTAFF, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff herein filed this Social Security appeal on August 13, 2013, challenging the Commissioner's final decision denying her application for disability benefits, finding her not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act and Regulations. (Doc. 1). Jurisdiction arises under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c). All administrative remedies have been exhausted.
In reviewing the final decision of the Commissioner, this Court must evaluate both whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence and whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards to the evidence. Bloodsworth v. Heckler , 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983); Hoffman v. Astrue , 259 Fed.Appx. 213, 216 (11th Cir. 2007). The Commissioner's factual findings are deemed conclusive if supported by substantial evidence, defined as more than a scintilla, such that a reasonable person would accept the evidence as adequate to support the conclusion at issue. Richardson v. Perales , 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Cornelius v. Sullivan , 936 F.2d 1143, 1145 (11th Cir. 1991).
In reviewing the ALJ's decision for support by substantial evidence, this Court may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. "Even if we find that the evidence preponderates against the [Commissioner's] decision, we must affirm if the decision is supported by substantial evidence." Bloodsworth , 703 F.2d at 1239. "In contrast, the [Commissioner's] conclusions of law are not presumed valid.... 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 , 936 F.2d at 1145-1146.
Under the regulations, the Commissioner evaluates a disability claim by means of a five-step sequential evaluation process. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. In Step One, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant is working. In Step Two, the Commissioner determines whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment which significantly limits her ability to carry out basic work activities. At Step Three, the Commissioner evaluates whether the claimant's impairment(s) meet or equal a listed impairment in Appendix 1 of Part 404 of the regulations. At Step Four, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant's residual functional capacity will allow a return to past relevant work. Finally, at Step Five, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant's residual functional capacity, age, education, and work experience allow an adjustment to other work.
Plaintiff filed applications for disability insurance benefits and Supplemental Security Income benefits on August 10, 2009. (Tr. 49, 197-203, 225). Her claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 104-115). A video hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") who presided from Macon, Georgia on February 9, 2012. (Tr. 68-103). Thereafter, in a hearing decision dated February 24, 2012, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 49-62). The Appeals Council subsequently denied review and the ALJ's decision thereby became the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 10-15).
Statement of Facts and Evidence
Plaintiff was forty-five (45) years of age at the time of the hearing before the ALJ, and alleged disability since February 1, 2008, due to bipolar disorder, severe social anxiety, and schizophrenia. (Tr. 73, 197, 230). Plaintiff completed the eighth grade, and has past relevant work experience as a mail carrier and cashier. (Tr. 60, 73).
As determined by the ALJ, Plaintiff suffers from "the following severe impairments: a mental disorder variously diagnosed as: bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder; and asthma[.]" (Tr. 52). The ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled a listed impairment, and she remained capable of performing
a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: the claimant should avoid concentrated exposure o (sic) fumes, odors, dust, and other pulmonary irritants. The claimant can understand, remember, and follow simple instructions and sustain attention, persistence, and pace for simple tasks; no more than incidental public contact; can interact with co-workers and supervisors in low demand social settings; may need occasionally help setting goals; needs stable work setting; no jobs requiring travel to unfamiliar places or the use of public transportation.
(Tr. 52, 54). Although Plaintiff could not return to her past relevant work, the ALJ considered the Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, and applied the Medical-Vocational Guidelines to determine that Plaintiff remained capable of performing other jobs that existed in ...