United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Athens Division
STEPHEN HYLES, Magistrate Judge.
The Social Security Commissioner, by adoption of the Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ's) determination, denied Plaintiff's application for disability benefits, finding that he was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act and Regulations. Plaintiff contends that the Commissioner's decision was in error and seeks review under the relevant provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c). All administrative remedies have been exhausted. Both parties filed their written consents for all proceedings to be conducted by the United States Magistrate Judge, including the entry of a final judgment directly appealable to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(3).
The court's review of the Commissioner's decision is limited to a determination of whether it is supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct legal standards were applied. Walker v. Bowen, 826 F.2d 996, 1000 (11th Cir. 1987) (per curiam). "Substantial evidence is something more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance. If the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, this court must affirm, even if the proof preponderates against it." Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks omitted). The court's role in reviewing claims brought under the Social Security Act is a narrow one. The court may neither decide facts, re-weigh evidence, nor substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211 (11th Cir. 2005). It must, however, decide if the Commissioner applied the proper standards in reaching a decision. Harrell v. Harris, 610 F.2d 355, 359 (5th Cir. 1980) (per curiam). The court must scrutinize the entire record to determine the reasonableness of the Commissioner's factual findings. Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983). However, even if the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's decision, it must be affirmed if substantial evidence supports it. Id.
The Plaintiff bears the initial burden of proving that he is unable to perform his previous work. Jones v. Bowen, 810 F.2d 1001 (11th Cir. 1986). The Plaintiff's burden is a heavy one and is so stringent that it has been described as bordering on the unrealistic. Oldham v. Schweiker, 660 F.2d 1078, 1083 (5th Cir. 1981). A Plaintiff seeking Social Security disability benefits must demonstrate that he suffers from an impairment that prevents him from engaging in any substantial gainful activity for a twelve-month period. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1). In addition to meeting the requirements of these statutes, in order to be eligible for disability payments, a Plaintiff must meet the requirements of the Commissioner's regulations promulgated pursuant to the authority given in the Social Security Act. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1 et seq.
Under the Regulations, the Commissioner uses a five-step procedure to determine if a Plaintiff is disabled. Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1237 (11th Cir. 2004); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). First, the Commissioner determines whether the Plaintiff is working. Id. If not, the Commissioner determines whether the Plaintiff has an impairment which prevents the performance of basic work activities. Id. Second, the Commissioner determines the severity of the Plaintiff's impairment or combination of impairments. Id. Third, the Commissioner determines whether the Plaintiff's severe impairment(s) meets or equals an impairment listed in Appendix 1 of Part 404 of the Regulations (the "Listing"). Id. Fourth, the Commissioner determines whether the Plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC") can meet the physical and mental demands of past work. Id. Fifth and finally, the Commissioner determines whether the Plaintiff's residual functional capacity, age, education, and past work experience prevent the performance of any other work. In arriving at a decision, the Commissioner must consider the combined effects of all of the alleged impairments, without regard to whether each, if considered separately, would be disabling. Id. The Commissioner's failure to apply correct legal standards to the evidence is grounds for reversal. Id.
Whether the ALJ properly determined that Plaintiff does not meet Listing 12.05C. Administrative Proceedings
Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income on January 27, 2011, alleging disability as of January 1, 2001. Tr. 12, ECF No. 11-2. Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration, and Plaintiff timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). The ALJ conducted a hearing on November 20, 2012. Id. Following the hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on November 29, 2012. Tr. 12-25. The Appeals Council ultimately denied Plaintiff's Request for Review on June 26, 2014. Tr. 1-3. This appeal followed.
Statement of Facts and Evidence
After consideration of the written evidence and the hearing testimony in this case, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff met the insured status requirement of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2003. Tr. 14. The ALJ further found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity as defined by the Act since his alleged onset date. Id. The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of lower back pain, hypertension, borderline intellectual functioning, and major depressive disorder. Id. The ALJ then determined that Plaintiff had no impairments or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled any one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Id. The ALJ specifically considered Listing 12.05 in making this determination. Tr. 20-22.
After consideration of the entire record, the ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform medium work with both exertional and nonexertional limitations. Tr. 16-17. Plaintiff was found to have no past relevant work. Tr. 23. The ALJ further found that Plaintiff was 37 years old on the alleged disability onset date, which is considered to be a younger individual, but has since changed age categories to closely approaching advanced age. Plaintiff was found to have a limited education, and is capable of communicating in English. Id. Considering his education, age, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ elicited testimony from a vocational expert (VE) that there were jobs which existed in significant numbers in the national economy which Plaintiff could perform such as box bender, automatic machine attendant, laundry cloth folder, and box sealer inspector. Tr. 24. The ALJ therefore found that Plaintiff had not been under a disability as defined in the Act from January 1, 2001 through the date of the decision. Id.
Did the ALJ properly analyze Plaintiff's mental impairment ...