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Conley v. Colvin

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Statesboro Division

July 9, 2015

CAROLYN COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


G.R. SMITH, Magistrate Judge.

Alleging disability due to narcolepsy, obstructive sleep apnea, and cataplexy, Leonard Conley seeks judicial review of the Social Security Commissioner's denial of his application for a period of disability and disability benefits. Does. 1; 10.[1] That denial followed Conley's exhaustion of administrative remedies, doc. 6-2 at 3, so his claims are now ripe for judicial review.


In social security cases, courts: review the Commissioner's decision for substantial evidence. Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011). "Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. (quotation omitted)... "We may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute our judgment for that of the Commissioner." Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178 (quotation and brackets omitted). "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) (quotation omitted).

Mitchell v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 771 F.3d 780, 782 (11th Cir. 2014).

The burden of proving disability lies with the claimant. Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208) 1211 (11th Cir. 2005). In response to the showing the claimant makes, the ALJ applies

a five-step, "sequential" process for determining whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(1). If an ALJ finds a claimant disabled or not disabled at any given step, the ALJ does not go on to the next step. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4). At the first step, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). At the second step, the AU must determine whether the impairment or combination of impairments for which the claimant allegedly suffers is "severe." Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). At the third step, the ALJ must decide whether the claimant's severe impairments meet or medically equal a listed impairment. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). If not, the ALJ must then determine at step four whether the claimant has the RFC to perform her past relevant work. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant cannot perform her past relevant work, the ALJ must determine at step five whether the claimant can make an adjustment to other work, considering the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience.[1] Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v). An ALJ may make this determination either by applying the Medical Vocational Guidelines or by obtaining the testimony of a VE. Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1180 (11th Cir. 2011).

Stone v. Comm'r. of Soc. Sec. Admin., 596 F.App'x, 878, 879 (11th Cir. 2015) (footnote added).


Conley, 43 at the time of the administrative law judge's (AU) final decision denying benefits, does. 6-2 at 27; 6-5 at 4, has a high school education, doc. 6-6 at 7, and past relevant work experience as a cabinetmaker. Id. Since at least 1993, plaintiff has had obstructive sleep apnea and narcolepsy. Doc. 6-7 at 25. By 2006, his apnea qualified as severe, id. at 30, and by March 2007 he lost his cabinetmaking job because of sleep related accidents. Doc. 6-2 at 49-50 (fingers stapled together after falling asleep on the job).

Unemployed since then, Conley lives with his wife of 20 years and two youngest children, doc. 10 at 2, and says he spends his days trying to avoid sleep. Doc. 6-6 at 25. He tries to help with household chores and small tasks, at least "until [he] get[s] to[o] sleepy." Id. When his kids get off the bus in the afternoons, he tries to help with homework, but "usually fall[s] asleep doing that." Id. at 52. Conley uses a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine to control his apnea and also takes amphetamines to help stay awake. See doc. 6-11 at 52.

Conley filed for disability benefits on February 9, 2010, alleging a disability onset of March 1, 2007. Doc. 6-2 at 27. Following administrative denial, he attended and testified at a hearing on September 13, 2012 before the AU, who later denied his application. Id.

The ALJ determined that Conley has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 1, 2007, and has the severe impairments of "narcolepsy, obstructive sleep apnea, and obesity (20 CFR 404.1520(c))." Doc. 6-2 at 29. That brought Conley to step three, where the ALJ found that he does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or medically equal a listed impairment. Id. at 30. The ALJ then conducted an RFC assessment, which, as noted supra n. 1, is "based upon all of the relevant evidence[] of a claimant's remaining ability to do work despite his impairments." Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1336, 1440 (11th Cir. 1997); Harris v. Colvin, 2014 WL 5844240 at *6 (S.D. Ala. Nov. 12, 2014).

The ALJ found that Conley had an RFC that enabled him to perform medium work, "except that [he] can no more than occasionally push or pull up to 25 pounds." Doc. 6-2 at 30.[2] After finding Conley unable to perform past relevant work, id. at 33, the ALJ proceeded to step five and consulted a vocational expert (VE) to determine if he could make an adjustment to other work. Id. The VE opined that Conley could ...

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