United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Savannah Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
Sandra Carson seeks judicial review of the Social Security
Administration's denial of her application for Disability
Insurance Benefits (DIB) benefits.
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., Ill. F.3d
780, 782 (11th Cir. 2014).
burden of proving disability lies with the claimant.
Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211 (11th Cir.
2005). 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 ALJ must determine whether the impairment or combination
of impairments for which the claimant allegedly suffers is
"severe." Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(h). 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. An ALJ may make this
determination either by applying the Medical Vocational
Guidelines or by obtaining the testimony of a [Vocational
Stone v. Comm'r. of Soc. Sec. Admin., 596
F.App'x, 878, 879 (11th Cir. 2015) (footnote added).
who was 57 years old when her DIB claim was denied, alleges
disability beginning March 6, 2013. Tr. 54. She has a high
school education and past relevant work as a nursing
assistant. Tr. 54, 60, 186. After a hearing, the ALJ issued
an unfavorable decision. Tr. 1-4, 80-89.
found that Carson's degenerative and discogenic disease
of the lumbar spine (status post-lumbar fusion surgery) and
obesity did not meet or medically equal a Listing. Tr. 82-85.
Based on the evidence of record, the ALJ found that she
retained the RFC for medium work, except that "she is
limited to frequent climbing of stairs and ramps, crouching,
and crawling and occasional climbing of ropes, ladders, and
scaffolds." Tr. 85. Plaintiff, he determined, was able
to perform her past relevant work as a nurse assistant. Tr.
89. Hence, Carson was not disabled. Id.. She
disagrees, arguing that the ALJ erred in his evaluation of
her credibility and the medical evidence. Doc. 17.
Strength Limitations to Carson's RFC
Security Ruling (SSR) 96-8p regulates an ALJ's assessment
of a claimant's RFC. 1996 WL 374184. Under SSR 96-8p, the
"RFC assessment must first identify the individual's
functional limitations or restrictions and assess his or her
work-related abilities on a function-by-function basis. . . .
Only after that may RFC be expressed in terms of exertional
levels of work, sedentary, light, medium, heavy, and very
heavy." Id. at *1. The regulation specifically
mandates a "narrative discussion" of "the
individual's ability to perform sustained work activities
in an ordinary work setting on a regular and continuing basis
. . . and [a decription of] the maximum amount of each
work-related activity the individual can perform based on the
evidence available in the case record." Id. at
is entitled to formulate the RFC and resolve any ambiguity or
inconsistency in the medical evidence, 20 C.F.R. §§
416.927(d)(2), 946(c), based on the entire record, 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.945(a)(3). But he must make his own findings,
specifying what functions a claimant is capable of
performing, and must not simply make conclusory statements
regarding a claimant's RFC. Id. at §
404.1546. See also Freeman v. Barnhart, 220
F.App'x 957, 960 (11th Cir. 2007) ("While the ALJ
could have been more specific and explicit in his findings,
" he sufficiently complied with SSR 96-8p because his
decision made it clear that "he did consider all of the
evidence and found that it did not support the level of
disability [the claimant] claimed.").
here made no specific finding as to Carson's strength
limitations, but he implicitly found her capable of lifting
and carrying 25-50 pounds by finding her capable of medium
work. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(c),
416.967(c) (medium work is defined as work that involves
lifting no more than 50 pounds at a time, with frequent
lifting or carrying objects that weigh 25 pounds, and
standing for approximately six hours out of an eight-hour
work day); see also DICOT 355.674-014 (work as a
nurse assistant requires the ability to exert "20 to 50
pounds of force occasionally (Occasionally: activity or
condition exists up to 1/3 of the time) and/or 10 to 25
pounds of force frequently (Frequently: activity or condition
exists from 1/3 to 2/3 of the time) and/or greater than
negligible up to 10 pounds of force constantly (Constantly:
activity or condition exists 2/3 or more of the time) to move
objects")). Hence, the ALJ's implicit finding that
Carson could regularly lift 25-50 pounds at a time during an
8-hour day was outcome determinative.
discredited plaintiffs subjective testimony as inconsistent
with her admitted activities of daily living and unsupported
by the objective medical evidence, and also because (despite
having insurance) she had not sought care from her
neurosurgeon or any other specialist since January 6, 2014,
relied on over-the-counter pain medication, and pursued a
largely conservative course of treatment. Tr. 87-88.
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ misrepresented much of the