United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Athens Division
STEPHEN HYLES UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Social Security Commissioner, by adoption of the
Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ's) determination,
denied Plaintiff's application for disability insurance
benefits and supplemental security income, finding that she
is 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).
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.
Plaintiff bears the initial burden of proving that she is
unable to perform her 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 she
suffers from an impairment that prevents her 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.
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 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 evaluated Plaintiff's obesity.
Whether the ALJ properly evaluated Plaintiff's
Julia M. Bailey filed applications for disability insurance
benefits and supplemental security income on October 10, 2012
alleging that she became disabled to work on August 6, 2012.
Her claims were denied on January 16, 2013 and on
reconsideration on March 12, 2013. She filed a written
request for an evidentiary hearing before an administrative
law judge (ALJ) on April 30, 2013. The hearing was held on
August 7, 2014. Plaintiff appeared with her attorney and gave
testimony, as did an impartial vocational expert (VE). Tr.
17. The ALJ issued an “unfavorable” written
decision denying her applications on October 20, 2014. Tr.
14-33. She sought review by the Appeals Council on November
7, 2014 but was denied on June 13, 2016. Tr. 12-13, 2-8.
Having exhausted the administrative remedies available to her
under the Social Security Act, she now seeks judicial review
of the final decision by the Commissioner to deny her claims.
of Facts and Evidence
alleged date of disability onset, Plaintiff was fifty-two
years old. She has a high school education and worked
previously as a cook and server in restaurants. Tr. 26. In
conducting the five-step sequential analysis set forth in the
Commissioner's regulations for the evaluation of
disability claims, at step two the ALJ found her to have
severe impairments of seizure disorder, depression, anxiety,
history of knee pain, and obesity. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(c), 416.920(c). Finding No. 3, Tr. 19-20. At step
three he further found that these impairments, considered
both alone and in combination with one another, neither meet
nor medically equal a listed impairment in 20 C.F.R. Part
404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Finding No. 4, Tr. 20-21. Between
steps three and four, the ALJ formulated a residual
functional capacity assessment (RFC) which permits her to
engage in work at the light exertional level with added
exertional and nonexertional restrictions. Finding No. 5, Tr.
21-26. Next, the ALJ determined at step four that the RFC
assessment prohibited her from returning to her past relevant
work. Finding No. 6, Tr. 26. In his step-five analysis, the
ALJ established that ...