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, 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.
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 considered all relevant impairments.
Whether the ALJ improperly applied applicable
Whether the ALJ reasonably discerned the evidence
Marshell Allen filed applications for disability insurance
benefits and supplemental security income on August 29, 2012
alleging that she has been disabled to work since August 16,
2011. Her claims were denied initially on November 7, 2012
and denied on reconsideration on January 24, 2013. She filed
a written request for an evidentiary hearing before an
administrative law judge (ALJ) on March 13, 2013, and the
hearing was conducted on May 5, 2015. Plaintiff appeared with
her attorney and testified at the hearing. Tr. 20. The ALJ
issued an unfavorable decision denying her claims on May 26,
2015. Tr. 17-42). She next requested review by the Appeals
Council on June 1, 2015, but was denied on August 3, 2016.
(Tr. 14-16, 1-6). Having exhausted the administrative
remedies available to her under the Social Security Act,
Plaintiff brings this action seeking judicial review of the
Commisioner's final decision to deny her applications for
benefits. Her case is ripe for review.
was fifty-four years of age when the ALJ rendered his
unfavorable decision. She attended high school until the
eleventh grade and has past relevant work as a medical and
appointment clerk and security guard. Tr. 236, 288, 64, 92.
The ALJ conducted the five-step sequential analysis of her
claims mandated by the Commissioner's regulations and
found that Plaintiff has severe impairments of coronary
artery disease and mild degenerative joint disease in the
right knee. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 (2012), 416.920
(2017); (Finding No. 3, Tr. 22). He further found that her
impairments of left ankle injury, smoking related asthma,
carpal tunnel syndrome and anxiety with dysfunctional
disorder are non-severe and detailed the reasons for his
conclusion. (Finding No. 4, Tr. 23-27). In his step-three
analysis, he concluded that Plaintiff's impairments,
considered alone and in combination with one another, do not
meet or medically equal the listed impairments set out in 20
C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (2016). (Finding No.
5, Tr. 27-28). Between steps three and four, the ALJ
formulated a residual functional capacity (RFC) assessment
which permits Plaintiff to engage in light work with added
exertional, postural and environmental limitations. (Finding
No. 6, Tr. 28-35). At step-four he ...