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.
Mindy Fulcher Tarpley filed an application for disability
insurance benefits on March 18, 2013 alleging that she became
disabled to work on September 1, 2011. Tr. 22. She previously
filed a claim for benefits on March 21, 2006, that was denied
on June 2, 2006. Tr. 73. After her current claim was denied,
both initially and on reconsideration, she requested an
evidentiary hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ)
which was held on July 13, 2015. Tr. 36. Plaintiff appeared,
with her attorney, and testified, as did her husband and an
impartial vocational expert (VE). Id. The ALJ issued
an unfavorable decision denying her claim on August 3, 2015.
Tr. 19-33. Plaintiff sought review by the Appeals Council on
September 15, 2015, but her request was denied on November 9,
2016. Tr. 17-18, 1-9. Plaintiff has exhausted the
administrative remedies available to her under the Social
Security Act and now seeks judicial review of the
Commissioner's final decision to deny her claim.
OF FACTS AND EVIDENCE
was thirty-one years old at the time when, she claims, she
became disabled. She has a high school education and the
record does not reflect any past relevant work. Tr. 28. In
her brief before this Court, she alleges that the ALJ gave
inadequate weight to the opinion of her treating physician,
discounted her credibility without good cause, and failed to
sufficiently evaluate the limitations imposed on her ability
to work as a result of her obesity. Pl. Br. 2, ECF No. 11. In
response, the Commissioner contends that there is, in fact,
substantial evidence supporting the ALJ's determination
that Plaintiff is not disabled. Comm'r's Br. 3, ECF
J. Fisher was Plaintiff's treating psychiatrist from June
1, 2011, through June 17, 2015. Tr. 904. On June 30, 2015,
Dr. Fisher completed a mental residual functional capacity
(RFC) assessment which included extensive and detailed notes
about Plaintiff's mental impairments and the specific
functional limitations resulting from them. His findings and
conclusions are significantly more limiting than the RFC
formulated by the ALJ. Ex. 18F, Tr. 904-10.
afforded only little weight to Dr. Fisher's mental RFC
assessment. He did so stating first that two years
previously, in May of 2013, Plaintiff reported the ability to
prepare food, wash dishes, shop, and read. Next, he
referenced an examination at that same time that
characterized Plaintiff as “friendly, ” attentive
without distraction, and with logical thought processes.
Third, he noted that a physician's assistant at a
gastroenterology practice found Plaintiff to be “mildly
anxious” with normal memory and judgement. Tr. 27.
However, the ALJ provided no further explanation or rationale
for giving the ...