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
Plaintiffs 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.
Janet McDaniel filed applications for a period of disability,
disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security
income on June 10, 2013, alleging she became disabled to work
on June 1, 2009. Tr. 227-35, 236-42. Her applications were
initially denied on August 16, 2013, and on reconsideration
on November 22, 2013. On January 15, 2014, Plaintiff
requested an evidentiary hearing before an administrative law
judge (ALJ) and a hearing was held on June 2, 2015. Tr. 18.
Plaintiff appeared at the hearing with her attorney and
testified, as did an impartial vocational expert (VE). Tr.
54. On August 6, 2015 the ALJ issued a written decision
denying Plaintiffs claims. Tr. 51-70. Plaintiff sought review
of that decision by the Appeals Council on September 21,
2015, but her request was denied on November 29, 2016. Tr.
14-15, 1-6. 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 denying her applications. This case is ripe for
OF FACTS AND EVIDENCE
was fifty-one years old when the ALJ issued his decision. She
has a ninth-grade education and past work as a dairy helper.
Tr. 229, 272, 41. The ALJ conducted the five-step sequential
evaluation called for by the regulations to evaluate
Plaintiffs claims. Tr. 55; 20 CFR §§ 404.1520(a),
416.920(a). At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the
severe impairments of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,
asthma, bronchitis, spinal scoliosis with degenerative disc
disease, depression and anxiety, carpal tunnel syndrome,
sciatica, and borderline intellectual functioning. Finding 3,
Tr. 56-57. Notably, the ALJ did not find that Plaintiff had
an intellectual disability impairment (previously known as
"mental retardation"). At step three he found that
Plaintiff's impairments, considered both alone and in
combination with one another, neither meet nor medically
equal a listed impairment set out in 20 C.F.R. Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1. Finding 4, Tr. 57-60. Between steps
three and four, the ALJ formulated a residual functional
capacity assessment (RFC) which permits Plaintiff to engage
in light work with added exertional, non-exertional,
postural, and environmental limitations. Finding 5, Tr.
60-63. At step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiffs RFC
does not permit her to resume past relevant work. Finding 6,
Tr. 63. In his step-five analysis, the ALJ accepted the
VE's testimony that there are jobs which Plaintiff can
perform within her restricted RFC that are available to her
in the national economy. Finding 10, Tr. 64. Accordingly, he
found Plaintiff not disabled to work. Finding 11, Tr. 65.
asserts that the ALJ erred in not finding that her mental
impairments meet or medically equal those listed in §
12.05 of 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix for
intellectual disability. Pl.'s Br. 2. However, the ALJ
did not find Plaintiff to have a severe impairment of
intellectual disability and Plaintiff has not claimed error
in the failure to do so. Tr. 56; see generally
Pl.'s Br. Instead, the ALJ found Plaintiff to have the
severe impairment of borderline intellectual functioning, a
disorder separate and distinct from, and mutually exclusive
of, intellectual disability. Tr. 56; Jordan v. Comm
'r of Soc. Sec,470 Fed.Appx. 766, 768-69 (11th Cir.
2012). Because no diagnosis exists in the record- from any
medical source-that Plaintiff suffers from intellectual
disability, and the ALJ did not find intellectual disability
to be an impairment, there is no error in his step-three
determination that Plaintiff's impairments do not match
or medically equal those listed in § 12.05 when