United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Augusta Division
MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND
K. EPPS JUDGE
Jimmy Griffin appeals the decision of the Acting Commissioner
of Social Security denying his application for Disability
Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Social Security
Insurance (“SSI”) under the Social Security Act.
Upon consideration of the briefs submitted by both parties,
the record evidence, and the relevant statutory and case law,
the Court REPORTS and
RECOMMENDS the Commissioner's final
decision be AFFIRMED, this civil action be
CLOSED, and a final judgment be
ENTERED in favor of the Commissioner.
applied for DIB and SSI on April 8, 2013, alleging a
disability onset date of March 31, 2011. Tr.
(“R.”), pp. 193-210. Plaintiff later amended his
alleged onset date to August 30, 2012. R. 226. Plaintiff was
fifty-four years old on his amended alleged disability onset
date and was fifty-eight years old at the time the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) issued the
decision under consideration. R. 49, 227. Plaintiff initially
applied for benefits based on allegations of the following
conditions: chronic respiratory illness, high blood pressure,
asthma, and pneumonia. R. 231. Plaintiff completed a GED, and
prior to his alleged disability, Plaintiff had accrued a
relevant work history as a parking attendant. R. 83, 232.
Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's
applications. R. 104-11. Plaintiff requested a hearing before
an ALJ, R. 112-116, and the ALJ held a hearing on February 2,
2016. R. 64-87. At the hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from
Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, as well as from
Robert Browden, Sr., a Vocational Expert. Id. On
March 8, 2016, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. R.
the sequential process required by 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520 and 416.920, the ALJ found:
1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since August 30, 2012, the amended alleged onset
date (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1571 et seq. and
416.971 et seq.).
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: asthma,
chronic bronchitis, history of nasal polyps with surgical
removal, history of pulmonary nodules, status-post left
pleural decortication and left lower lobe pulmonary wedge
resection, and reduced hearing. (20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).
3. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart
P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525,
404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
4. The claimant has the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a); that is further
limited to occasional climbing of ramps and stairs; with no
climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffold; with avoidance of
moderate exposure to fumes, odors, dusts, gases, and poor
ventilation; and with avoidance of concentrated exposure to
noise. The claimant is capable of performing past relevant
work as a parking attendant. This work does not require the
performance of work-related activities precluded by the
claimant's RFC (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1565 and
the ALJ determined Plaintiff could perform his past relevant
work, the sequential evaluation process stopped, and the ALJ
concluded Plaintiff was not under a disability, as defined in
the Social Security Act, from August 30, 2012, through the
date of the decision, March 8, 2016. R. 48. When the Appeals
Council (“AC”) denied Plaintiff's request for
review, R. 1-5, the Commissioner's decision became
“final” for the purpose of judicial review. 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff then filed this civil action
requesting reversal or remand of that adverse decision.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
review of social security cases is narrow and limited to the
following questions: (1) whether the Commissioner's
findings are supported by substantial evidence, and (2)
whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards.
Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1439 (11th Cir.
1997). When considering whether the Commissioner's
decision is supported by substantial evidence, the reviewing
court may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or
substitute its judgment for the Commissioner's. Moore
v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211 (11th Cir. 2005);
Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145 (11th
Cir. 1991). Notwithstanding this measure of deference, the
Court remains obligated to scrutinize the whole record to
determine whether substantial evidence supports each
essential administrative finding. Bloodsworth v.
Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983).
Commissioner's factual findings should be affirmed if
there is substantial evidence to support them. Barron v.
Sullivan, 924 F.2d 227, 230 (11th Cir. 1991).
Substantial evidence is “more than a scintilla, but
less than a preponderance: ‘[i]t is such relevant
evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.'” Martin v.
Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990) (quoting
Bloodsworth, 703 F.2d at 1239). If the Court finds
substantial evidence exists to support the Commissioner's
factual findings, it must uphold the Commissioner even if the
evidence preponderates in favor of the claimant. Crawford
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158-59 (11th
Cir. 2004). Finally, the Commissioner's findings of fact
must be grounded in the entire record; a decision that
focuses on one aspect of the evidence and disregards other
contrary evidence is not based upon substantial evidence.
McCruter v. Bowen, 791 F.2d 1544, 1548 (11th Cir.
deference accorded the Commissioner's findings of fact
does not extend to her conclusions of law, which enjoy no
presumption of validity. Brown v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d
1233, 1236 (11th Cir. 1991) (holding judicial review of
Commissioner's legal conclusions are not subject to
substantial evidence standard). If the Commissioner fails
either to apply correct legal standards or to provide the
reviewing court with the means to determine whether correct
legal standards were in fact applied, the Court must reverse
the decision. Wiggins v. Schweiker, 679 F.2d 1387,
1389 (11th Cir. 1982).
argues the Commissioner's decision is not supported by
substantial evidence because the ALJ (1) failed to properly
evaluate evidence that Plaintiff's severe impairment,
namely his asthma, met or was medically equal to Listing
3.03B; (2) based his decision on medical records from 2009
through 2016, not just 2013 through 2016; (3) improperly
characterized his hospital stays between 2013 and 2016 as
insignificant; and (4) gave more weight to consultative
physician Dr. John Fkiaras than his treating physicians.
See doc. no. 14 (“Pl.'s Br.”).
Plaintiff further argues the AC erred in refusing to consider
the listing form 3.03 he submitted with his appeal. See
id. The Commissioner maintains the decision to deny
Plaintiff benefits is supported by substantial evidence and
should therefore be affirmed. See doc. no. 16
explained below, the ALJ considered evidence regarding
Listing 3.03B and properly concluded Plaintiff's
impairment did not meet or medically equal it. Moreover, the
ALJ appropriately considered Plaintiff's medical records
from 2009 through 2013 and properly considered his
hospitalizations. In addition, the ALJ's decision to give
more weight to consultative physician Dr. Fkiaras than
Plaintiff's treating physicians was supported by
substantial evidence. Finally, the AC did not err because it
did not deny Plaintiff's request for review without
considering his newly submitted evidence. Therefore, none of
Plaintiff's arguments form a valid basis for reversal or
The ALJ Properly Evaluated the Evidence and Concluded
Plaintiff's Severe Impairment Did Not
Meet or Medically Equal Listing 3.03B.
argues the ALJ improperly evaluated the evidence in his
determination Plaintiff failed to meet Listing 3.03B.
Pl.'s Br. pp. 2-3. As discussed herein, the ALJ
determination was supported by substantial evidence and
Plaintiff's claim fails.
Step Three ...