United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Dublin Division
MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND
K. EFPS, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Ann Wood appeals the decision of the Acting Commissioner of
Social Security denying her applications for Disability
Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental
Security Income (“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 May 8, 2014, alleging a disability
onset date of May 15, 2007. Tr. (“R.”), pp. 185,
192. At the administrative hearing, Plaintiff testified her
alleged onset date was “around the end of 2010, ”
(R. 42), but the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
ultimately used the May 15, 2007 date in his written
decision, (R. 17). Plaintiff's last insured date for DIB
was March 31, 2012. R. 199, 206. Plaintiff was fifty years
old on May 15, 2007, was fifty-three years old at the end of
2010, and was fifty-nine years old at the time the ALJ issued
the decision under consideration. R. 38, 206, 282. Plaintiff
claimed she was disabled due to intramural fibroids, female
problems, back pain, and high blood pressure. R. 72, 210.
Plaintiff completed two years of college, and prior to her
alleged disability, Plaintiff had accrued a relevant work
history as a customer service representative and cashier. R.
44-45, 58, 211, 217.
Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's
applications initially and on reconsideration. R. 62-105.
Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ, (R. 128-29), and
the ALJ held a hearing on July 19, 2016. R. 35-61. At the
hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff, who appeared
with a non-attorney representative, as well as from Tina
Baker-Ivey, a Vocational Expert (“VE”).
Id. On September 12, 2016, the ALJ issued an
unfavorable decision. R. 12-31.
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 May 15, 2007, the alleged onset date (20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1571 et seq. and 416.971
et seq.), and she meets the insured status
requirements of the Social Security Act through March 31,
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: spine
disorders (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c) and
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 in 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). The claimant can
reach overhead with the right upper extremity on a frequent
basis. The claimant can frequently climb stairs, stoop,
crouch, and crawl. The claimant should never climb ladders
and she should avoid concentrated exposure to hazards. The
claimant is capable of performing past relevant work as a
customer service representative and cashier. This work does
not require the performance of work-related activities
precluded by the claimant's RFC (20 C.F.R. §§
404.1565 and 416.965).
the ALJ determined Plaintiff could perform her 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 May 15, 2007, through the date
of the decision, September 12, 2016. R. 26. When the Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the
ALJ's decision, 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. Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred by (1) failing to
award benefits even though he determined Plaintiff had a
severe impairment at step two of the sequential evaluation
process; and, (2) failing to explain what Listing he
considered at step three of the sequential evaluation
process. See doc. no. 15 (“Pl.'s
Br.”). The Commissioner contends “Plaintiff's
argument represents a fundamental misunderstanding” of
the sequential evaluation process and maintains the
administrative decision is supported by substantial evidence
and should therefore be affirmed. See doc. no. 16.
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 that judicial review of
the Commissioner's legal conclusions are not subject to
the 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).