United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Statesboro Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
Susan Kay Ellington seeks judicial review of the Social
Security Administration's denial of her application for
Disability Insurance (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income
social security cases, courts . . . review the
Commissioner's decision for substantial evidence.
Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176,
1178 (11th Cir. 2011). “Substantial evidence is more
than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a
reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Id. (quotation omitted). . . .
“We may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the
evidence, or substitute our judgment for that of the
Commissioner.” Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178
(quotation and brackets omitted). “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) (quotation omitted).
Mitchell v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 771 F.3d
780, 782 (11th Cir. 2014).
The burden of proving disability lies with the claimant.
Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211 (11th Cir.
2005). The ALJ applies . . . a five-step,
“sequential” process for determining whether a
claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(1). If an
ALJ finds a claimant disabled or not disabled at any given
step, the ALJ does not go on to the next step. Id.
§ 404.1520(a)(4). At the first step, the ALJ must
determine whether the claimant is currently engaged in
substantial gainful activity. Id. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i). At the second step, the ALJ must determine
whether the impairment or combination of impairments for
which the claimant allegedly suffers is “severe.”
Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). At the third step,
the ALJ must decide whether the claimant's severe
impairments meet or medically equal a listed impairment.
Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). If not, the ALJ must
then determine at step four whether the claimant has the
to perform her past relevant work. Id. §
404.1520(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant cannot perform her past
relevant work, the ALJ must determine at step five whether
the claimant can make an adjustment to other work,
considering the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work
experience. An ALJ may make this determination either by
applying the Medical Vocational Guidelines or by obtaining
the testimony of a [Vocational Expert (VE)].
Stone v. Comm'r. of Soc. Sec. Admin., 596 F.
App'x, 878, 879 (11th Cir. 2015) (footnote added).
who was 58 years old when her disability application was
denied, alleges disability beginning December 13, 2009. Tr.
8-25, 315-24. She has a high school education and past work
experience as a comp/controller for a car dealership. Tr. 41,
77. After a hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision.
Tr. 8-25. He found that Ellington's bilateral hand
degenerative joint disease and cervical and lumbar spine
degenerative disc disease, status post-fusion surgery,
constituted severe impairments but did not meet or medically
equal a Listing. Tr. 13-16. Based on the evidence of record,
the ALJ found that she retained the RFC for a subset of light
work except that:
. . . Occasionally, [she] could push/pull up to 10 pounds.
She could stand/walk for up to five hours out of every
eight-hour workday [and] she could sit for up to six hours
out of every eight-hour workday with normal breaks.
Frequently, [she] could stair and ramp climb, but she could
not climb ropes, ladders, or scaffolds. [She] could balance
frequently. She could stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl
occasionally. Frequently, she could handle, finger, or feel.
[She] has no limitations regarding concentration,
persistence, and pace, as well as no social deficits.
he determined, was capable of performing her past work as a
comp/controller, sedentary work with an SVP of 4, as actually
and generally performed, and did not identify any alternative
work plaintiff could perform. Tr. 18; see DICOT
160.167-058. Ellington disagrees, arguing that the ALJ failed
to properly weigh the medical opinion evidence and erred in
his RFC and credibility assessments. Docs. 10 & 13.
Medical Opinion Evidence
on the creditable evidence of record, the ALJ concluded that
Ellington retained the RFC to perform light work with
postural and environmental limitations. Tr. 16. Plaintiff
contends that the ALJ improperly discredited consultative
examiners Drs. Andre Haynes, John Whitley, and Julian Fuerst,
which he found inconsistent with the record as a whole, and
improperly weighed non-examining agency reviewing physicians.
Doc. 10 at 8-16; doc. 14 at 1-10.
Dr. Haynes' Opinions
Dr. Haynes' May 2015 opinion that due to “back
pain” plaintiff could occasionally lift up to 50 pounds
and would be unlimited in her ability to push/pull, finger,
handle, and feel is completed on a checklist form with a
different claimant's name and case number. Tr. 815. This,
despite his contemporaneous letter assessment and observation
notes which opined that Ellington had swelling in both hands
and was incapable of closing them fully, picking up coins