United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Columbus Division
STEPHEN HYLES, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Social Security Commissioner, by adoption of the
Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ's) determination,
denied Plaintiff's applications 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
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.
Barbara Farr Davis applied for disability insurance benefits
on June 10, 2013, alleging she became disabled to work on
March 15, 2012. Her application was denied initially on
October 4, 2013, and on reconsideration on November 1, 2013.
She made a timely written request for an evidentiary hearing
before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) on
November 26, 2013. The hearing was conducted on July 10,
2015. Plaintiff appeared with her attorney and testified, as
did an impartial vocational expert (“VE”). Tr.
21. On October 5, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision denying her
claim. Tr. 18-34. Plaintiff sought review by the Appeals
Council on December 3, 2015, but was denied on January 26,
2017. Tr. 15-17, 1-7. Having exhausted the administrative
remedies available to her under the Social Security Act, she
seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's final
decision denying her claim for benefits.
OF FACTS AND EVIDENCE
the ALJ issued his written decision Plaintiff was sixty-three
years old. Tr. 44. She has a high school education and past
relevant work as a store manager and customer service
representative. Tr. 199. In conducting the five-step
sequential analysis of Plaintiff's claim, the ALJ found
her to have the severe impairment of obesity. Finding 3, Tr.
23. He next determined that her obesity does not meet or
medically equal the severity of a listed impairment set forth
in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Finding 4, Tr.
26. Between steps three and four, the ALJ formulated a
residual functional capacity assessment (“RFC”)
which permits Plaintiff to engage in medium work with the
restriction that she can sit for at least two hours in an
eight-hour workday. Finding 5, Tr. 26-28. At step four he
determined that within this restricted RFC assessment she can
return to her past relevant work as a retail store manager or
store employee. Finding 6, Tr. 28. However, after testimony
by a VE, the ALJ made alternative step-five findings and
found Plaintiff capable of working as a customer service
clerk or sales clerk. Tr. 28-29. He therefore found Plaintiff
to be not disabled. Finding 7, Tr. 29.
The ALJ's Step-Two Analysis & RFC
first contends that the ALJ “erred by failing to apply
the de minimus standard” in his step-two
analysis of her claim and further “erred by formulating
an RFC which excluded the practical effects of demonstrated
impairments.” Pl.'s Br. 3, ECF No. 16. This
contention has no merit. At step two the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff has the severe impairment of obesity, thus finding
in her favor and proceeding to subsequent steps in the
sequential analysis. When an ALJ recognizes at least one
severe impairment and continues to the succeeding steps in
the evaluation process, there is no requirement to identify
additional impairments at step-two. Tuggerson-Brown v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 572 F. App'x 949, 951-52
(11th Cir. 2014). In formulating Plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ
expressly stated that he “considered all symptoms and
the extent to which these symptoms can reasonably be
accepted.” Tr. 26. He thoroughly discussed her alleged
orthopedic impairments, particularly her assertions of
disabling back and leg pain. Tr. 24, 27-28. The ALJ's
written decision made facially apparent his consideration of
all of Plaintiff's symptoms in assessing her RFC. Any
error in not finding these impairments “severe”
at step-two is harmless. See Gray v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 550 F. App'x 850 (11th Cir. 2013).
The ALJ's ...