United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Dublin Division
MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND
K. EPFS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Joyce Parr appeals the decision of the Acting Commissioner of
Social Security denying her application for Disability
Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and disabled
widow's insurance benefits 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 in October 16, 2012, and disabled widow's
insurance benefits on May 26, 2015, alleging a disability
onset date of October 12, 2004. Tr. (“R.”), pp.
199-205, 215-222. Plaintiff's last insured date for
purposes of the DIB application was June 30, 2010. R. 229.
Plaintiff's first insured date for purposes of the
disabled widow's benefits application was May 14, 2015,
and the last insured date is June 30, 2020. R. 20. Plaintiff
was forty-four years old on her alleged disability onset
date. R. 199. Plaintiff applied for benefits based on
allegations of major depression, bi-polar disorder,
loneliness, fear, hurt, and concentration. R. 248. Plaintiff
has a twelfth grade education, and prior to her alleged
disability, Plaintiff had accrued relevant work history as a
corrections officer, dialysis lab technician, EMT, lab tech,
secretary, front desk clerk, and sleever at a sewing factory.
Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denied
Plaintiff's applications initially, R. 74-80, and on
reconsideration, R. 81-91. Plaintiff requested a hearing
before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), R.
115-16, and the ALJ held a hearing on March 14, 2016. R.
32-73. At the hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from
Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, as well as from
Tina Baker-Ivey, a Vocational Expert (“VE”).
Id. On June 16, 2016, the ALJ issued an unfavorable
decision. R. 14-26.
the sequential process required by 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520,
the ALJ found:
1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since October 12, 2004, the alleged onset date (20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1571 et seq.).
2. After June 30, 2010 (date last insured expired), the
claimant has the following severe impairment: bipolar
disorder (20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(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,
4. The claimant has the RFC to perform a full range of work
at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional
limitations: she can perform work limited to simple, routine
work; work involving simple, work related decisions with few,
if any, workplace changes; and can have occasional
interaction with co-workers and supervision, but no public
interaction (20 C.F.R. § 404.1565).
5. Considering the claimant's age, education, work
experience, and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy that the claimant can
perform, including dry cleaner helper, laundry laborer, and
assembly line worker (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1569 and
404.1569(a)). Therefore, the claimant has not been under a
disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from
October 12, 2004, through June 16, 2016 (the date of the
ALJ's decision) (20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g)).
the Appeals Council (“AC”) denied Plaintiff's
request for review, R. 1-3, the Commissioner's decision
became “final” for the purpose of judicial
review. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff filed this civil
action requesting reversal or remand of that adverse
decision. Plaintiff argues the Commissioner's decision is
not supported by substantial evidence because the ALJ failed
to fully consider Dr. Babatunde Fagbamiye's opinion in
finding Plaintiff does not meet Listing 12.04. See
doc. no. 7 (“Pl.'s Br.”). The Commissioner
maintains the decision to deny Plaintiff benefits is
supported by substantial evidence and should therefore be
affirmed. See doc. no. 9 (“Comm'r's
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 failed to fully consider
Dr. Fagbamiye's opinion in finding Plaintiff does not
meet Listing 12.04. See Pl.'s Br., pp. 5-7. As
explained below, the ALJ concluded based on substantial
evidence Plaintiff's impairment did not meet or medically
equal Listing 12.04 and properly considered and gave little
weight to Dr. Fagbamiye's opinions. Therefore,
Plaintiff's argument does not form a valid basis for
reversal or remand.
The ALJ Properly Evaluated the Evidence and Concluded
Plaintiff's Severe Impairment Did Not
Meet or Medically Equal Listing 12.04
Step Three Framework and Standard
step two of the evaluation process an ALJ finds a claimant
has an impairment or combination of impairments that is
“severe, ” then at step three the ALJ must
determine whether that impairment or combination of
impairments meets or medically equals the severity of a
listed impairment in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart B, Appendix
1. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526.
“To ‘meet' a Listing, a claimant must have a
diagnosis included in the Listings and must provide medical
reports documenting that the conditions meet the specific
criteria of the Listings and the duration requirement.”
Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1224 (11th Cir.
2002); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1525(a)-(d).
Moreover, “to show that his impairment matches a
listing, it must meet all of the specified medical
criteria[;] [a]n impairment that manifests only some of those
criteria, no matter how severely, does not qualify.”
Sullivan v. Zebley, 493 U.S. 521, 530 (1990)
(emphasis in original).
impairment “medically equals” a listing where
“the medical findings are at least equal in severity
and duration to the listed findings.” 20 C.F.R. §
404.1526(a); see also Wilkinson o/b/o Wilkinson, 847
F.2d 660, 662 (11th Cir. 1987) (“In order to
equal a listing, the medical findings must be at
least equal in severity and duration to the listed
findings.”) (emphasis in original). Furthermore,
“[a]ny medical findings in evidence [relating to
medical equivalence] must be supported by medically
acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic
techniques.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1526(b). A claimant
cannot equal a listing by “showing that the overall
functional impact of his unlisted impairment or combination
of impairments is as severe as that of a listed
impairment.” Zebley, 193 U.S. at 531.
claimant bears the burden of producing medical evidence
demonstrating his condition or conditions meet or equal a
listed impairment. See Ellison v. Barnhart, 355 F.3d
1272, 1276 (11th Cir. 2003).
Substantial Evidence Supports The ALJ's Finding
Plaintiff's Severe Impairment Did Not Meet or Medically
Equal Listing 12.04
argues the ALJ should have found her bipolar disorder meets
or equals Listing 12.04 and failed to do so because he did
not properly consider Dr. Fagbamiye's “medical
findings related to Listing 12.04.” Pl.'s Br. pp.
5-7. The ALJ's determination that Plaintiff's mental
impairment does not meet or medically equal the criteria of
Listing 12.04 is supported by substantial evidence.
two of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found
Plaintiff has the severe impairment of bipolar disorder. R.
20. However, at step three, the ALJ found the severity of
Plaintiff's mental impairment does not meet or medically
equal the criteria of Listing 12.04. R. 20. Listing 12.04,
states affective disorders are:
[c]haracterized by a disturbance of mood, accompanied by a
full or partial manic or depressive syndrome. Mood refers to
a prolonged emotion that colors the whole psychic life; it
generally involves either depression or elation. The required
level of severity for these disorders is met when the