United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Athens 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
supplemental security income and disability insurance
benefits, finding that he is not disabled within the meaning
of the Social Security Act and accompanying 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.
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 he 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 he 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.
James Earl White applied for disability insurance benefits
and supplemental security income on April 3, 2014, alleging
he became disabled to work on July 22, 2013. His applications
were denied initially on September 15, 2014, and on
reconsideration on February 18, 2015. On March 4, 2015,
Plaintiff timely requested an evidentiary hearing before an
ALJ and the hearing was conducted on October 19, 2016. Tr.
20. Plaintiff appeared at the hearing with his attorney and
testified, as did an impartial vocational expert. Tr. 43-80.
On April 17, 2017, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision
denying his applications. Tr. 17-42. Plaintiff next sought
review by the Appeals Council, but was denied on March 9,
2018. Plaintiff has exhausted the available administrative
remedies under the Social Security Act and seeks judicial
review of the Commissioner's final decision denying his
claims for benefits.
OF FACTS AND EVIDENCE
alleged disability date Plaintiff was thirty-six years old
and classified as a “younger person” under the
Commissioner's regulations. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1563, 416.963; Finding 7, Tr. 35. In conducting the
five-step sequential analysis of his claims the ALJ found, at
step two, that Plaintiff has severe impairments of
degenerative disc disease, joint disease, substance abuse and
alcohol abuse disorders, and personality disorder. Finding 3,
Tr. 22. At step three, the ALJ determined that these
impairments neither meet nor medically equal a listed
impairment set forth in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1. Finding 4, Tr. 22-24. Between steps three and
four, the ALJ assessed Plaintiff to have the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to engage in a
restricted range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1567(b), 416.967(b) with added exertional,
environmental, postural and non-exertional limitations.
Finding 5, Tr. 24-35. The ALJ found, at step four, that
Plaintiff cannot resume his past relevant work as a materials
handler. Finding 6, Tr. 35. At step five, the ALJ
established, through the testimony of the vocational expert,
that Plaintiff's restricted RFC permits him to engage in
light work as a marker, garment sorter, and assembler, and
that these jobs are available to him in the national economy.
Finding 10, Tr. 36-37. She therefore found Plaintiff to be
not disabled to work. Finding 11, Tr. 37.
Substantial Evidence Determination
contends that “the ALJ's findings at all stages of
the proceedings, from step [t]wo through [s]tep [f]ive, were
not based on substantial evidence.” Pl.'s Br.
30-31. No. error occurred at step two because, by finding at
least one or more severe impairments (in this case both
exertional and non-exertional) and proceeding to subsequent
steps in the sequential analysis, the ALJ ruled in
Plaintiff's favor at step-two. In Heatly v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 382 Fed.Appx. 823 (11th Cir.
2010), the Eleventh Circuit held that “nothing requires
that the ALJ must identify, at step-two, all of the
impairments that should be considered severe.”
Id. at 824-25. Instead, what is important is that
the ALJ properly considers all impairments at subsequent
steps. Tuggerson-Brown v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.,
572 Fed.Appx. 949 (11th Cir. 2014). Plaintiff's claim
that the ALJ erred at step two is meritless.
three, an ALJ is required to determine whether a claimant has
an impairment or combination of impairments which meet or
medically equal a listed impairment set forth in the
Commissioner's regulations. Plaintiff's brief, though
lengthy, does not specifically claim that the ALJ committed
an error at step three. The Court has nonetheless reviewed