United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Athens Division
STEPHEN HYLES, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Security Appeal The Social Security Commissioner, by adoption
of the Administrative Law Judge's
(“ALJ's”) determination, denied
Plaintiff's application for 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 his 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 him 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.
Daniel Paul Dyer applied for disability insurance benefits on
November 20, 2014, alleging disability to work since July 21,
2012. His claim was denied initially on May 11, 2015, and on
reconsideration on August 13, 2015. He made a timely written
request for an evidentiary hearing before an ALJ on September
3, 2015, and the hearing was held on June 29, 2017. Plaintiff
appeared with his attorney at the hearing and gave testimony,
as did his wife and an impartial vocational expert
(“VE”). Tr. 10. At the hearing, Plaintiff amended
his alleged onset date to November 20, 2014, because he had
worked at levels reaching substantial gainful activity in
both 2013 and 2014, although he had a previous application
for benefits pending at the time. Tr. 39-40. On September 18,
2017, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision denying
Plaintiff's claim. Tr. 7-25. He sought review by the
Appeals Council, but was denied on June 13, 2018. Tr. 1-6.
Having exhausted the administrative remedies available to him
under the Social Security Act, Plaintiff now seeks judicial
review of the Commissioner's final decision denying his
application for benefits.
OF FACTS AND EVIDENCE
was thirty-nine years old on his alleged onset date and
classified as a “younger individual” under the
Commissioner's regulations, and has a high school
education. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563; Findings 7, 8, Tr. 19.
He has past relevant work as a machinist, quality control
inspector, small products assembler, and greens keeper.
Finding 6, Tr. 18. He had substantial earnings in both 2013
and 2014, but because, at the hearing, he amended his alleged
onset date to a date after which his earnings are less than
the amount required to constitute substantial gainful
activity, the ALJ found them to be “inconsequential to
the determination of disability.” Finding 2, Tr. 12.
proceeding through the five-step sequential analysis
established by the Commissioner for the evaluation of
disability claims, the ALJ found, at step two, that Plaintiff
has severe impairments of obesity, bipolar disorder, major
depressive disorder, generalized anxiety, and pituitary
disease. Finding 3, Tr. 12-13. She next found, at step three,
that these impairments, considered both alone and in
combination with one another, neither meet nor medically
equal a listed impairment found in 20 C.F.R. Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1. Finding 4, Tr. 13. Between steps three
and four, the ALJ formulated a residual functional capacity
assessment (“RFC”) which permits Plaintiff to
perform medium work with added non-exertional limitations,
including simple tasks with simple instructions and
work-related decisions and only gradual infrequent changes in
the work environment. Finding 5, Tr. 14-18. After
determining, at step four, that this restricted RFC prevents
Plaintiff from resuming any of his past relevant work, the
ALJ elicited testimony from the VE that Plaintiff's RFC
will permit him to work as a linen room attendant, coffee
maker, or rug cleaner helper and that these jobs are
available to him in the national economy. She therefore found
Plaintiff to be not disabled to work. Findings 10 and 11, Tr.