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 she 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 she
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.
Teresa Creasman applied for disability insurance benefits on
November 14, 2014, initially alleging that she became
disabled to work on April 6, 2012. She subsequently amended
her application to allege disability beginning on February
15, 2013. Her application was denied initially on March 10,
2015, and again after reconsideration on September 8, 2015.
She made a timely written request for an evidentiary hearing
before an administrative law judge on October 15, 2015, and
the hearing was held on August 2, 2017. Plaintiff appeared at
the hearing with her attorney and gave testimony as did an
impartial vocational expert (“VE”). Tr. 11. On
December 11, 2017, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision
denying her application. Tr. 8-25. Plaintiff next sought
review by the Appeals Council, but was denied on June 22,
2018. Tr. 1-5. Having exhausted the administrative remedies
available to her under the Social Security Act, Plaintiff
seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's final
decision denying her claim for benefits.
OF FACTS AND EVIDENCE
was fifty-three years of age on her amended alleged onset
date. She has a high school education and past relevant work
as a nurse assistant and teacher aide. Findings 6-8, Tr.
18-19. In conducting the five-step sequential analysis of
Plaintiff's claim as established by the Commissioner for
the evaluation of disability, the ALJ found, at step two,
that Plaintiff has severe impairments of major depressive
disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, obesity, and
degenerative joint disease of the hands. Finding 3, Tr. 14.
She then determined, at step three, that Plaintiff's
impairments, considered both alone and in combination with
one another, neither meet nor medically equal a listed
impairment set out in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix
1. Finding 4, Tr. 14-15. Between steps three and four, the
ALJ formulated a residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) assessment which permits Plaintiff to
engage in a restricted range of medium work with additional
manipulative and non-exertional limitations. Finding 5, Tr.
15-18. At step four, the ALJ further found that this
restricted RFC assessment does not permit Plaintiff to resume
any of her past relevant work. Finding 6, Tr. 18-19. The ALJ,
therefore, proceeded to step five of the analysis, and
elicited testimony from the VE that Plaintiff retains
sufficient residual functional capacity to work as a linen
room attendant, day worker, or laundry worker. Finding 10,
Tr. 19-20. Thus, she found Plaintiff to be not disabled to
work. Finding 11, Tr. 20.
brief before the Court, Plaintiff asserts two errors. First,
she contends that the ALJ gave only little weight to the
opinion of her treating psychiatrist without good cause for
doing so. Pl.'s Br. 1, 8-11, ECF No. 13. She further
contends that the Appeals Council erred in denying her
request for review after she submitted additional evidence
from a second treating physician which was new, material,
chronologically relevant, and presented a reasonable
probability of changing the administrative outcome of her
case. Pl.'s Br. 1, 11-13; Pl.'s Reply Br. 1-2, ECF
No. 18. The Commissioner responds that the ALJ had good cause
to give only little weight to the treating psychiatrist's
opinion and that the Appeals Council correctly determined
that the new evidence submitted to it by Plaintiff is not
material. Comm'r's Br. 4, 9. The Court addresses the
issues in the order in which Plaintiff raised them.