United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Augusta Division
MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND
K. EPPS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Bufford appeals the decision of the Deputy Commissioner of
Social Security denying her applications for Supplemental
Security Income (“SSI”) under the Social Security
Act. Upon consideration of the briefs, the record evidence,
and the relevant statutory and case law, the Court
REPORTS and RECOMMENDS
pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the
Commissioner's final decision be
REVERSED and the case be
REMANDED to the Commissioner for further
consideration in accordance with this opinion.
protectively applied for SSI on January 8, 2014, alleging a
disability onset date of June 1, 2013. Tr.
(“R.”), pp. 18, 203-08. Plaintiff was forty-four
years old at her alleged disability onset date and
forty-eight years old when the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) issued the decision currently under
consideration. R. 24, 29, 219. Plaintiff applied for benefits
based on a combination of alleged impairments, including past
heart attacks, chest pains, rheumatoid arthritis, seizures,
posttraumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”),
depression, chronic anemia, iron allergy, swelling, and pain.
R. 223. Plaintiff obtained a GED, and prior to her alleged
disability accrued relevant work history as a cabinet
refinisher and waitress. R. 225.
Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's
application initially and on reconsideration. R. 95-132.
Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an ALJ, R. 149, and
the ALJ held a hearing on November 8, 2016. R. 35-94. At the
hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff, who was
represented by Dorita P. Watson, a non-attorney
representative, and William W. Stewart, a Vocational Expert
(“VE”). Id. On January 18, 2017, the ALJ
issued an unfavorable decision. R. 15-29. Applying the
sequential process required by 20 C.F.R. § 416.920, the
1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since June 1, 2013, the alleged onset date (20
C.F.R. §§ 416.971 et seq.).
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments:
coronary artery disease status post myocardial infarction and
stenting, emphysema, chronic anemia, seizures, peripheral
neuropathy, depression, anxiety, and personality disorder.
(20 C.F.R. § 416.920(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. §§ 416.920(d), 416.925 and
4. The claimant has the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform light work, as defined in 20
C.F.R. § 416.967(b),  except: lift, carry, push, and/or pull
20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; stand and/or
walk 6 hours in an 8-hour workday; sit 6 hours in an 8-hour
workday; frequently use right lower extremity foot controls;
frequently use right upper extremity hand controls;
frequently stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps;
occasionally balance; never climb ladders, ropes, and/or
scaffolds; no exposure to hazards such as unprotected heights
or moving mechanical parts; no operating a motor vehicle; no
work in or around large bodies of water or power lines;
occasional exposure to dust, fumes, gasses, or odors;
frequent exposure to extremes of cold temperature; limited to
work in a low stress environment, meaning the worker is
limited to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks, is not
required to meet a rigid, inflexible production schedule,
make complex decisions, and there are no more than occasional
changes in a routine work setting and any such changes should
only be gradually introduced, but able to maintain
concentration, persistence, or pace for periods of 2 hours,
perform activities within a schedule, maintain regular
attendance and complete a normal workday and workweek, except
may occasionally be absent approximately 1 day per month; no
interaction with the general public; and occasional close
“team-type” interaction with coworkers. The
claimant is capable of past relevant work as a cabinet
refinisher, waitress, sash and door hand sander, sash and
door stainer, and sash and door machine sander. This work
does not require the performance of work-related activities
precluded by the claimant's RFC. (20 C.F.R. §
the ALJ determined Plaintiff could perform her past relevant
work, the sequential evaluation process stopped, and the ALJ
concluded Plaintiff was not under a disability, as defined in
the Social Security Act, since the alleged disability onset
date of June 1, 2013. R. 28. When the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review, R. 4-6, the
Commissioner's decision became “final” for
the purpose of judicial review. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Plaintiff then filed this civil action requesting reversal or
remand of the adverse decision. Plaintiff argues the
Commissioner's decision is not supported by substantial
evidence because the ALJ failed to (1) consider several of
Plaintiff's impairments at Steps Three and Four; (2)
properly evaluate the medical source opinions of record; and
(3) properly determine whether Plaintiff could return to past
relevant work . See doc. no. 11 (“Pl.'s
Br.”); doc. no. 13 (“Pl.'s Reply”);
doc. no. 19 (“Pl.'s Surreply”). The
Commissioner maintains the ALJ's decision is supported by
substantial evidence and should therefore be affirmed.
See doc. no. 12 (“Comm'r's
Br.”); doc. no. 14 (“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 that judicial review of
the Commissioner's legal conclusions are not subject to
the 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).