United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Augusta Division
MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND
K. EPPS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Regina Rolland appeals the decision of the Acting
Commissioner of Social Security denying her application for
Period of Disability and Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) 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 on October 28, 2014, alleging a disability
onset date of May 27, 2014. Tr. (“R.”), pp.
191-97. Plaintiff was fifty-five years old on May 27, 2014,
and was fifty-eight years old at the time the Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) issued the decision under
consideration. R. 25, 191. Plaintiff completed high school
and two years of college. R. 223. Plaintiff's disability
application states her ability to work was limited by removal
of cancerous left kidney, vertigo, hypothyroidism, and
complications related to her pancreas from surgery to remove
cancer. R. 222. In a letter dated May 19, 2017, and addressed
to the Appeals Council (“AC”), Plaintiff states
she is not claiming disability because of vertigo or thyroid
issues, but rather nerve damage and chronic pain, and she
states these conditions existed since her July 2014 kidney
surgery. R. 185-90. Prior to her alleged disability,
Plaintiff had accrued a relevant work history of nearly
thirty-five years as a cashier/payroll clerk. R. 223.
Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's
application initially and on reconsideration. R. 100-29.
Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ, (R. 132-33), and
the ALJ held a hearing on March 8, 2017. R. 33-66. At the
hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff, who appeared
with her attorney, as well as from Carroll Crawford, a
Vocational Expert (“VE”). Id.; R. 284.
On April 21, 2017, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. R.
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 May 27, 2014, the alleged onset date (20
C.F.R. § 404.1571 et seq.), and she meets the insured
status requirements of the Social Security Act through
December 31, 2019.
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: history
of kidney cancer, status post nephrectomy with injury to the
pancreas. (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 residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in in 20
C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), except for work requiring exposure
to unprotected heights or dangerous machinery; more than
occasional pushing or pulling with the left leg; or more than
frequent overhead reaching with the right dominant
The claimant is capable of performing past relevant work as a
cashier/checker and payroll clerk. This work does not require
the performance of work-related activities precluded by the
claimant's RFC (20 C.F.R. § 404.1565).
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, from May 27, 2014, through the date
of the decision, April 21, 2017. R. 26. When the AC denied
Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision,
R. 8-12, 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 that adverse decision.
Giving a liberal construction to Plaintiff's pro se
brief, the Court concludes Plaintiff is arguing the ALJ
misrepresented or misunderstood the record and failed to
properly evaluate her subjective complaints of pain. See doc.
no. 14 (“Pl.'s Br.”). The Commissioner
maintains the administrative decision is supported by
substantial evidence and should therefore be affirmed. See
doc. no. 19.
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).
brief consists primarily of a recitation of evidence she
believes was overlooked and her interpretation of the record
evidence, which conflicts with the ALJ's conclusion
Plaintiff is not disabled. See generally Pl.'s Br.
Plaintiff also generally complains she was unable to present
additional evidence at the administrative hearing, and she
offers medical records post-dating the ALJ's decision
which she contends support her disability claim. See
Id. at 24-26. Plaintiff cites the definitions of
sedentary and light work in the Code of Federal Regulations,
and she generally asserts she can do neither. Id. at
22. As discussed below, the administrative decision is
supported by substantial evidence and should be affirmed.
The Court Cannot Conduct a De Novo Review of the Record or
Consider New Evidence Which Is Not Part of the Administrative
seemingly wants the Court to revisit the issue of disability
de novo. The law does not allow the Court to do this. A
determination as to whether there is substantial evidence in
the record to support fact findings in a social security
disability case does not involve reweighing evidence, trying
issues de novo, or substituting the Court's judgment for
that of the Commissioner. See Moore, 405 F.3d at 1211.
evidence attached to Plaintiff's brief post-dates the
ALJ's decision, but predates the AC's denial of
review. Because this evidence was not presented at the
administrative level, it cannot be considered by the Court
when determining whether the Commissioner's decision is
supported by substantial evidence. A reviewing court, when
presented with new evidence that was never presented for
review at the administrative level, may only consider whether
the new evidence necessitates remand under sentence six of
§ 405(g); a reviewing court may not consider the new
evidence in determining whether the Commissioner's final
decision is supported by substantial evidence. Ingram v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin.,496 F.3d 1253, 1267-68
(11th Cir. 2007); Norton v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.,607 Fed.Appx. 913, 917-18 (11th Cir. 2015) (per curiam); see
also Wilson v. Apfel,179 F.3d 1276, 1278-79 (11th
Cir. 1999) (evidence attached to appellant's brief not
properly before the court) (citing Cherry v.
Heckler,760 F.2d 1186, 1193 (11th Cir. 1985) (noting
general principle that court's review is limited to
certified administrative record)); Walters v.