United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Augusta Division
MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND
K. EFPS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Jewel Vanwinkle appeals the decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security denying her application for Supplemental
Security Income (“SSI”) 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
protectively applied for SSI in June 2014, alleging a
disability onset date of April 17, 2014. Tr.
(“R.”), pp. 18, 183, 262. Plaintiff was
thirty-three years old at her alleged disability onset date
and was thirty-six years old at the time the Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) issued the decision currently
under consideration. R. 27, 260. The Commissioner's
December 11, 2011 denial of a prior SSI application, (R.
103-107), is not at issue in the current appeal.
2014 application, Plaintiff applied for benefits based on
allegations of bipolar disorder, ulnar nerve transposition,
PTSD, depression, personality disorder, and hypothyroidism,
although she testified at the administrative hearing she did
not have physical limitations. R. 51, 271. Plaintiff reported
obtaining her GED and cosmetology training/licenses, as well
as completing some college courses. R. 42, 272. Prior to her
alleged disability, Plaintiff had no past relevant work under
20 C.F.R. § 416.965, but had performed some work as a
hairstylist, waitress, and telemarketer. R. 45.
Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's
application initially, R. 59-73, and on reconsideration, R.
74-92. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ, R.
121-23, and the ALJ held a hearing on February 27, 2017. R.
33-58. At the hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from
Plaintiff, who appeared with a non-attorney representative,
as well as from Ray Burger, a Vocational Expert
(“VE”). Id. On August 30, 2017, the ALJ
issued an unfavorable decision. R. 15-32.
the sequential process required by 20 C.F.R. § 416.920,
the ALJ found:
1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since April 17, 2014, the application date (20
C.F.R. § 416.971 et seq.).
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: bipolar
disorder, borderline personality disorder, anxiety,
depression, polysubstance abuse, morbid obesity and lumbar
disc disease (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,
4. The claimant has the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in in 20
C.F.R. § 416.967(b), except she can occasionally stoop,
crouch, and climb ramps or stairs. She cannot climb ladders,
ropes or scaffolds. She can complete simple, routine and
repetitive tasks. She can tolerate occasional interaction
with coworkers. She can tolerate occasional interaction with
the general public that is superficial in nature. She can
tolerate ordinary work pressures but should avoid excessive
workloads, high quotas, quick decision making, rapid changes
in work tasks and multiple concurrent demands. The claimant
has no past relevant work. (20 C.F.R. § 416.965).
5. Considering the claimant's age, education, work
experience, and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant
No. in the national economy that the claimant can perform,
including housekeeper cleaner, laundry worker, and inspector,
all unskilled jobs with an SVP of 2. (20 C.F.R. §§
416.969, and 416.969(a)). Therefore, the claimant was not
under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act,
since April 17, 2014, the date the application was filed (20
C.F.R. § 416.920(g)).
the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for
review, R. 1-5, 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.
Plaintiff argues that the Commissioner's decision is not
supported by substantial evidence because the ALJ failed to
properly formulate the RFC when she did not (1) include
sufficiently specific work-related limitations consistent
with the assessment of a consultative examiner to which the
ALJ accorded significant weight, and (2) properly analyze
Plaintiff's mental impairments, including her subjective
complaints about them. See doc. no. 16 (“Pl.'s
Br.”). The Commissioner maintains the decision to deny
Plaintiff benefits is supported by substantial evidence and
should therefore be affirmed. See doc. no. 17.
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 his 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).
argues the RFC conflicts with the opinion of consultative
examiner M. Kevin Turner, Ph.D., regarding Plaintiff's
ability to interact appropriately with supervisors. Pl.'s
Br., pp. 13-14. Relying heavily on non-binding case law
outside the Eleventh Circuit, Plaintiff further argues the
ALJ improperly considered gaps in medical treatment and
successful treatment with medication to determine Plaintiff
could handle the mental requirements of unskilled work.
Id. at 14-19. Finally, Plaintiff contends her
subjective complaints regarding mental ...