Sheldon v. Astrue (CONSENT)
MEMORANDUM OPINION that the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED. Signed by Honorable Judge Wallace Capel, Jr on 7/18/2013. (wcl, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
SUSAN MARIE SHELDON,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,
Acting Commissioner of Social Security, )
CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:11cv1126-WC
Plaintiff, Susan Marie Sheldon, applied for disability insurance benefits under Title
II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq, and supplemental security
income payments under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 et seq. Her application was
denied at the initial administrative level. Plaintiff then requested and received a hearing
before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). Following the hearing, the ALJ issued a
decision, on May 1, 2009, in which he found Plaintiff not disabled. Tr. 109. The Appeals
Council granted Plaintiff’s request for review of the ALJ’s decision and issued an order
vacating the hearing decision and remanding the case to an ALJ for further proceedings. Tr.
111. A different ALJ held a supplemental hearing on February 1, 2010. Following the 2010
hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision in which he found Plaintiff not disabled
from March 1, 2006 through the date of his decision. Tr. 35. The Appeals Council rejected
Plaintiff’s request for review of the 2010 decision. Tr. 1-3. The ALJ’s 2010 decision
consequently became the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”).1 See Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986). The case
is now before the court for review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c),
both parties have consented to the conduct of all proceedings and entry of a final judgment
by the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. Pl.’s Consent to Jurisdiction (Doc. 9);
Def.’s Consent to Jurisdiction (Doc. 8). Based on the court’s review of the record and the
briefs of the parties, the court AFFIRMS the decision of the Commissioner.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Under 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A), a person is entitled to disability benefits when the
person is unable to
engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically
determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result
in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period
of not less than 12 months.
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).2
To make this determination, the Commissioner employs a five-step, sequential
evaluation process. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920 (2006).
(1) Is the person presently unemployed?
Pursuant to the Social Security Independence and Program Improvements Act of 1994, Pub. L.
No. 103-296, 108 Stat. 1464, the functions of the Secretary of Health and Human Services with
respect to Social Security matters were transferred to the Commissioner of Social Security.
A “physical or mental impairment” is one resulting from anatomical, physiological, or
psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques.
(2) Is the person’s impairment severe?
(3) Does the person’s impairment meet or equal one of the specific
impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1? [the Listing of
(4) Is the person unable to perform his or her former occupation?
(5) Is the person unable to perform any other work within the economy?
An affirmative answer to any of the above questions leads either to the next
question, or, on steps three and five, to a finding of disability. A negative
answer to any question, other than step three, leads to a determination of “not
McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir. 1986).3
The burden of proof rests on a claimant through Step 4. See Phillips v. Barnhart, 357
F.3d 1232, 1237-39 (11th Cir. 2004). A claimant establishes a prima facie case of qualifying
disability once they have carried the burden of proof from Step 1 through Step 4. At Step 5,
the burden shifts to the Commissioner, who must then show there are a significant number
of jobs in the national economy the claimant can perform. Id.
To perform the fourth and fifth steps, the ALJ must determine the claimant’s Residual
Functional Capacity (RFC). Id. at 1238-39. RFC is what the claimant is still able to do
despite his impairments and is based on all relevant medical and other evidence. Id. It also
can contain both exertional and nonexertional limitations. Id. at 1242-43. At the fifth step,
the ALJ considers the claimant’s RFC, age, education, and work experience to determine if
there are jobs available in the national economy the claimant can perform. Id. at 1239. To
McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026 (11th Cir. 1986), is a supplemental security income case
(SSI). The same sequence applies to disability insurance benefits. Cases arising under Title II
are appropriately cited as authority in Title XVI cases. See, e.g., Ware v. Schweiker, 651 F.2d
408 (5th Cir. 1981).
do this, the ALJ can either use the Medical Vocational Guidelines4 (grids) or call a vocational
expert (VE). Id. at 1239-40.
The grids allow the ALJ to consider factors such as age, confinement to sedentary or
light work, inability to speak English, educational deficiencies, and lack of job experience.
Each factor can independently limit the number of jobs realistically available to an
individual. Phillips, 357 F.3d at 1240. Combinations of these factors yield a statutorilyrequired finding of “Disabled” or “Not Disabled.” Id.
The court’s review of the Commissioner’s decision is a limited one. This court must
find the Commissioner’s decision conclusive if it is supported by substantial evidence. 42
U.S.C. § 405(g); Graham v. Apfel, 129 F.3d 1420, 1422 (11th Cir. 1997). “Substantial
evidence is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance. It is such relevant evidence
as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). See also Crawford v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d
1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004) (“Even if the evidence preponderates against the
Commissioner’s findings, [a reviewing court] must affirm if the decision reached is
supported by substantial evidence.”). A reviewing court may not look only to those parts of
the record which support the decision of the ALJ, but instead must view the record in its
entirety and take account of evidence which detracts from the evidence relied on by the ALJ.
Hillsman v. Bowen, 804 F.2d 1179 (11th Cir. 1986).
See 20 C.F.R. pt. 404 subpt. P, app. 2.
[The court must] . . . scrutinize the record in its entirety to determine the
reasonableness of the [Commissioner’s] . . . factual findings. . . . No similar
presumption of validity attaches to the [Commissioner’s] . . . legal conclusions,
including determination of the proper standards to be applied in evaluating
Walker v. Bowen, 826 F.2d 996, 999 (11th Cir. 1987).
Plaintiff was fifty-three years old at the time of the second hearing before an ALJ. Tr.
48. Plaintiff completed the ninth grade and has a GED. Tr. 49. Plaintiff’s past relevant
work experience was as a “waitress-informal” and “newspaper inserter.” Tr. 33. Following
the 2010 administrative hearing, and employing the five-step process, the ALJ found Plaintiff
had “not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 1, 2006, the alleged onset date.”
(Step 1) Tr. 22. At Step 2, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffers from the following severe
impairments: “depressive disorder NOS, anxiety disorder, osteoarthritis, hypothyroidism,
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension, morbid obesity, old fracture of right
patella, and diffuse arthralgia.” Id. The ALJ then found that “[Plaintiff] does not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed
impairments.” (Step 3) Tr. 27. Next, the ALJ found that Plaintiff:
has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR
404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except with both hands she can continuously
reach (including overhead), handle, finger, feel, and push/pull: with both feet
continuously operate foot controls; occasionally climb stairs and ramps, climb
ladders or scaffolds, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; continuously
work in environments with unprotected heights and around moving mechanical
parts; frequently work in environments with humidity and wetness;
occasionally work in environments with dust, odors, fumes and pulmonary
irritants; continuously work in environment with extreme cold/heat and
vibrations; and work in environments with loud (heavy traffic) noise. The
claimant experiences a moderate degree of pain. The claimant has a moderate
limitation in the ability to respond appropriately to supervisors; a moderate
limitation of the ability to respond appropriately to co-workers; a moderate
limitations of the ability to respond appropriately to customers or other
members of the general public; no limitation of the ability to use judgment in
simple one or two step work-related decisions; a moderate limitation of the
ability to use judgment in detailed or complex work-related decisions; a
moderate limitation of the ability to deal with changes in a routine work
setting; no limitation of the ability to understand, remember, and carry out
simple, one and two-step instructions; a moderate limitation of the ability to
understand, remember and carry out detailed or complex instructions; a
moderate limitation of the ability to maintain attention, concentration, or pace
for periods of at least two hours; a moderate limitation of the ability to
maintain social functioning; and a mild limitation of the ability to maintain
activities of daily living. The claimant has experienced no episodes of
decompensation, each of extended duration.
Tr. 29. At Step 4, and after consulting with a VE, the ALJ found that Plaintiff “is capable
of performing past relevant work as a Waitress-informal (semi-skilled, light) and Newspaper
Inserter (unskilled, light). This work does not require the performance of work-related
activities precluded by [Plaintiff’s] residual functional capacity.” Tr. 33. However, the ALJ
continued on the Step 5 and found that “[a]lthough [Plaintiff] is capable of performing past
relevant work, there are other jobs existing in the national economy that she is also able to
perform.” Tr. 34. The ALJ determined that, considering Plaintiff’s “age, education, work
experience, and [RFC],” and after consulting the VE, Plaintiff “is capable of making a
successful adjustment to other work that exists in significant numbers in the national
economy,” including: “Assembler (unskilled, light),” “Hand Packer (unskilled, light),” and
“Mail Sorter (unskilled, light).” (Step 5) Tr. 35. Accordingly, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff “has not been under a disability . . . from March 1, 2006, through the date of this
Plaintiff presents a single issue for this court’s consideration in review of the ALJ’s
decision: “[w]hether the ALJ erred in finding that the claimant is capable of performing past
relevant work as a waitress (semi-skilled, light) and newspaper inserter (unskilled, light).”
Pl.’s Br. (Doc. 11) at 5.
Plaintiff contends that “[t]he only credible evidence regarding [Plaintiff’s] ability to
perform light work is contained in the [RFC] Evaluation prepared by Dr. Alan M. Babb
which stated the [Plaintiff] could only stand for one hour at a time and for a total of four
hours in an eight hour day, and walk for one hour at one time for a total of four hours in an
eight hour day.” Pl.’s Br. (Doc. 11) at 6. Plaintiff argues that “[t]he ALJ therefore
committed error in finding [Plaintiff] capable of performing her past relevant work as a
waitress or newspaper inserter because she cannot stand or walk for the required 6 hours out
of an 8 hour work day.” Id. Based on this assertion, Plaintiff contends that “the only work,
if any, she could perform would be sedentary work.” Id.
Upon review of the record, the court finds no error. Dr. Babb’s RFC evaluation is
consistent with the Social Security Regulations. As Plaintiff’s own brief states, citing to the
Social Security Regulations, “the full range of light work requires standing or walking, off
and on, for a total of approximately six hours out of an eight hour work day.” Pl.’s Br. (Doc.
11) at 6 (citing SSR 83-10) (emphasis added). Light work does not require Plaintiff to stand
and walk for a total of six hours each, as this would presume a twelve hour day. Rather,
light work requires that the Plaintiff be able to stand or walk for a cumulative total of six
hours. In this case, Dr. Babb’s assessment found that Plaintiff can walk and stand for four
hours each–a total of eight hours–and his assessment is, therefore, consistent with the Social
Security Regulations, which only require a total of six hours. As Defendant points out,
Plaintiff’s reading of the definition of light work “would require the ability to perform work
for more than the eight hours per day contemplated in the definition of full-time work.”
Def.’s Br. (Doc. 12) at 5. Thus, Dr. Babb’s assessment is consistent with the ALJ’s
determination that Plaintiff could perform light work with some limitations.
Plaintiff also argues that she “was in the category of closely approaching advanced
age at the time of both hearings” as she was 51 at the time of the first hearing and 53 at the
time of the second hearing. Pl.’s Br. (Doc. 11) at 7. Thus, Plaintiff argues, “[i]f the Claimant
was limited to sedentary work and in the category of closely approaching advanced age, a
finding of disabled is mandated by Rules 201.9, 201.10 and 201.12 of the Medical
Vocational Guidelines since the Claimant does not have transferable skills.” Id. Plaintiff’s
argument hinges on her contention that she is limited to performing sedentary work.
However, because the Grids are limited to individuals who retain a maximum sustained work
capability limited to sedentary work, the Grids are inapplicable to this case because, as
discussed above, Plaintiff's maximum sustained work capability is not limited to sedentary
work.5 Accordingly, this argument also fails.
The court has carefully and independently reviewed the record and concludes that, for
the reasons given above, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED. A separate
judgment will issue.
Done this 18th day of July, 2013.
/s/ Wallace Capel, Jr.
WALLACE CAPEL, JR.
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Plaintiff’s RFC is clearly beyond the capacity for a full range of sedentary work. See SSR
96–9p (“the full range of sedentary work requires that an individual be able to stand and walk for
a total of approximately 2 hours during an 8–hour workday”).
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