Riley v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Magistrate Judge Staci G Cornelius on 9/15/15. (MRR)
2015 Sep-15 AM 09:58
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
MICHAEL DEWAYNE RILEY,
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION,
Case No.: 2:14-cv-01330-SGC
The plaintiff, Michael DeWayne Riley, appeals from the decision of the Commissioner of
the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) denying his application for
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). Riley timely pursued and exhausted his administrative
remedies, and the Commissioner’s decision is ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C § 1383(c)(3).
For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner’s decision is due to be affirmed.
I. Procedural History
Riley has a high school education and has previously worked as a carpenter and laborer.
(Tr. at 113). In his application for SSI, he alleged he became disabled on January 1, 2008. (Id.
at 83). After his claim was denied, Riley requested a hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”). (Id. at 49-78). During the hearing, Riley amended the onset date of his disability to
May 23, 2011, the date he filed his application for SSI, and claimed he was unable to work
primarily because of pain in his neck, shoulders, and lower back. (Id. at 24, 33). Following the
hearing, the ALJ denied Riley’s claim. (Id. at 7-16). Riley was 46 years old when the ALJ
issued her decision. (Id. at 16, 83). After the Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ’s
The parties have consented to the exercise of full dispositive jurisdiction by a magistrate judge pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 636(c). (Doc. 9).
decision (id. at 1-3), that decision became the final decision of the Commissioner, see Frye v.
Massanari, 209 F. Supp. 2d 1246, 1251 N.D. Ala. 2001) (citing Falge v. Apfel, 150 F.3d 1320,
1322 (11th Cir. 1998)).
Thereafter, Riley initiated this action, proceeding pro se, by filing a General Complaint
Form for Pro Se Litigants. (Doc. 1). In his complaint, Riley does not identify any alleged errors
in his administrative proceeding but rather, merely requests reversal of the decision of the
Appeals Council. (Id. at 3). After the Commissioner answered (Doc. 7), the Clerk of Court
entered a briefing letter (Doc. 8). However, Riley did not file a brief in support of his complaint.
Furthermore, although the Commissioner filed a brief in support of the decision denying Riley’s
claim (Doc. 10), Riley did not reply to the brief. All deadlines for submitting briefs have passed,
and this matter is ripe for adjudication.
II. Statutory and Regulatory Framework
To establish his eligibility for disability benefits, a claimant must show “the inability 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 twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. §
416(i)(1)(A); see also id. at § 1382c(a)(3)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 416.905(a). The Social Security
Administration employs a five-step sequential analysis to determine an individual’s eligibility for
disability benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4).
First, the Commissioner must determine whether the claimant is engaged in “substantial
gainful activity.” Id. at § 416.920(a)(4)(i). “Under the first step, the claimant has the burden to
show that [he] is not currently engaged in substantial gainful activity.” Reynolds-Buckley v.
Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 457 Fed. App’x 862, 863 (11th Cir. 2012). If the claimant is engaged in
substantial gainful activity, the Commissioner will find the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 416.920(a)(4)(i) and (b). At the first step, the ALJ determined Riley has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since May 23, 2011. (Tr. at 12).
If the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the Commissioner must next
determine whether the claimant suffers from a severe physical or mental impairment or
combination of impairments that has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at
least twelve months.
20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(ii).
An impairment “must result from
anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which can be shown by medically
acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” Furthermore, it “must be established
by medical evidence consisting of signs, symptoms, and laboratory findings, not only by [the
claimant’s] statement of symptoms.” Id. at § 416.908; see also 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(D). An
impairment is severe if it “significantly limits [the claimant’s] physical or mental ability to do
basic work activities . . . .” 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(c).2 “[A]n impairment can be considered as not
severe only if it is a slight abnormality which has such a minimal effect on the individual that it
would not be expected to interfere with the individual’s ability to work, irrespective of age,
education, or work experience.” Brady v. Heckler, 724 F.2d 914, 920 (11th Cir. 1984); see also
20 C.F.R. § 416.921(a).
A claimant may be found disabled based on a combination of
impairments, even though none of the individual impairments alone is disabling. 20 C.F.R. §
The claimant bears the burden of providing medical evidence demonstrating an
Basic work activities include:
(1) [p]hysical functions such as walking, standing, sitting, lifting, pushing, pulling, reaching,
carrying, or handling; (2) [c]apacities for seeking, hearing, and speaking; (3) [u]nderstanding,
carrying out, and remembering simple instructions; (4) [u]se of judgment; (5) [r]esponding
appropriately to supervision, co-workers and usual work situations; and (6) [d]ealing with changes
in a routine work setting.
20 C.F.R. § 416.921(b).
impairment and its severity. Id. at §§ 416.912(a) and (c). If the claimant does not have a severe
impairment or combination of impairments, the Commissioner will find the claimant is not
disabled. Id. at §§ 416.920(a)(4)(ii) and (c). At the second step, the ALJ determined Riley has
the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease, degenerative joint disease,
arthralgia, and hypertension. (Tr. at 12).
If the claimant has a severe impairment or combination of impairments, the
Commissioner must then determine whether the impairment meets or equals one of the
“Listings” found in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iii);
see also id. at §§ 416.925 and 416.926. The claimant bears the burden of proving his impairment
meets or equals one of the Listings. Reynolds-Buckley, 457 Fed. App’x at 863. If the claimant’s
impairment meets or equals one of the Listings, the Commissioner will find the claimant is
20 C.F.R §§ 416.920(a)(4)(iii) and (d).
At the third step, the ALJ determined
Riley does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically
equals the severity of one of the Listings. (Tr. at 12).
If the claimant’s impairment does not meet or equal one of the Listings, the
Commissioner must determine the claimant’s residual functional capacity (“RFC”) before
proceeding to the fourth step. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(e); see also id. at § 416.945. A claimant’s
RFC is the most he can do despite his impairments. See id. § 416.945(a)(1). At the fourth step,
the Commissioner will compare his assessment of the claimant’s RFC with the physical and
mental demands of the claimant’s past relevant work. Id. at §§ 416.920(a)(4)(iv) and (e),
416.960(b). “Past relevant work is work that [the claimant] [has] done within the past 15 years,
that was substantial gainful activity, and that lasted long enough for [the claimant] to learn to do
it.” Id. § 416.960(b)(1). The claimant bears the burden of proving his impairment prevents him
from performing his past relevant work. Reynolds-Buckley, 457 Fed. App’x at 863. If the
claimant is capable of performing his past relevant work, the Commissioner will find the
claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv), 416.960(b)(3). Before proceeding to the
fourth step, the ALJ determined Riley has the RFC to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R.
416.967(b),3 except he can lift twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; can sit for
six hours in an eight-hour day; can stand and walk for six hours in an eight-hour day; should
never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; can occasionally climb ramps and stairs; can
occasionally balance, stoop, crouch, kneel, or crawl; must avoid concentrated exposure to
temperature extremes and workplace hazards such as dangerous machinery and unprotected
heights; can maintain attention and concentration for two-hour periods at a time; must avoid
prolonged or repetitive rotation, flexion, or hyperextension of the neck; and may frequently push,
pull, and reach. (Tr. at 12-14). At the fourth step, the ALJ determined Riley is unable to
perform his past relevant work. (Id. at 14).
If the claimant is unable to perform his past relevant work, the Commissioner must
finally determine whether the claimant is capable of performing other work that exists in
substantial numbers in the national economy in light of the claimant’s RFC, age, education, and
work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(v) and (g)(1), 416.960(c)(1). If the claimant is
capable of performing other work, the Commissioner will find the claimant is not disabled. Id.
§§ 416.920(a)(4)(v) and (g)(1). If the claimant is not capable of performing other work, the
Commissioner will find the claimant is disabled. Id. At the fifth step, considering Riley’s age,
education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ determined there are jobs that exist in significant
“Light work involves lifting no more than 20 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing
up to 10 pounds. Even though the weight lifted may be very little, a job is in this category when it requires a good
deal of walking or standing, or when it involves sitting most of the time with some pushing and pulling of arm or leg
controls.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b).
numbers in the national economy that Riley can perform, such as those of a ticket seller, storage
facility rental clerk, and merchandise price marker. (Tr. at 15). Therefore, the ALJ concluded
Riley is not disabled. (Id. at 16).
III. Standard of Review
Review of the Commissioner’s decision is limited to a determination of whether that
decision is supported by substantial evidence and whether the Commissioner applied correct
legal standards. Crawford v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004). A
district court must review the Commissioner’s findings of fact with deference and may not
reconsider the facts, reevaluate the evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the
Commissioner. Ingram v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 496 F.3d 1253, 1260 (11th Cir. 2007);
Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005). Rather, a district court must “scrutinize
the record as a whole to determine if the decision reached is reasonable and supported by
substantial evidence.” Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983) (internal
citations omitted). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. It is “more than a scintilla, but less than a
preponderance.” Id. A district court must uphold factual findings supported by substantial
evidence, even if the preponderance of the evidence is against those findings. Miles v. Chater,
84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996) (citing Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir.
A district court reviews the Commissioner’s legal conclusions de novo. Davis v. Shalala,
985 F.2d 528, 531 (11th Cir. 1993). “The [Commissioner’s] failure to apply the correct law or to
provide the reviewing court with sufficient reasoning for determining that the proper legal
analysis has been conducted mandates reversal.” Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46
(11th Cir. 1991).
As noted, Riley has failed to submit any brief, argument, list of authorities, or statement
in support of his request for relief. Riley has failed to articulate any errors in the ALJ’s opinion
despite having been afforded three opportunities to do so: (1) his complaint, (2) an initial brief in
support of his request for relief, and (3) a reply to the Commissioner’s brief.
Nonetheless, the undersigned has thoroughly reviewed both the ALJ’s opinion and the
entire evidentiary record. The undersigned concludes the ALJ applied the proper legal standards
and that her decision is supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the ALJ did not err in
concluding Riley is not disabled.
Having reviewed the administrative record and considered all of the arguments presented
by the parties, the undersigned find the Commissioner’s decision is supported by substantial
evidence and in accordance with applicable law.
Therefore, that decision is due to be
AFFIRMED. A separate order will be entered.
DONE this 15th day of September, 2015.
STACI G. CORNELIUS
U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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