McCray v. Commissioner of Social Security
OPINION AND ORDER affirming the Commissioner's decision. Signed by Magistrate Judge Monte C. Richardson on 4/10/2018. (MEH)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF FLORIDA
GRETTA SCOTT McCRAY,
CASE NO. 3:17-cv-1026-J-MCR
ACTING COMMISSIONER OF THE
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION,
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER 1
THIS CAUSE is before the Court on Plaintiff’s appeal of an administrative
decision denying her application for a period of disability and disability insurance
benefits (“DIB”). Plaintiff alleged disability as of June 6, 2014. (Tr. 13, 129.) A
hearing was held before the assigned Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on
August 23, 2016, at which Plaintiff was represented by an attorney. (Tr. 34-46.)
The ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled from June 6, 2014, the alleged
onset date, through September 29, 2016, the date of the decision. 2 (Tr. 13-22.)
Plaintiff is appealing the Commissioner’s decision she was not disabled as
of June 6, 2014. Plaintiff has exhausted her available administrative remedies
The parties consented to the exercise of jurisdiction by a United States
Magistrate Judge. (Docs. 12, 14.)
Plaintiff had to establish disability on or before December 31, 2020, her date
last insured, in order to be entitled to a period of disability and DIB.
and the case is properly before the Court. The undersigned has reviewed the
record, the briefs, and the applicable law. For the reasons stated herein, the
Commissioner’s decision is due to be AFFIRMED.
Standard of Review
The scope of this Court’s review is limited to determining whether the
Commissioner applied the correct legal standards, McRoberts v. Bowen, 841
F.2d 1077, 1080 (11th Cir. 1988), and whether the Commissioner’s findings are
supported by substantial evidence, Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390
(1971). “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is such relevant
evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Crawford v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir.
2004). Where the Commissioner’s decision is supported by substantial
evidence, the district court will affirm, even if the reviewer would have reached a
contrary result as finder of fact, and even if the reviewer finds that the evidence
preponderates against the Commissioner’s decision. Edwards v. Sullivan, 937
F.2d 580, 584 n.3 (11th Cir. 1991); Barnes v. Sullivan, 932 F.2d 1356, 1358 (11th
Cir. 1991). The district court must view the evidence as a whole, taking into
account evidence favorable as well as unfavorable to the decision. Foote v.
Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1995); accord Lowery v. Sullivan, 979 F.2d
835, 837 (11th Cir. 1992) (stating the court must scrutinize the entire record to
determine the reasonableness of the Commissioner’s factual findings).
Plaintiff argues one general point on appeal. Plaintiff argues that the ALJ
erred by disregarding the Medical Vocational Guidelines (“GRIDS”) in rendering
his decision. Specifically, Plaintiff asserts that the GRIDS “should be reviewed to
determine a correct result.” (Doc. 16 at 4.) As a corollary, Plaintiff also argues
that the ALJ lacked medical support for his finding that Plaintiff could perform
The Commissioner responds the ALJ properly sought testimony from the
vocational expert (“VE”) instead of relying on the GRIDS. The Commissioner
also asserts substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s finding that Plaintiff could
perform medium work.
The ALJ’s Decision
The ALJ found that Plaintiff had “the following severe impairments:
hyperthyroidism, hypertension, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome and bilateral
osteoarthritis of the hands.” (Tr. 15 (internal citation omitted).) The ALJ then
determined that Plaintiff had no impairment or combination of impairments that
functionally equals the severity of the listings. (Tr. 17.) Continuing on with the
evaluation, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) “to perform medium work . . . except that she can frequently handle and
finger and cannot have exposure to concentrated vibrations.” (Id.)
The ALJ found that Plaintiff could not perform her past relevant work. (Tr.
20.) The ALJ further explained that Plaintiff’s “ability to perform all or
substantially all of the requirements of [medium work] has been impeded by
additional limitations,” and then obtained VE testimony to help “determine the
extent to which the limitations erode the unskilled medium occupational base.”
(Tr. 21.) Based on the VE’s testimony, the ALJ concluded that jobs existed in
significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform, including
the jobs of floor cleaner, order selector, and mini bar attendant. (Id.) The ALJ
determined that Plaintiff was not disabled during the relevant time period. (Id.)
No Error Was Committed By The ALJ
Plaintiff initially argues that the ALJ erred because the GRIDS “should be
reviewed to determine a correct result” once Plaintiff reached advanced age (age
55 or older). (Doc. 17 at 4.) The undersigned disagrees.
First, Plaintiff referenced no statute, regulation, or case supporting her
argument. 3 Second, exclusive reliance on the GRIDS is inappropriate when, as
here, the “claimant is unable to perform a full range of work at a given [RFC] level
To the extent Plaintiff believes 20 C.F.R. § 404.1562(b) applies, her belief is
misplaced. Section 404.1562(b) applies to individuals who are 55 years old with no
more than a limited education and no past relevant work experience, whereas Plaintiff
has more than a limited education and past relevant work experience. Compare (Tr.
188 (noting that Plaintiff completed two years of college and had past relevant work
experience as a cafeteria line server)) with 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1562(b) (“If you have a
severe, medically determinable impairment(s), are of advanced age, have a limited
education or less, and have no past relevant work experience, we will find you
disabled.”) (internal citations omitted) & 404.1564(b)(3) (“We generally consider that a
7th grade through the 11th grade level of formal education is a limited education.”).
or when a claimant has non-exertional impairments that significantly limit basic
work skills.” 4 Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1242 (11th Cir. 2004).
Ordinarily, when non-exertional impairments are alleged, “the preferred method
of demonstrating that the claimant can perform specific work is through the
testimony of a [VE].” MacGregor v. Bowen, 786 F.2d 1050, 1054 (11th Cir.
1986); see also Allen v. Sullivan, 880 F.2d 1200, 1202 (11th Cir. 1989)
(“Ordinarily, when non-exertional limitations are alleged, [VE] testimony is
The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform medium work with
non-exertional limitations, including frequent handling and fingering, and avoiding
exposure to concentrated vibrations. (Tr. 17.) The ALJ determined that the
GRIDS would direct a finding of “not disabled” if Plaintiff could perform the full
range of medium work, but Plaintiff’s “ability to perform all or substantially all of
the requirements of th[e] level of work has been impeded by additional
limitations.” (Tr. 21.) The ALJ then properly sought VE testimony to determine
whether Plaintiff could perform her past relevant work or whether jobs existed in
the national economy that Plaintiff could perform, given the additional nonexertional impairments attributed to Plaintiff. See, e.g., Miller v. Comm’r of Soc.
“Nonexertional activities include maintaining body equilibrium, crouching,
bending, stooping, using fingers, seeing, hearing or speaking, mental function and
tolerating environmental working conditions.” Watson v. Astrue, 376 F. App’x 953, 956
n.7 (11th Cir. 2010) (emphasis added).
Sec., 241 F. App’x 631, 635 (11th Cir. 2007) (finding that the ALJ “correctly
followed [the step five] requirements” where “the ALJ determined that, although
the [GRIDS] would ordinarily support a finding of ‘not disabled’ in [the plaintiff’s]
case, the ALJ  utilize[d] the VE's testimony to establish whether a significant
number of jobs existed for [the plaintiff] in the national economy because [the
plaintiff’s] ability to perform all or substantially all of the requirements of light work
was impeded by his exertional and nonexertional limitations”). Finally, had the
ALJ relied exclusively on the GRIDS as Plaintiff suggests, it appears the ALJ
would still have determined that Plaintiff was “not disabled.” See 20 C.F.R. Pt.
404, Subpt. P, App. 2, Rules 203.06, 203.14, 203.21, 203.28 (dictating that a
finding of “not disabled” be made when the individual can perform medium work,
is a high school graduate, and has unskilled or no past relevant work
Plaintiff ultimately concedes that a finding of “not disabled” would be
correct “if she is limited to a medium [RFC],” but apparently disagrees with the
ALJ’s RFC determination and believes she can only perform light work. (Doc. 16
at 5.) However, Plaintiff failed to state why she believes she is only limited to
light work. Plaintiff merely asserts that the ALJ lacked medical support “for the
weights that can be lifted to determine if [Plaintiff] is able to perform medium work
or light work.” (Id.) Contrary to this assertion, however, the ALJ referenced
substantial evidence supporting his RFC determination. The ALJ provided
significant weight to the state agency reviewing physician, Gloria Hankins, M.D.,
who opined that Plaintiff could perform medium work (including lifting and/or
carrying fifty (50) pounds occasionally and twenty-five (25) pounds frequently)
with limitations, and explained his reasons in the decision. (Tr. 19, 65.) The ALJ
also referenced Plaintiff’s daily activities (going to the gym, driving, performing
household chores, helping with grocery shopping, and making simple meals) as
consistent with the RFC determination. (Tr. 19, 39-40, 294.) The ALJ provided
great weight to the consultative report of Cathy Whitley, M.D., who examined
Plaintiff and assessed only a mild limitation for gripping with her right hand. (Tr.
20, 293-99.) The ALJ’s RFC determination is supported by substantial evidence.
While Plaintiff apparently takes exception to Dr. Hankins’s determination
that Plaintiff’s gross and fine manipulation abilities were “limited” without
commenting as to what extent, the ultimate responsibility for determining a
claimant’s RFC rests with the ALJ. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(2) (2016). The ALJ
made the ultimate determination here and that determination is supported by
The question presented is not whether the Court would have arrived at the
same decision on de novo review; rather, the Court’s review is limited to
determining whether the ALJ’s findings are based on correct legal standards and
supported by substantial evidence. Based on this standard of review, the
undersigned affirms the ALJ’s decision that Plaintiff was not disabled within the
meaning of the Social Security Act for the time period in question.
Accordingly, it is ORDERED:
The Commissioner’s decision is AFFIRMED.
The Clerk of Court is directed to enter judgment accordingly and
close the file.
DONE AND ORDERED at Jacksonville, Florida, on April 10, 2018.
Counsel of Record
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