MCDANIEL v. BERRYHILL
ORDER affirming the decision of the Commissioner. Ordered by US MAGISTRATE JUDGE STEPHEN HYLES on 11-6-17. (bdd)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF GEORGIA
NANCY A BERRYHILL,
Commissioner of Social Security,
CASE NO. 3:17-CV-00012-MSH
Social Security Appeal
The Social Security Commissioner, by adoption of the Administrative Law Judge’s
(ALJ’s) determination, denied Plaintiff’s application for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income, finding that she is not disabled within the meaning of the
Social Security Act and Regulations. Plaintiff contends that the Commissioner’s decision
was in error and seeks review under the relevant provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 42
U.S.C. § 1383(c). All administrative remedies have been exhausted. Both parties filed
their written consents for all proceedings to be conducted by the United States Magistrate
Judge, including the entry of a final judgment directly appealable to the Eleventh Circuit
Court of Appeals pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(3).
The court’s review of the Commissioner’s decision is limited to a determination of
whether it is supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct legal standards
were applied. Walker v. Bowen, 826 F.2d 996, 1000 (11th Cir. 1987) (per curiam).
“Substantial evidence is something more than a mere scintilla, but less than a
preponderance. If the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, this
court must affirm, even if the proof preponderates against it.” Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d
1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks omitted). The court’s role in
reviewing claims brought under the Social Security Act is a narrow one. The court may
neither decide facts, re-weigh evidence, nor substitute its judgment for that of the
Commissioner. 1 Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211 (11th Cir. 2005). It must,
however, decide if the Commissioner applied the proper standards in reaching a decision.
Harrell v. Harris, 610 F.2d 355, 359 (5th Cir. 1980) (per curiam). The court must
scrutinize the entire record to determine the reasonableness of the Commissioner’s factual
findings. Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983). However, even
if the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner’s decision, it must be affirmed if
substantial evidence supports it. Id.
The Plaintiff bears the initial burden of proving that she is unable to perform her
previous work. Jones v. Bowen, 810 F.2d 1001 (11th Cir. 1986). The Plaintiff’s burden is
a heavy one and is so stringent that it has been described as bordering on the unrealistic.
Credibility determinations are left to the Commissioner and not to the courts. Carnes v.
Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1215, 1219 (11th Cir. 1991). It is also up to the Commissioner and not to the
courts to resolve conflicts in the evidence. Wheeler v. Heckler, 784 F.2d 1073, 1075 (11th Cir.
1986) (per curiam); see also Graham v. Bowen, 790 F.2d 1572, 1575 (11th Cir. 1986).
Oldham v. Schweiker, 660 F.2d 1078, 1083 (5th Cir. 1981). 2 A Plaintiff seeking Social
Security disability benefits must demonstrate that she suffers from an impairment that
prevents her from engaging in any substantial gainful activity for a twelve-month period.
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1). In addition to meeting the requirements of these statutes, in order
to be eligible for disability payments, a Plaintiff must meet the requirements of the
Commissioner’s regulations promulgated pursuant to the authority given in the Social
Security Act. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1 et seq.
Under the Regulations, the Commissioner uses a five-step procedure to determine
if a Plaintiff is disabled. Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1237 (11th Cir. 2004); 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). First, the Commissioner determines whether the Plaintiff is
working. Id. If not, the Commissioner determines whether the Plaintiff has an impairment
which prevents the performance of basic work activities. Id. Second, the Commissioner
determines the severity of the Plaintiff’s impairment or combination of impairments. Id.
Third, the Commissioner determines whether the Plaintiff’s severe impairment(s) meets or
equals an impairment listed in Appendix 1 of Part 404 of the Regulations (the “Listing”).
Id. Fourth, the Commissioner determines whether the Plaintiff’s residual functional
capacity can meet the physical and mental demands of past work. Id. Fifth and finally, the
Commissioner determines whether the Plaintiff’s residual functional capacity, age,
education, and past work experience prevent the performance of any other work. In
In Bonner v. City of Prichard, 661 F.2d 1206, 1209 (11th Cir. 1981) (en banc), the Eleventh
Circuit adopted as binding precedent all decision of the former Fifth Circuit rendered prior to
October 1, 1981.
arriving at a decision, the Commissioner must consider the combined effects of all of the
alleged impairments, without regard to whether each, if considered separately, would be
disabling. Id. The Commissioner’s failure to apply correct legal standards to the evidence
is grounds for reversal. Id.
Plaintiff Janet McDaniel filed applications for a period of disability, disability
insurance benefits, and supplemental security income on June 10, 2013, alleging she
became disabled to work on June 1, 2009. Tr. 227-35, 236-42. Her applications were
initially denied on August 16, 2013, and on reconsideration on November 22, 2013. On
January 15, 2014, Plaintiff requested an evidentiary hearing before an administrative law
judge (ALJ) and a hearing was held on June 2, 2015. Tr. 18. Plaintiff appeared at the
hearing with her attorney and testified, as did an impartial vocational expert (VE). Tr. 54.
On August 6, 2015 the ALJ issued a written decision denying Plaintiff’s claims. Tr. 5170. Plaintiff sought review of that decision by the Appeals Council on September 21, 2015,
but her request was denied on November 29, 2016. Tr. 14-15, 1-6. Plaintiff has exhausted
the administrative remedies available to her under the Social Security Act and now seeks
judicial review of the Commissioner’s final decision denying her applications. This case
is ripe for review.
STATEMENT OF FACTS AND EVIDENCE
Plaintiff was fifty-one years old when the ALJ issued his decision. She has a ninthgrade education and past work as a dairy helper. Tr. 229, 272, 41. The ALJ conducted the
five-step sequential evaluation called for by the regulations to evaluate Plaintiff’s claims.
Tr. 55; 20 CFR §§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a). At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the
severe impairments of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, bronchitis, spinal
scoliosis with degenerative disc disease, depression and anxiety, carpal tunnel syndrome,
sciatica, and borderline intellectual functioning. Finding 3, Tr. 56-57. Notably, the ALJ
did not find that Plaintiff had an intellectual disability impairment (previously known as
“mental retardation”). At step three he found that Plaintiff’s impairments, considered both
alone and in combination with one another, neither meet nor medically equal a listed
impairment set out in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Finding 4, Tr. 57-60.
Between steps three and four, the ALJ formulated a residual functional capacity assessment
(RFC) which permits Plaintiff to engage in light work with added exertional, nonexertional, postural, and environmental limitations. Finding 5, Tr. 60-63. At step four, the
ALJ determined that Plaintiff’s RFC does not permit her to resume past relevant work.
Finding 6, Tr. 63. In his step-five analysis, the ALJ accepted the VE’s testimony that there
are jobs which Plaintiff can perform within her restricted RFC that are available to her in
the national economy. Finding 10, Tr. 64. Accordingly, he found Plaintiff not disabled to
work. Finding 11, Tr. 65.
Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ erred in not finding that her mental impairments meet
or medically equal those listed in § 12.05 of 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix for
intellectual disability. Pl.’s Br. 2. However, the ALJ did not find Plaintiff to have a severe
impairment of intellectual disability and Plaintiff has not claimed error in the failure to do
so. Tr. 56; see generally Pl.’s Br. Instead, the ALJ found Plaintiff to have the severe
impairment of borderline intellectual functioning, a disorder separate and distinct from,
and mutually exclusive of, intellectual disability. Tr. 56; Jordan v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec.,
470 F. App’x 766, 768-69 (11th Cir. 2012). Because no diagnosis exists in the record—
from any medical source—that Plaintiff suffers from intellectual disability, and the ALJ
did not find intellectual disability to be an impairment, there is no error in his step-three
determination that Plaintiff’s impairments do not match or medically equal those listed in
§ 12.05 when considered alone or in combination. 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix
1; Harris v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 330 F. App’x 813, 815 (11th Cir. 2009). Plaintiff’s single
contention of error is without merit and the Commissioner’s final decision is affirmed.
For the reasons stated above, the determination of the Social Security Commissioner
SO ORDERED, this 6th day of November, 2017.
/s/ Stephen Hyles
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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