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Rachel Roberts v. Commissioner of Social Security

January 11, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: David A. Baker United States Magistrate Judge


This cause came on for consideration without oral argument on review of the Commissioner's decision to deny Plaintiff's application for Social Security disability benefits. For the reasons set forth herein, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.

Procedural History

Plaintiff applied for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 423, in February 2007 (R. 67-69). Her claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration (R. 37-39, 41-43). Thereafter, Plaintiff requested and received an administrative hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("the ALJ") (R. 22-31, 44). On October 23, 2009, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's claim (R. 10-21). A Request for Review of a Hearing Decision was filed (R. 8), but the Appeals Council denied the request (R. 1-3), making the ALJ's determination the final decision of the Commissioner. This case is thus ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).*fn1

Nature of Claimed Disability

Plaintiff claims that she was unable to work due to fibromyalgia, high blood pressure, panic attacks, anxiety, irritable bowel syndrome, and diabetes (R. 25-27, 95, 151, 164).

Summary of Evidence Before the ALJ

Plaintiff was 53 years old on the date of the hearing (R. 25), with a high school education and past relevant work as a cashier, teacher's assistant, and customer service representative (R. 20, 25, 95-97).

Her pertinent medical history is set forth in detail in the ALJ's decision and, in the interests of privacy and brevity, is set forth in this opinion only as necessary to address Plaintiff's objections. In addition to the medical records of the treating providers, the record includes her testimony at the administrative hearing, written forms and reports completed by Plaintiff and her husband, and opinions from examining and non-examining consultants. By way of summary, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following impairments: fibromyalgia; diabetes mellitus, type II; hypertension; low back pain; allergic dermatitis; and anxiety disorder (R. 15), and the record supports this uncontested finding. The ALJ found that Plaintiff's mental impairment did not cause more than minimal limitation in her ability to perform basic mental work activities and was therefore nonsevere (R. 15), and Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (R. 17). The ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work, as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) (R. 18), and, through the date last insured,*fn2 was capable of performing past relevant work as a customer service representative and cashier, and was thus not disabled (R. 20).

Standard of Review

The scope of this Court's review is limited to determining whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards, McRoberts v. Bowen, 841 F.2d 1077, 1080 (11th Cir. 1988), and whether the findings are supported by substantial evidence, Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971). The Commissioner's findings of fact are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla -- i.e., the evidence must do more than merely create a suspicion of the existence of a fact, and must include such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support the conclusion. Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1995), citing Walden v. Schweiker, 672 F.2d 835, 838 (11th Cir. 1982) and Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).

"If the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, this Court must affirm, even if the proof preponderates against it." Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1240 n. 8 (11th Cir. 2004). "We may not decide facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute our judgment for that of the [Commissioner.]" 357 F.3d at 1240 n. 8 (internal quotation and citation omitted); Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005). The district court must view the evidence as a whole, taking into account evidence favorable as well as unfavorable to the decision. Foote, 67 F.3d at 1560; accord, Lowery v. Sullivan, 979 F.2d 835, 837 (11th Cir. 1992) (court must scrutinize the entire record to determine reasonableness of factual findings).

Issues and Analysis

Plaintiff raises three issues for review: 1) whether the ALJ erred in determining that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work, considering the opinions of the examining consultative physician and the non-examining State Agency reviewers; 2) whether the ALJ improperly evaluated Plaintiff's non-exertional impairment of pain; and 3) whether the ALJ erred in evaluating Plaintiff's credibility. The Court reviews these objections in the context of the sequential evaluation used by the ALJ.

The ALJ must follow five steps in evaluating a claim of disability. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. First, if a claimant is working at a substantial gainful activity, she is not disabled. 29 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). Second, if a claimant does not have any impairment or combination of impairments which significantly limit her physical or mental ability to do basic work activities, then she does not have a severe impairment and is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520©. Third, if a claimant's impairments meet or equal an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, she is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). Fourth, if a claimant's impairments do not prevent her from doing past relevant work, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). Fifth, if a claimant's impairments (considering her residual functional capacity, age, education, and past work) prevent her from doing other work that exists ...

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