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Glass v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

June 13, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


L. SCOTT COOGLER, District Judge.

I. Introduction

The plaintiff, Jason Bradley Glass, appeals from the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying his application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") and Child's Insurance Benefits ("CIB").[1] Mr. Glass timely pursued and exhausted his administrative remedies and the decision of the Commissioner is ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). Mr. Glass was twenty-two years old at the time of the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ's") decision. (Tr. at 30.) Mr. Glass claims that he became disabled on June 1, 2005, due to morbid obesity, sleep apnea, and narcolepsy. (Tr. at 25-26.)

When evaluating the disability of individuals over the age of eighteen, the regulations prescribe a five-step sequential evaluation process. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; see also Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001). The first step requires a determination of whether the claimant is "doing substantial gainful activity." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). If he or she is, the claimant is not disabled and the evaluation stops. Id. If he or she is not, the Commissioner next considers the effect of all of the physical and mental impairments combined. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). These impairments must be severe and must meet the durational requirements before a claimant will be found to be disabled. Id. The decision depends on the medical evidence in the record. See Hart v. Finch, 440 F.2d 1340, 1341 (5th Cir. 1971). If the claimant's impairments are not severe, the analysis stops. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). Otherwise, the analysis continues to step three, which is a determination of whether the claimant's impairments meet or equal the severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the claimant's impairments fall within this category, he or she will be found disabled without further consideration. Id. If they do not, a determination of the claimant's residual functional capacity ("RFC") will be made and the analysis proceeds to the fourth step. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e).

The fourth step requires a determination of whether the claimant's impairments prevent him or her from returning to past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant can still do his or her past relevant work, the claimant is not disabled and the evaluation stops. Id. If the claimant cannot do past relevant work, then the analysis proceeds to the fifth step. Id. Step five requires the court to consider the claimant's RFC, as well as the claimant's age, education, and past work experience in order to determine if he or she can do other work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v) 416.920(a)(4)(v). If the claimant can do other work, the claimant is not disabled. Id.

Applying the sequential evaluation, the ALJ first determined that Plaintiff, born on May 13, 1989, had not attained age 22 as of June 1, 2005, the alleged onset date. (Tr. at 25.) The ALJ then determined Mr. Glass has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset of his disability. ( Id. ) According to the ALJ, Plaintiff's morbid obesity, sleep apnea, and narcolepsy are considered "severe" based on the requirements set forth in the regulations. (Tr. at 26.) However, he found that these impairments neither meet nor medically equal any of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. ( Id. ) The ALJ did not find Mr. Glass's allegations to be totally credible, and he determined that he has the following residual functional capacity: to lift 50 pounds occasionally and 20 pounds frequently; stand six hours in an 8-hour day; sit six hours in an 8-hour day; he should never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; he could occasionally climb ramps and stairs; he should rarely stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl; he can bend; he has no visual, manipulative, or communicative limitations; and there should be no working around hazards or dangerous or moving machinery. ( Id. )

The ALJ determined that Plaintiff was 16 years old, defined as a younger individual, on the alleged onset date. (Tr. at 30.) The plaintiff has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English. ( Id. ) The ALJ determined that "transferability of job skills is not an issue because the [plaintiff] does not have past relevant work." (Tr. at 30.) The ALJ relied on testimony from the vocational expert ("VE") to determine that Mr. Glass has the residual functional capacity to make a "successful adjustment to other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy" such as "self-service laundry attendant... information clerk... [or] cashier." ( Id. ) The ALJ concluded the findings by stating that, based on the application for CIB filed protectively on February 27, 2007, the plaintiff was not disabled prior to May 12, 2011, the date he attained age 22, and based on the application for SSI, the plaintiff is not disabled. (Tr. at 30.)

II. Standard of Review

This Court's role in reviewing claims brought under the Social Security Act is a narrow one. The scope of its review is limited to determining (1) whether there is substantial evidence in the record as a whole to support the findings of the Commissioner, and (2) whether the correct legal standards were applied. See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390, 401 (1971); Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002). The Court approaches the factual findings of the Commissioner with deference, but applies close scrutiny to the legal conclusions. See Miles v. Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996). The Court may not decide facts, weigh evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Id. "The substantial evidence standard permits administrative decision makers to act with considerable latitude, and the possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does not prevent an administrative agency's finding from being supported by substantial evidence.'" Parker v. Bowen, 793 F.2d 1177, 1181 (11th Cir. 1986) (Gibson, J., dissenting) (quoting Consolo v. Fed. Mar. Comm'n, 383 U.S. 607, 620 (1966)). Indeed, even if this Court finds that the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's decision, the Court must affirm if the decision is supported by substantial evidence. Miles, 84 F.3d at 1400. No decision is automatic, however, for "despite this deferential standard [for review of claims] it is imperative that the Court scrutinize the record in its entirety to determine the reasonableness of the decision reached." Bridges v. Bowen, 815 F.2d 622, 624 (11th Cir. 1987). Moreover, failure to apply the correct legal standards is grounds for reversal. See Bowen v. Heckler, 748 F.2d 629, 635 (11th Cir. 1984).

III. Discussion

Mr. Glass alleges that the ALJ's decision should be reversed and remanded for one reason. He states that the ALJ "erred in rejecting [sic] treating physician opinion." (Doc. 13 at 7.) However, it appears that Plaintiff's argument actually centers around the ALJ's acceptance of the Medical Expert's ("ME's") opinion and testimony. Each argument will be addressed in turn.

A. Rejection of Treating Physician's Opinion

Plaintiff's stated argument that "[t]he ALJ erred in rejecting [sic] treating physician opinion" is set out with a brief statement of relevant law and a statement regarding Dr. Doekel's, the treating physician's, time spent treating Plaintiff. (Doc. 13 at 7.) This statement is conclusory and only sets out the basis for an argument, but does not flesh out any full argument. Appellants waive issues by making only conclusory statements without any real argument to support the statement. See Cont'l Technical Serv., Inc. v. Rockwell Intern. Corp., 927 F.2d 1198 (11th Cir. 1991); Avera v. United Airlines, Inc., 465 F.Appx. 855 (11th Cir. 2012); Pruitt v. P.P.G. Industry, Inc., 895 F.2d 734 (11th Cir. 1990).

Although Plaintiff's stated argument regarding the rejection of the treating physician's opinion is conclusory and therefore waived, the argument would still fail had the plaintiff properly made the argument. Plaintiff implies that the ALJ erred in accepting the testimony and opinion of Dr. Bryan, the ME, instead of the opinion of the alleged treating physician Dr. Doekel. (Doc. 13 at 7.) According to the plaintiff, Dr. Doekel should be considered a treating physician whose opinion is entitled to controlling weight, and the ME's opinion as a non-examining medical expert is only entitled to little weight. ( Id. at 8.) It appears as though the plaintiff contends that Dr. Doekel should be held as a treating physician due to his "seven ...

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