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Huff v. Colvin

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

August 26, 2014

BOOKER T. HUFF, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Social Security Commissioner, Defendant.


BERT W. MILLING, Jr., Magistrate Judge.

In this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3), Plaintiff seeks judicial review of an adverse social security ruling which denied a claim for Supplemental Security Income (hereinafter SSI ) (Docs. 1, 12). The parties filed written consent and this action has been referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge to conduct all proceedings and order the entry of judgment in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73 ( see Doc. 18). Oral argument was heard on August 25, 2014. Upon consideration of the administrative record, the memoranda of the parties, and oral argument, it is ORDERED that the decision of the Commissioner be AFFIRMED and that this action be DISMISSED.

This Court is not free to reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983), which must be supported by substantial evidence. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). The substantial evidence test requires "that the decision under review be supported by evidence sufficient to justify a reasoning mind in accepting it; it is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance." Brady v. Heckler, 724 F.2d 914, 918 (11th Cir. 1984), quoting Jones v. Schweiker, 551 F.Supp. 205 (D. Md. 1982).

At the time of the administrative hearing, Plaintiff was forty-three years old, had completed a high school education (Tr. 52), and had previous work experience as an industrial cleaner and a bricklayer helper (Tr. 88). In claiming benefits, Plaintiff alleges disability due to arthropathy, gout, low back pain, pes planus, arthritis of the right hip and left foot, and obesity (Doc. 12 Fact Sheet).

The Plaintiff filed a protective application for SSI on January 20, 2011 (Tr. 29, 176-81). Benefits were denied following a hearing by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) who determined that although he was not able to return to his former jobs, Huff was capable of performing specified sedentary work (Tr. 25-37). Plaintiff requested review of the hearing decision (Tr. 20-21) by the Appeals Council, but it was denied (Tr. 1-5).

Plaintiff claims that the opinion of the ALJ is not supported by substantial evidence. Specifically, Huff alleges that: (1) The ALJ did not properly consider the opinions of his treating physician; and (2) the residual functional capacity (hereinafter RFC ) is not supported by the evidence (Doc. 12). Defendant has responded to-and denies-these claims (Doc. 13). The relevant evidence of record follows.

On April 14, 2011, Dr. Jonathan Campbell examined Huff for complaints of left ankle and right hip pain; though he occasionally had lower back pain, there was none on that day (Tr. 257-61). Plaintiff stated that there was no radiation of the hip pain; the Doctor noted that he had negative straight leg raising, had a steady gait, and walked without assistance. Campbell found severe pes planus on the left, less so on the right; range of motion (hereinafter ROM ) of the left ankle was severely impaired, though there were no motor or sensory deficits. Campbell specifically noted some mild ROM limitations in the dorsolumbar spine with more moderate limitations in the right hip and left ankle. The Doctor opined that Huff's ability to perform "sitting, standing, walking, lifting, carrying and handling objects, hearing, speaking and traveling [were inadequate] for normal [work] duty" (Tr. 259).

On June 6, 2011, Plaintiff went to the Mobile County Health Department (hereinafter MCHD ) for complaints of back, hip, and leg pain; Huff rated his pain as five on a ten-point scale (Tr. 262-76). Dr. Mark Pita noted pain with palpation over the lumbar spine; a motor exam demonstrated no dysfunction. An x-ray of the lumbar spine was negative. The assessment was arthropathy and backache; Mobic, [1] Ultram, [2] and Flexeril[3] were prescribed. On July 19, 2011, in a follow-up examination, Huff said that his Mobic and Flexeril had reduced his pain to four-of-ten; it was only a three at that time (Tr. 291; see generally Tr. 291-94). Plaintiff had not been taking the Ultram; Dr. Pita noted no dysfunction or abnormalities. On September 1, Huff complained of problems with his left ankle and right hip pain; he had not gotten the prescription for Ultram filled (Tr. 286-91). Plaintiff again rated his pain at three; again, Dr. Pita noted no dysfunction or abnormalities. On October 27, Huff voiced complaints of left ankle and right knee pain at three-of-ten; Pita diagnosed him to have arthropathy and prescribed Naproxen[4] (Tr. 284-86). On January 27, 2012, Plaintiff asserted that his left ankle pain had not improved; he rated it at a level three (Tr. 279-84). An x-ray of the left ankle showed no fracture or bony abnormality; there was no joint effusion or significant soft tissue swelling (Tr. 297). On February 14, 2012, Huff complained of left ankle and lower back pain, rated as three-of-ten; his back was not hurting on that day (Tr. 277-29). Pita diagnosed arthropathy and gout.

On March 1, Dr. Pita completed a physical capacities evaluation (hereinafter PCE ) in which he indicated that Plaintiff was capable of sitting and standing or walking, each, for one hour at a time and up to three hours, each, during an eight-hour day (Tr. 298). The Doctor found Huff capable of lifting fifty pounds one hour a day, twenty pounds four hours a day, and five pounds for six hours; he could carry twenty-five pounds for two hours, twenty pounds for three hours, ten pounds for four hours, and five pounds for five hours during a workday. Plaintiff could use his hands for simple grasping, pushing and pulling of arm controls, and fine manipulation; though he could use his right leg/foot for repetitive actions, he could not use his left. Huff could crawl for one hour, bend and squat for two hours, climb for three hours, and reach for four hours during a workday; he was moderately restricted in working at unprotected heights and being around moving machinery, and mildly limited in driving automotive equipment. Pita indicated on the form that Plaintiff had lumbago and sciatica that affected his left leg and foot.

On May 3, 2012, Plaintiff was seen at the MCHD for complaints of right hip and left ankle pain; examination notes were not provided (Tr. 299).

On May 24, 2012, Dr. Pita completed a pain form indicating that the pain Huff suffered from gout and carpal tunnel syndrome would keep him from adequately performing daily activities or work; physical activity would greatly increase his pain, distracting him from whatever he was doing (Tr. 300-01). Side effects from his medications would be severe and would limit his effectiveness in performing activities. Pita said that Huff should avoid repetitive wrist and hand motions; Plaintiff was not capable of "gainful employment on a repetitive, competitive and productive basis over an eight hour work day, forty hours a week, without missing more than 2 days of work per month or experiencing frequent interruptions to his work routine" (TR. 301).

On June 12, Orthopod William A. Crotwell, III examined Huff who complained of left foot and ankle pain when walking, rating it as nine on a ten-point scale; he was walking with a cane (Tr. 303-06). The Doctor noted slow movement because of the left foot and limited motion in the right hip; Plaintiff had a severe pronated flat, foot, also described as splayed. Additionally, x-rays demonstrated severe mid-foot arthritis. Right hip arthritis was severe. Crotwell noted that because of "the severe arthritis and limited motion of his right hip and left foot, " Huff was limited to sedentary work in which he could alternate sitting and standing, for only six hours a day with a break of one and one-half hours; he could do no medium or excessive walking (Tr. 305). The Orthopod also completed a PCE in which he indicated that Plaintiff could sit, stand, and walk for one hour, each, at a time and sit six, stand two, and walk one hour during an eight-hour day (Tr. 306). Huff could lift ten pounds occasionally and could carry five pounds occasionally; he would have no trouble using his hands, but his left leg could not be used for foot controls. Plaintiff could never bend, squat, crawl, climb, or reach; he was moderately restricted in driving automotive equipment and totally restricted from activities involving unprotected heights, or being around moving machinery. This concludes the medical evidence of record.

Huff's first claim is that the ALJ did not accord proper legal weight to the opinions, diagnoses and medical evidence of his physician. Specifically, Plaintiff points to the conclusions of Dr. Mark Pita (Doc. 12, p. 3, 7-9). The Court notes that "although the opinion of an examining physician is generally entitled to more weight than the opinion of a non-examining physician, the ALJ is free to reject the opinion of any physician when the evidence supports a contrary conclusion." Oldham v. Schweiker, 660 F.2d 1078, 1084 (5th Cir. 1981);[5] see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527 (2013).

In her decision, the ALJ summarized the evidence of record and related what weight she gave it (Tr. 25-37). Specifically, the ALJ found that although Huff had severe impairments, she found that his testimony about the extent of his abilities and limitations was not credible (Tr. 27-28, 30, 31, 34-35); that finding has gone unchallenged. The ALJ also gave ...

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