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Thompson v. Colvin

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

November 24, 2014

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


C. LYNWOOD SMITH, Jr., District Judge.

Claimant, Douglas Brent Thompson, commenced this action on February 25, 2014, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner, affirming the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), and thereby denying his claim for supplemental security income benefits.

The court's role in reviewing claims brought under the Social Security Act is a narrow one. The scope of review is limited to determining whether there is substantial evidence in the record as a whole to support the findings of the Commissioner, and whether correct legal standards were applied. See Lamb v. Bowen, 847 F.2d 698, 701 (11th Cir. 1988); Tieniber v. Heckler, 720 F.2d 1251, 1253 (11th Cir. 1983).

Claimant contends that the Commissioner's decision is neither supported by substantial evidence nor in accordance with applicable legal standards. Specifically, claimant asserts that the ALJ improperly considered the opinions of the consultative psychological examiner, improperly considered his subjective complaints of pain, and improperly evaluated his credibility. Upon review of the record, the court concludes that these contentions are without merit, and the Commissioner's decision should be affirmed.

A. Consultative Examiner's Opinion

Social Security regulations provide that, in considering what weight to give any medical opinion (regardless of whether it is from a treating or non-treating physician), the Commissioner should evaluate: the extent of the examining or treating relationship between the doctor and patient; whether the doctor's opinion can be supported by medical signs and laboratory findings; whether the opinion is consistent with the record as a whole; the doctor's specialization; and other factors. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d). See also Wheeler v. Heckler, 784 F.2d 1073, 1075 (11th Cir. 1986) ("The weight afforded a physician's conclusory statements depends upon the extent to which they are supported by clinical or laboratory findings and are consistent with other evidence as to claimant's impairments."). Additionally, the ALJ is not required to accept a conclusory statement from any medical source that a claimant is unable to work, because the decision whether a claimant is disabled is not a medical opinion, but is a decision "reserved to the Commissioner." 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(e).

Robert A. Storjohann, Ph.D., performed a consultative psychological examination on March 9, 2011. Claimant reported feeling restless, fidgety, easily distracted, forgetful, and impatient; being unable to sit still for long; having difficulty sustaining attention and completing tasks; talking excessively; being loud and disruptive; and being careless and inattentive to details. He also reported experiencing problems with depression, worry, and anxiety for as long as he could remember. Those symptoms were exacerbated when he was in prison, and they continued to the date of the exam as a result of his health problems, inability to function, financial difficulties, and lack of health insurance. Claimant also reported

depressed mood, sleep disturbance in the form of initial insomnia, recurrent awakenings, and morbid nightmares, variable appetite, irritability, low frustration tolerance, low energy, chronic fatigue, some loss of pleasure, crying spells, episodic feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, and low self-esteem. He denied experiencing suicidal ideation or any intent or desire for self-harm. He denied experiencing assaultive ideation or any intent to harm others. He denied experiencing any hallucinations, delusions, or manic episodes.[1]

Finally, claimant reported "anxiety, nervousness, tension, being restless and on edge most of the time, thought ruminations, racing thoughts, and constant worry which he cannot control. He described having some short-term memory difficulties."[2]

Claimant reported having been prescribed Xanax and Adderall in the past, but acknowledged not having taken either of those medications for more than a year prior to the exam.[3] He told Dr. Storjohann the following with regard to his history of substance abuse:

Mr. Thompson denied having any history of alcohol abuse. He stated that he smoked cannabis regularly from the time he was 12 years old until he was 25, but none since. He stated that he took prescription pain medications for many years beginning when he was 10 or 11 years old. He denied abusing those pain medications. He related that he has been out of pain medications since 2006. He stated that he took prescribed anxiolytic medications for many years, but he denied abusing them. He denied having any history of abusing other drugs. He denied having any history of using or abusing cocaine. He stated that he told the doctors at Brookwood Medical Center he was using cocaine in order to get admitted so that he could undergo detoxification from the prescription pain medications he was taking at that time. He stated that he underwent drug detoxification at Brookwood Medical Center on several occasions.

Claimant reported driving his wife to work but being unable to do any laundry, yardwork, or housework, other than preparing simple meals. He grocery shopped with his wife, who was the only person with whom he spent any time. He did not have any hobbies and did not exercise. He spent his time watching television, reading on the internet, and talking on the phone. His only outside-the-home activity was regularly attending church.[4]

Dr. Storjohann observed that claimant appeared to be in considerable pain and discomfort throughout the examination. He was impatient, restless, fidgety, and unable to remain seated. His demeanor was "extremely ill-at-ease, somewhat irritable, and severely dysphoric."[5] His speech was normal; his mood was "severely depressed, quite anxious, and very tense"; and his affect was restricted.[6] Claimant was oriented as to person, place, situation, and time. He could perform simple mathematical calculations, spell "world" backward and forward, and recall five digits forward and 2 digits backward. His recent and remote memory both were intact, he had an adequate fund of information, and he could identify similarities between paired objects and interpret simple proverbs. Claimant's thoughts and speech were logical, coherent, and goal-directed, and his thoughts were without loose association or confusion. He did not exhibit any hallucinations or delusions. His judgment and insight were grossly intact, and he was considered able to make simple work decisions and manage his own financial affairs. His level of intellectual functioning was estimated to fall within the average range.

Dr. Storjohann's assessments were major depression, recurrent, severe, without psychotic features, chronic; attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, in partial remission; generalized anxiety disorder; and ...

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