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Malone v. Colvin

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

May 11, 2015

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


C. LYNWOOD SMITH, Jr., District Judge.

Claimant, Jeffrey Malone, commenced this action on September 29, 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's residual functional capacity finding was not supported by substantial evidence, and that the ALJ failed to fully and fairly develop the administrative record. Upon review of the record, the court concludes that those contentions lack merit, and that the Commissioner's ruling is due to be affirmed.

The ALJ found that claimant suffered from the severe impairments of "degenerative osteoarthritis, lumbar spine; and obesity."[1] Even so, claimant retained the residual functional capacity

to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except [that] the claimant can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl[, ] and climb ramps and stairs...; can frequently reach in all directions with the bilateral upper extremities; must avoid unprotected heights; and must work in an environment that does not have stringent production or speed requirements.[2]

Claimant first contends that the ALJ improperly based that finding upon a non-medical source opinion that is "entitled to no weight or consideration."[3] Claimant further contends that the ALJ should have consulted a medical examiner or, alternatively, "developed the record to obtain a new consultative examination."[4]

There is no evidence that the ALJ "adopted [the assessment of a non-medical source opinion] wholesale in finding [a residual functional capacity] for light work."[5] On the contrary, the ALJ based her residual functional capacity finding upon the consultative examination performed by a physician: Dr. Philip Badewa, M.D., Ph.D.[6] Further,

[t]he ALJ is not required to seek additional independent expert medical testimony before making a disability determination if the record is sufficient and additional expert testimony is not necessary for an informed decision. Wilson v. Apfel, 179 F.3d 1276, 1278 (11th Cir. 1999) (holding the record, which included the opinion of several physicians, was sufficient for the ALJ to arrive at a decision); Holladay v. Bowen, 848 F.2d 1206, 1209-10 (11th Cir. 1988) (holding the ALJ must order a consultative exam when it is necessary for an informed decision).

Nation v. Barnhart, 153 F.App'x 597, 598 (11th Cir. 2005) (alteration and emphasis supplied). Finally, claimant bears the ultimate burden of producing evidence to support his disability claim. See Ellison v. Barnhart, 355 F.3d 1272, 1276 (11th Cir. 2003) (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.912(a), (c)).

The court concludes that the record in this case was sufficient, even absent any additional consultative report or medical source statement, for the ALJ to arrive at an informed decision. The medical record includes numerous records from claimant's treating providers, the report of a consultative examiner, [7] and the Physical Residual Functional Capacity Assessment of a state agency physician.[8]

Claimant next contends that the ALJ failed to adequately consider claimant's impairments in combination. Social Security regulations state the following with regard to the Commissioner's duty in evaluating multiple impairments:

In determining whether your physical or mental impairment or impairments are of a sufficient medical severity that such impairment or impairments could be the basis of eligibility under the law, we will consider the combined effect of all of your impairments without regard to whether any such impairment, if considered separately, would be of sufficient severity. If we do find a medically severe combination of impairments, the combined impact of the impairments will be considered throughout the disability determination process. If we do not find that you have a medically severe combination of impairments, we will determine that you are not disabled.

20 C.F.R. § 1523. See also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545(e), 416.945(e) (stating that, when the claimant has any severe impairment, the ALJ is required to assess the limiting effects of all of the claimant's impairments - including those that are not ...

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