United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Northern Division
SONJA F. BIVINS, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Linda Chandler (hereinafter "Plaintiff") seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her claim for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq., and 1381, et seq. On May 14, 2015, the parties consented to have the undersigned conduct any and all proceedings in this case. (Doc. 18). Thus, the action was referred to the undersigned to conduct all proceedings and order the entry of judgment in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73. Upon careful consideration of the administrative record and the memoranda of the parties, it is hereby ORDERED that the decision of the Commissioner be AFFIRMED.
I. Procedural History
Plaintiff protectively filed an application for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income on May 14, 2010. (Tr. 264). Plaintiff alleged that she has been disabled since that date due to "headaches, " "nerves, " "sleeping disorder, " and "nerve damage" to her hand. (Id. at 277). Plaintiff did not allege a mental impairment and stated that she has never sought treatment for any mental condition, emotional problems, or learning problems. (Id. at 280).
Plaintiff's applications were denied and upon timely request, she was granted an administrative hearing before Administrative Law Judge Charles A. Thigpen (hereinafter "ALJ") on June 15, 2011. (Id. at 45). Plaintiff attended the hearing with her counsel and provided testimony related to her claims. (Id.). On September 8, 2011, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding that Plaintiff is not disabled. (Id. at 95). On January 15, 2013, the Appeals Council remanded the case to the ALJ for further consideration of Plaintiff's mental limitations, specifically including "evidence from a medical expert to clarify the nature and severity of claimant's impairment." (Id. at 102). On July 2, 2013, the ALJ conducted a second administrative hearing. (Id. at 31). Plaintiff attended the second hearing with her counsel and again provided testimony related to her claims. (Id.). A vocational expert ("VE") also appeared at the hearing and provided testimony. (Id. at 42). After the second hearing, the ALJ obtained a medical opinion from a reviewing medical expert, Dr. Sydney H. Garner, Psy.D, related to Plaintiff's alleged mental impairment. (Id. at 641). On November 8, 2013, the ALJ issued a second unfavorable decision finding that Plaintiff is not disabled. (Id. at 25). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on April 4, 2014. (Id. at 1). Thus, the ALJ's decision dated November 8, 2013, became the final decision of the Commissioner.
Having exhausted her administrative remedies, Plaintiff timely filed the present civil action. (Doc. 1). The parties waived oral argument on May 14, 2015, (Doc. 19), and agree that this case is now ripe for judicial review and is properly before this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).
II. Issue on Appeal
Whether the ALJ erred in rejecting the opinion of examining medical source Dr. Donald W. Blanton, Ph.D., and finding that Plaintiff did not meet Listing 12.05C?
III. Factual Background
Plaintiff was born on November 3, 1969, and was forty-three years of age at the time of her second administrative hearing on July 2, 2013. (Tr. 31, 34). Plaintiff testified that she completed the tenth grade in high school and has had no further education. (Id. at 34). Plaintiff's school records reflect that she was enrolled in regular classes while in school, and that she generally received C's and D's, with occasional F's. (Id. at 277-78, 308-09). Her school records also reflect that she was not able to pass the reading, math, or language portions of the Alabama High School Graduation Examination; thus, she did not receive her high school diploma. (Id. at 311).
At the administrative hearing in 2013, Plaintiff testified that she last worked in 2010 in the dietary department for a hospital. (Id. at 35). Plaintiff also testified that she worked in this position for one and a half years, and that she quit because of problems with her hand. (Id. at 35, 459). Additionally, Plaintiff reported working five years as a dishwasher at a nursing home and working as a packer in a manufacturing plant. (Id. at 35, 267).
According to Plaintiff, she has a short attention span; however, she can follow written instructions most of the time, can follow spoken instructions "well, " can finish what she starts, can get along well with authority figures, and can handle stress and changes in routine "well." Plaintiff also reported that she has never been fired or laid off from a job because of problems getting along with other people. (Id. at 289).
In her Function Report and in her testimony, Plaintiff stated that she lives with four of her children, walks, cooks, cleans, and does laundry for herself and her children, shops, and is able to pay her bills, count change, handle a savings account, and use a checkbook. (Id. at 34, 283-86). Plaintiff also reported that she enjoys spending time with others every day and that she goes to church weekly. (Id. at 287). Additionally, Plaintiff reported that she does not need to be reminded to go places, nor does she need anyone to accompany her. (Id.). According to Plaintiff, she has a driver's license and drives,  but she had to take the oral examination four times before passing it. (Id. at 36, 286).
Plaintiff's medications include Hydrochlorothiazide (HCTZ) (for high blood pressure), Naproxen (for muscle spasms), Prilosec (for her "chest"),  iron (for anemia), Tylenol with codeine (for pain), and Xanax (for "nerves"). (Id. at 280).
A. Standard of ...