United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Eastern Division
OWEN BOWDRE CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
14, 2012, the claimant, Kathie Wilson, protectively applied
for disability and disability insurance benefits under Title
II and part A of Title XVIII of the Social Security Act. (R.
126). The claimant initially alleged disability commencing on
February 1, 2010. (R. 126). The Commissioner denied the claim
on July 23, 2012. (R. 60). The claimant filed a timely
request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge, and
the ALJ held a hearing on October 23, 2013. (R. 5, 27).
decision dated January 21, 2014, the ALJ found that the
claimant was not disabled as defined by the Social Security
Act and was, therefore, ineligible for social security
benefits. (R. 8-26). On June 4, 2015 the Appeals Council
denied the claimant's requests for review. (R. 1-4).
Consequently, the ALJ's decision became the final
decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration. The claimant has exhausted her administrative
remedies, and this court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42
U.S.C. §§405(g) and 1383(c) (3). For the reasons
stated below, this court AFFIRMS the decision of the
issue before the court is whether, under the Eleventh
Circuit's pain standard, the ALJ properly assessed the
claimant's subjective complaints of disabling pain.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
standard for reviewing the Commissioner's decision is
limited. This court must affirm the ALJ's decision if the
ALJ applied the correct legal standards and if substantial
evidence supports the ALJ's factual conclusions.
See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Graham v.
Apfel, 129 F.3d 1420, 1422 (11th Cir. 1997); Walker
v. Bowen, 826 F.2d 996, 999 (11th Cir. 1987).
of validity attaches to the [Commissioner's] legal
conclusions, including determination of the proper standards
to be applied in evaluating claims.” Walker,
826 F.2d at 999. This court does not review the
Commissioner's factual determinations de novo.
The court will affirm those factual determinations that are
supported by substantial evidence. “Substantial
evidence” is “more than a mere scintilla. It
means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 402 (1971).
court must keep in mind that opinions, such as whether a
claimant is disabled, the nature and extent of a
claimant's residual functional capacity, and the
application of vocational factors, “are not medical
opinions, …but are, instead, opinions on issues
reserved to the Commissioner because they are administrative
findings that are dispositive of a case; i.e., that would
direct the determination or decision of disability.” 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(d), 416.927(d). Whether the
claimant meets the listing and is qualified for Social
Security disability benefits is a question reserved for the
ALJ, and the court “may not decide facts anew, reweigh
the evidence, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the
Commissioner.” Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d
1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005). Thus, even if the court were to
disagree with the ALJ about the significance of certain
facts, the court has no power to reverse that finding as long
as substantial evidence in the record supports it.
court must “scrutinize the record in its entirety to
determine the reasonableness of the [Commissioner]'s
factual findings.” Walker, 826 F.2d at 999. A
reviewing court must not only look to those parts of the
record that support the decision of the ALJ, but also must
view the record in its entirety and take account of evidence
that detracts from the evidence relied on by the ALJ.
Hillsman v. Bowen, 804 F.2d 1179, 1180 (11th Cir.
42 U.S.C. § 423(d) (1) (A), a person is entitled to
disability benefits when the person is unable to
“engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason
of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment
which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted
or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not
less than 12 months….” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)
(1) (A). To make this determination the Commissioner employs
a five-step, sequential evaluation process:
(1) Is the person presently unemployed?
(2) Is the person's impairment severe?
(3) Does the person's impairment meet or equal one of the
specific impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt.
P, App. 1?
(4) Is the person unable to perform his or her former
(5) Is the person unable to perform any other work within the
An affirmative answer to any of the above questions leads
either to the next question, or, on steps three and five, to
a finding of disability. A negative answer to any question,
other than step three, leads to a determination of “not
McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir.
1986); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.
claimant was fifty-four years old at the time of the
ALJ's final decision. (R. 30). The claimant has a tenth
grade education and past relevant work as a retail
salesperson, manager, administrative assistant, receptionist,
and bookkeeper. (R. 32, 196). The claimant alleges disability
based on depression, high blood pressure, COPD, Lupus,
Fibromyalgia, Osteoarthritis, and Osteoporosis. (R. 164).
and Mental Impairments
April 10, 2009, the claimant visited Dr. Michael I. Hanna at
Anniston Medical Clinic, her primary physician, regarding
Hyperlipidemia, Hypertension, and Depression. Dr. Hanna
reported positive improvement in all three areas.
Subsequently, on July 27, 2009, all examinations showed no
distinct abnormalities, although the claimant expressed
concern about an episode of chest pain. Dr. Hanna referred
the claimant to Dr. Stephen Baker, a cardiologist at
Cardiovascular Associates of the Southeast, for a definitive
cardiac assessment. (R. 293).
29, 2009, Dr. Baker performed a routine cardiac assessment
that identified several CV risk factors that were assessed by
cardiac catheterization. After a left heart catheterization
with coronary angiography yielded negative results, Dr. Baker
prescribed Nexium and recommended GI evaluation and workup
for noncardiac causes of chest pain. Similarly, Dr. Joel
Mixon, a radiologist, found no abnormalities after evaluating
x-ray results. (R. 222-25, 238).
claimant returned to Dr. Hanna on August 21, 2009 for
treatment of acute sinusitis and bronchitis. Dr. Hanna
prescribed Rocephin, Kenalog, and Augmentin, and ordered a
chest x-ray. He also notes in his report that he gave her
extensive counseling on smoking cessation. On August 26,
2009, the chest ex-ray showed hyperinflation, so Dr. Hanna
began the claimant on an aggressive antibiotic. (R. 293-94).
September 3, 2009, Dr. Mohammed K. Shubair, a pulmonologist
at Anniston Medical Clinic, evaluated and diagnosed the
claimant with COPD. Dr. Shubair explained to the claimant
that COPD, caused by smoking, induced the claimant's
shortness of breath. He counseled her about smoking cessation
again, and prescribed Symbicort and steroid therapy. Dr.
Shubair also ordered an echocardiogram, ASR, CRP, and Alpha 1
Antitrypsin test. Two weeks later, Dr. Shubiar evaluated the
echocardiogram results, finding a borderline mitral valve and
a mild obstructive defect caused by mild COPD, secondary to
smoking. Dr. Shubiar again encouraged the claimant to quit
smoking, discharged her as a patient, and recommended that
she returned to Dr. Hanna for regular follow ups. (R. 291,
on December 4, 2009 Dr. Hanna evaluated the progression of
the claimant's COPD. The claimant reported improvement