United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division
KAMETHA L. REED Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Social Security Commissioner Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
KATHERINE P. NELSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) Plaintiff, Kametha
L. Reed (“Reed” or “Plaintiff) seeks
judicial review of an adverse social security ruling denying
claims for disability insurance benefits and Supplemental
Security Income (SSI) (Docs. 1, 15). With the consent of the
parties, the Court has designated the undersigned Magistrate
Judge to conduct all proceedings and order the entry of
judgment in this civil action, in accordance with 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(c), Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73, and S.D.
Ala. GenLR 73. (See Docs. 22, 24). Oral argument was
heard on March 10, 2017. After considering the administrative
record and the memoranda of the parties, it is ORDERED that
the decision of the Commissioner be AFFIRMED and that this
action be DISMISSED.
protectively applied for disability insurance benefits and
SSI on September 20, 2012, asserting a disability onset date
of February 15, 2013. (TR. at 20, 146-48; Doc. 15).
Plaintiff's applications were denied on June 28, 2013.
(TR. at 20). Plaintiff appeared and testified at a hearing
held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
on September 10, 2014. (TR. at 33-51). At the hearing,
Plaintiff amended her alleged onset date to December 1, 2013.
(Id. at 35).
time of the administrative hearing, Plaintiff was forty years
old, had completed the tenth grade and had previous work
experience as a fast food clerk and child monitor. (Doc. 15;
Fact Sheet). Plaintiff alleges disability due to Degenerative
Disc Disease of the Lumbar Spine and Osteoarthritis of the
Upper and Lower Extremities Bilaterally. (Id.). An
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) denied benefits
in a decision dated January 5, 2015, after determining that
Reed did not meet disability listing requirements; the ALJ
further found that Plaintiff was capable of performing of
light work with some restrictions. (TR. 17-32). Plaintiff
requested review of the hearing decision, but the request was
denied by the Appeals Council. (TR. 1-6).
claims that the ALJ committed reversible error (1) in
violation of 20 CFR 416.927(d) and Social Security Ruling
96-2 by failing to assign controlling weight to the opinions
of Plaintiff's treating physicians, Dr. Russell Hudgens,
M.D. and Dr. Gino DiVittorio, M.D., and instead adopting his
own medical opinion in violation of Social Security Ruling
96-6p and Marbury v. Sullivan, (2) in relying on the
opinions of a non-examining state agency doctor to formulate
his assessment of Plaintiff's Residual Functional
Capacity while rejecting the opinions of Plaintiff's
treating physicians, Dr. Russell Hudgens, M.D. and Dr. Gino
DiVittorio, M.D. in violation of the Eleventh Circuit case
law under Coleman v. Barnhart and Social Security
Ruling 96-6p, and (3) in violation of 20 C.F.R. §
404.1529(b) in failing to fulfill her duty to develop the
record by ordering a consultative orthopedic examination.
(Doc. 15 at 1-2). Defendant has responded to-and denies-these
claims. (Doc. 18).
Social Security appeals, [the Court] must determine whether
the Commissioner's decision is ‘ “supported
by substantial evidence and based on proper legal standards.
Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is such
relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” ' ”
Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176,
1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (quoting Crawford v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004) (per
curiam) (internal citation omitted) (quoting Lewis v.
Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1439 (11th Cir. 1997))).
However, the Court “ ‘may not decide the facts
anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute our judgment for
that of the [Commissioner].' ” Winschel,
631 F.3d at 1178 (quoting Phillips v. Barnhart, 357
F.3d 1232, 1240 n.8 (11th Cir. 2004) (alteration in original)
(quoting Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239
(11th Cir. 1983))). “ ‘Even if the evidence
preponderates against the [Commissioner]'s factual
findings, we must affirm if the decision reached is supported
by substantial evidence.' ” Ingram, 496
F.3d at 1260 (quoting Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d
1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990)).
within this narrowly circumscribed role, [courts] do not act
as automatons. [The court] must scrutinize the record as a
whole to determine if the decision reached is reasonable and
supported by substantial evidence[.]”
Bloodsworth, 703 F.2d at 1239 (citations and
quotation omitted). See also Owens v. Heckler, 748
F.2d 1511, 1516 (11th Cir. 1984) (per curiam) (“We are
neither to conduct a de novo proceeding, nor to rubber stamp
the administrative decisions that come before us. Rather, our
function is to ensure that the decision was based on a
reasonable and consistently applied standard, and was
carefully considered in light of all the relevant
facts.”). “In determining whether substantial
evidence exists, [a court] must…tak[e] into account
evidence favorable as well as unfavorable to the
[Commissioner's] decision.” Chester v.
Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986).
the “claimant bears the burden of demonstrating the
inability to return to [his or] her past relevant work, the
Commissioner of Social Security has an obligation to develop
a full and fair record.” Shnorr v. Bowen, 816
F.2d 578, 581 (11th Cir. 1987). See also Ellison v.
Barnhart, 355 F.3d 1272, 1276 (11th Cir. 2003) (per
curiam) (“It is well-established that the ALJ has a
basic duty to develop a full and fair record. Nevertheless,
the claimant bears the burden of proving that he is disabled,
and, consequently, he is responsible for producing evidence
in support of his claim.” (citations omitted)).
“This is an onerous task, as the ALJ must scrupulously
and conscientiously probe into, inquire of, and explore for
all relevant facts. In determining whether a claimant is
disabled, the ALJ must consider the evidence as a
whole.” Henry v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 802
F.3d 1264, 1267 (11th Cir. 2015) (per curiam) (citation and
as here, the ALJ denied benefits and the Appeals Council
denied review of that decision, the Court “review[s]
the ALJ's decision as the Commissioner's final
decision.” Doughty, 245 F.3d at 1278.
“[W]hen the [Appeals Council] has denied review, [the
Court] will look only to the evidence actually presented to
the ALJ in determining whether the ALJ's decision is
supported by substantial evidence.” Falge v.
Apfel, 150 F.3d 1320, 1323 (11th Cir. 1998).
takes issue with the fact that the ALJ did not give
controlling weight to the opinions of Dr. Russell Hudgens,
M.D. and Dr. Gino DiVittorio, M.D., Reed's treating
physicians, and, instead gave greater weight to a
non-examining state agency physician. (Doc. 15 at
2-7). Plaintiff additionally claims that the ALJ
failed to fully develop the record. (Id. at 7-8).
Because the first two issues are related, the Court will
address whether the ALJ erred in the assignment of weight
given to Plaintiff's treating physicians and the state
agency physician together.
Weight assigned to ...