United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
OWEN BOWDRE CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
November 4, 2011, the claimant, Cheryl Peters, protectively
applied for disability and disability insurance benefits
under Title II and Title XVIII of the Social Security Act.
(R. 143). The claimant alleged disability commencing on
September 9, 2011 because of aortic aneurysm, open heart
surgery, paralysis in right side, limited mobility in right
arm, and high blood pressure. (R. 143, 175). The Commissioner
denied the claim on April 13, 2012. (R. 85). The claimant
filed a timely request for a hearing before an Administrative
Law Judge, and the ALJ held a hearing on June 5, 2013. (R.
decision dated August 9, 2013, 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. 16-36). On October 6, 2015 the Appeals Council
denied the claimant's requests for review. (R. 1-6).
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 the ALJ properly gave
little weight to the medical opinion of the claimant's
treating physician, Dr. John Christopher Nichols.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
standard for reviewing the Commissioner's decision is
limited. This court must affirm the ALJ's decision if he
applied the correct legal standards and if substantial
evidence supports his 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-seven years old at the time of the
ALJ's final decision. (R. 59). The claimant has a high
school education with a basic paramedic license, and past
relevant work as a nurse's assistant/patient care
assistant, dispatcher for the police department, and event
planner. (R. 59, 79). The claimant alleges disability based
on aortic aneurysm, open heart surgery, paralysis in right
side, limited mobility in right arm, and high blood pressure.
and Mental Impairments
John Christopher Nichols, the claimant's primary
physician at Gardendale Physician Associates, P.C.,
consistently evaluated the claimant's controlled
hypertension every three months beginning in January 2006.
Dr. Nichols continued a fluctuating Atenolol, Lisinopril,
Losartan, Lasix, Klor, Amlodipine, and Micardis blood
pressure regimen for chronic hypertension to stabilize her
hypertension throughout seven years. (R. 221-354, 480-568).
her routine check-up with Dr. Nichols on December 20, 2008,
the claimant reported pain in her chest and back after
sneezing. An x-ray indicated no fracture; however, Dr.
Nichols prescribed Indocin for pain. Similarly, on July 10,
2009, Dr. Nichols ordered another set of x-rays after the
claimant continued to experience chest pain. The x-ray
yielded no abnormal result. Then, on January 25, 2011, the
claimant underwent a bone density study, which also yielded
no abnormal results. Despite sporadic pain complaints, the
claimant continued her three month hypertension checkups
through 2011. (R. 265-67, 273).
August 15, 2011, Dr. Nichols ordered a chest and abdominal
angiography, which showed a diffuse aneurysmal dilation of
the thoracic aorta in the ascending and descending segments;
however, the claimant's lungs looked clear. Subsequently,
an EKG performed on August ...