United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION
Scott Coogler, United States District Judge
plaintiff, Christopher Wood, appeals from the decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying his application for
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). Mr. Wood
timely pursued and exhausted his administrative remedies and
the decision of the Commissioner is ripe for review pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).
Wood was twenty-one years old at the time of the
Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”) decision,
and he has an eighth grade education without prior work
experience. (Tr. at 28.) Mr. Wood claims that he became
disabled on September 21, 2011, due to being a slow learner,
having foot problems, attention deficit hyperactivity
disorder (“ADHD”), inability to move his left
foot, diabetes, and anxiety. (Tr. at 193.)
Social Security Administration has established a five-step
sequential evaluation process for determining whether an
individual is disabled and thus eligible for SSI.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920;
see also Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th
Cir. 2001). The evaluator will follow the steps in order
until making a finding of either disabled or not disabled; if
no finding is made, the analysis will proceed to the next
step. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4),
416.920(a)(4). The first step requires the evaluator to
determine whether the plaintiff is engaged in substantial
gainful activity (“SGA”). See Id .
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). If the
plaintiff is not engaged in SGA, the evaluator moves on to
the next step.
second step requires the evaluator to consider the combined
severity of the plaintiff's medically determinable
physical and mental impairments. See Id .
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). An
individual impairment or combination of impairments that is
not classified as “severe” and does not satisfy
the durational requirements set forth in 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1509 and 416.909 will result in a finding of
not disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). The decision depends
on the medical evidence contained in the record. See Hart
v. Finch, 440 F.2d 1340, 1341 (5th Cir. 1971)
(concluding that “substantial medical evidence in the
record” adequately supported the finding that plaintiff
was not disabled).
the third step requires the evaluator to consider whether the
plaintiff's impairment or combination of impairments
meets or is medically equal to the criteria of an impairment
listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii),
416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the criteria of a listed impairment
and the durational requirements set forth in 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1509 and 416.909 are satisfied, the
evaluator will make a finding of disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii).
plaintiff's impairment or combination of impairments does
not meet or medically equal a listed impairment, the
evaluator must determine the plaintiff's residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) before proceeding to
the fourth step. See Id . §§ 404.1520(e),
416.920(e). The fourth step requires the evaluator to
determine whether the plaintiff has the RFC to perform the
requirements of his past relevant work. See Id .
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the
plaintiff's impairment or combination of impairments does
not prevent him from performing his past relevant work, the
evaluator will make a finding of not disabled. See
fifth and final step requires the evaluator to consider the
plaintiff's RFC, age, education, and work experience in
order to determine whether the plaintiff can make an
adjustment to other work. See Id . §§
404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v). If the plaintiff can
perform other work, the evaluator will find him not disabled.
Id.; see also 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(g), 416.920(g). If the plaintiff cannot perform
other work, the evaluator will find him disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 404.1520(g),
the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that Mr.
Wood has not engaged in SGA since the application date,
September 26, 2011. (Tr. at 25.) According to the ALJ,
Plaintiff's diabetes mellitus, history of ADHD, impulse
control disorder, borderline intellectual functioning,
learning disability, and mood disorder are considered
“severe” based on the requirements set forth in
the regulations. (Id.) However, she found that these
impairments neither meet nor medically equal any of the
listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix
1. (Id.) The ALJ did not find Mr. Wood's
allegations to be totally credible, and she determined that
he has the following RFC: he can perform light work except
that he can only occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but
never climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; can frequently
balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; has no limitation
in reaching, handling, fingering, and feeling; should never
work in environments with concentrated exposure to extreme
heat, extreme cold, humidity, or wetness; should avoid
hazardous conditions such as unprotected heights and moving
machinery; can understand, remember, and carry out simple,
but not detailed or complex instructions; work place changes
should be infrequent and introduced gradually; can perform
work that needs little or no judgment and make simple,
work-related decision; can never work at a production rate
pace, but can perform goal-oriented work; can never interact
with the general public, but can occasionally interact with
co-workers and supervisors, meaning that he can be around
them throughout the workday, but would have only occasional
conversations and personal interaction, and overall would be
better dealing with things rather than people; and is capable
of sustaining concentration and attention for at least two
hour blocks of time with normal breaks throughout an
eight-hour day. (Tr. at 27.)
to the ALJ, Mr. Wood has no past relevant work, he is a
“younger individual, ” he has a “limited
education, ” and he is able to communicate in English,
as the regulations define those terms. (Tr. at 33.) She
determined that transferability of skills is not an issue
because Plaintiff has no past relevant work. (Id.)
At the final step, the ALJ used Medical-Vocational Rule
202.17 as a guideline for finding that there are a
significant number of jobs in the national economy that
Plaintiff is capable of performing, such as an entry level
assembler, a sorter, and a cleaner/housekeeper. (Tr. at 33.)
The ALJ concluded her findings by stating that Plaintiff was
not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security
Act, since September 26, 2011, the date the application was
filed. (Tr. at 34.)
Standard of Review
Court's role in reviewing claims brought under the Social
Security Act is a narrow one. The scope of its review is
limited to determining (1) whether there is substantial
evidence in the record as a whole to support the findings of
the Commissioner, and (2) whether the correct legal standards
were applied. See Stone v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.,
544 F.App'x 839, 841 (11th Cir. 2013) (citing
Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155,
1158 (11th Cir. 2004)). This Court gives deference to the
factual findings of the Commissioner, provided those findings
are supported by substantial evidence, but applies close
scrutiny to the legal conclusions. See Miles v.
Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996).
this Court may not decide facts, weigh evidence, or
substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner.
Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir.
2005) (quoting Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232,
1240 n.8 (11th Cir. 2004)). “The substantial evidence
standard permits administrative decision makers to act with
considerable latitude, and ‘the possibility of drawing
two inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does not
prevent an administrative agency's finding from being
supported by substantial evidence.'” Parker v.
Bowen, 793 F.2d 1177, 1181 (11th Cir. 1986) (Gibson, J.,
dissenting) (quoting Consolo v. Fed. Mar.
Comm'n, 383 U.S. 607, 620 (1966)). Indeed, even if
this Court finds that the proof preponderates against the
Commissioner's decision, it must affirm if the decision
is supported by substantial evidence. Miles, 84 F.3d
at 1400 (citing Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520,
1529 (11th Cir. 1990)).
no decision is automatic, for “despite th[e]
deferential standard [for review of claims], it is imperative
that th[is] Court scrutinize the record in its entirety to
determine the reasonableness of the decision reached.”
Bridges v. Bowen, 815 F.2d 622, 624 (11th Cir. 1987)
(citing Arnold v. Heckler, 732 F.2d 881, 883 (11th
Cir. 1984)). Moreover, failure to apply the correct legal
standards is grounds for reversal. See Bowen v.
Heckler, 748 F.2d 629, 635 (11th Cir. 1984).
Wood alleges that the ALJ's decision should be reversed
and remanded for eight reasons. First, he takes issue with
the ALJ's decision to give little weight to the opinion
of a two-time examining medical source. Second, he contends
that the ALJ erroneously relied on the opinion of the State
agency non-examining psychological consultant. Third, he
argues that the ALJ should have considered additional
impairments severe at step two. Fourth, he believes that the
ALJ failed to consider his impairments in combination. Fifth,
he contends that the ALJ failed to state adequate reasons for
finding him not entirely credible. With regard to the
credibility issue Plaintiff raises, he has also filed a
motion asking this Court to remand this case so that the ALJ
can conduct a new credibility determination pursuant to a new
Social Security Ruling (“SSR”) that was enacted
in March 2016, SSR 16-3p. (Doc. 12). The Commissioner has
responded in opposition to that motion. (Doc. 13). Sixth, the
plaintiff takes issue with several aspects of the ALJ's
RFC assessment. Seventh, he contends that the ALJ improperly
drew adverse inferences from his noncompliance with medical
treatment. Eighth, he argues that the ALJ improperly engaged
in “sit and squirm” jurisprudence.
Weight Given to Two-Time Examining Medical Source
Plaintiff's attorney's request, Dr. David R. Wilson,
Ph.D., examined Plaintiff twice, first on May 24, 2011, for a
consultative psychological evaluation (“CPE”) and
again over two years later, on July 9, 2013, for a follow up
He concluded at the first evaluation that
[Plaintiff] is diabetic and he has a mood disorder, with mood
swings and he does have a history of acting out. His behavior
is likely to be too unstable and unpredictable for him to
maintain a job. The combination of all of these problems
makes it unlikely that he will be able to maintain
employment. He would definitely have problems with the
problem solving and the interpersonal aspects of such
(Tr. at 529.) After the second evaluation two years later,
Dr. Wilson concluded:
If anything, his mood disturbance appears to have gotten
worse, and this may relate in part to him not being able to
afford the appropriate medication he needs for his diabetes.
He has had an increase in his moodiness and his irritability,
and these would cause him major problems in any work
environment. He would definitely have difficulty with the
interpersonal and task aspects of any job. He is not capable
of managing benefits.
(Id.) At both evaluations, Dr. Wilson completed a
Mental Medical Source Statement, opining that Plaintiff had
marked limitations due to the mood disorder (not the ADHD),
including in his ability to maintain socially appropriate
behavior and to adhere to basic standards of neatness and
cleanliness, as well as marked limitations in his ability to
maintain concentration and adaption. (Tr. at 530-31.) Dr.
Wilson diagnosed Plaintiff with bipolar disorder, history of
ADHD, and borderline intelligence. (Id.) He assessed
Plaintiff's Global Assessment of Function
(“GAF”) score to be 48, which is a serious
impairment of functioning. (Id.) The ALJ ultimately
gave little weight to Dr. Wilson's opinion because it was
not consistent with his own notes or the medical record as a
whole, including the other medical opinions of record.
weight to be afforded a medical opinion regarding the nature
and severity of a claimant's impairments depends, among
other things, upon the examining and treating relationship
the medical source had with the claimant, the evidence the
medical source presents to support the opinion, how
consistent the opinion is with the record as a whole, and the
specialty of the medical source. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1527(d), 416.927(d). A treating doctor's
opinion generally is entitled to more weight, and an ALJ must
give good reasons for discounting a treating doctor's
opinion. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c)(2);
Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176,
1179 (11th Cir. 2011). However, the opinions of one-time
examiners, i.e., non-treating doctors, are not entitled to
deference or special consideration. See Crawford,
363 F.3d at 1160; McSwain v. Bowen, 814 F.2d 617,
619 (11th Cir. 1987). Dr. Wilson did not have an ongoing
treating relationship with Plaintiff and was, therefore, an
examining physician, not a treating doctor. See 20
C.F.R. §§ 416.902, 416.927(c)(1), (c)(2). Thus, his
opinions were not entitled to any special deference. See
id. Moreover, an ALJ may discount any doctor's
opinion when the opinion is conclusory, the doctor fails to
provide objective medical evidence to support his or her
opinion, the opinion is inconsistent with the record as a
whole, or the evidence otherwise supports a contrary finding.
See 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c). A doctor's