United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Northern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
KATHERINE P. NELSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) Plaintiff, Willie James
Caffey, Jr., (“Caffey” or “Plaintiff) seeks
judicial review of an adverse social security ruling denying
disability insurance benefits. (Docs. 1, 16). 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,
23). The parties moved to waive oral argument and their
request was granted. (See Docs. 21, 24). 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 on May
20, 2013. (Doc. 16 at 1; Tr. 1301-38). Plaintiff alleged a
disability onset date of November 3, 2012. (Tr. at 18; 73).
Plaintiff's application was initially denied on July 5,
2013, after which he requested a hearing. (Doc. 16 at 1; Tr.
82-86, 89-93). Plaintiff attended a video hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on August 13,
2014, and the ALJ rendered an unfavorable decision on
December 24, 2014. (Doc. 16 at 1; Tr. at 12-70).
time of his application, Plaintiff was forty years old, had
completed the twelfth grade plus one year of trade school,
and had previous work history as a shipping supervisor,
shipping and receiving clerk, and warehouse worker. (Doc. 15;
Tr. at 55). Plaintiff alleges he is disabled due to left
clavicle fracture, left rotator cuff repair, essential
hypertension, degenerative joint disease, tendinosis, chronic
severe pain, depression, right arm and shoulder pain,
numbness in hands, side effects of medications, neck pain,
and back pain. (Doc. 15). On December 24, 2014, an ALJ denied
benefits after determining that Plaintiff was capable of
performing a limited range of light work. (Tr. at 19-27).
Plaintiff requested review of the hearing decision, but the
Appeals Council denied the request on May 24, 2016.
(Id. at 1-9). On July 22, 2016, Plaintiff filed the
instant action asserting three grounds for error. (Doc. 1;
Doc. 16). The issues have been briefed and are ripe for
review. (Docs. 16, 19).
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).
two of the sequential process, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
had the following severe impairments: “status post
osteotomy of left clavicular malunion; open reduction and
internal fixation of left clavicle with bone grafting
(1/25/13) with revision of open reduction and internal
fixation of clavicle nonunion with additional bone grafting
(4/18/14), and osteoarthritis (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).”
(Tr. at 17). At step three, the ALJ found that “[t]he
claimant does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1(20 CFR, 4104.1520(c), 404.1525 and
404.1526).” (Id. at 18). The ALJ then
determined Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity
(“RFC”) as follows:
After careful consideration of the entire record, the
undersigned administrative law judge finds that the Claimant
has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as
defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except Claimant can stand
and/or walk at least six hours over the course of an
eight-hour workday. Claimant cannot climb ladders, ropes,
poles, or scaffolds. Claimant can frequently climb ramps and
stairs. Claimant is not limited in the use of his lower
extremities. Claimant can occasionally use his left upper
extremity for reaching overhead, pushing, and pulling.
Claimant is not otherwise limited in the use of his
extremities. Claimant can occasionally work in extreme cold.
Claimant can frequently work in humidity, wetness, and
extreme heat. Claimant cannot work at unprotected heights.
Claimant cannot work with operating hazardous machinery.
Claimant can occasionally operate motorized vehicles.
Claimant can occasionally work while exposed to vibration
affecting his upper extremities.
(Tr. at 19). With the help of a vocational expert, the ALJ
then determined, at step five, that Plaintiff was capable of
performing his past relevant work as a shipping supervisor as
generally performed, but not as actually performed. (Tr. at
26). The ALJ additionally determined that Plaintiff was
capable of performing other jobs which existed in the
national economy and that Plaintiff was not disabled.
(Id. at 26-27).
asserts the following grounds for error: (1) the ALJ's
determination that Plaintiff can return to his past relevant
work is not supported by substantial evidence, (2) the ALJ
erred in not including a statement of Plaintiff's pain
and its functional effects and erred in assessing
Plaintiff's credibility; and (3) the ALJ was biased,
incapable of conducting a non-adversarial hearing, and should
have recused himself. (Doc. 16 at 1-2). Defendant contends
the ALJ's decision was based on substantial evidence,
that the ALJ properly assessed Plaintiff's pain, and that
recusal was unwarranted. (Doc. 19, generally). The
undersigned will address each contention of error in turn.
asserts that the ALJ erred in determining that Plaintiff
could return to his previous position as a shipping
supervisor because Plaintiff's previous job was a
composite job (warehouse worker, shipping and receiving
clerk, and shipping supervisor) that required additional
physical abilities which the ALJ did not properly consider.
In support of his position, Plaintiff points to the
description of his job that he provided in his application
which stated as follows:
I loaded and unloaded trucks. I had to stack boxes of
merchandise, by hand, that ranged from 30 lbs to 85 lbs up to
6 feet high and placed them on the floor in stacks depending
on the size of the boxes. I would then have to later move the
boxes and stack them on a pallet, by hand, from 4-5 feet
high, before moving the pallet by forklift for shipping. I
loaded and unloaded trucks by hand and by forklift. It began
[sic] too difficult for me to operate the forklift due to the
constant turning of the forklift and I got where I also could
not stack them by hand due to the limited mobility that I was
having due to my lft clavicle/lft rotator cuff injury. I also
had to stamp all the boxes that I proceeded (lot numbers,
shipping dates, and weight of the boxes). I kept a shipping
and receiving log. (Tr. 159).
(Doc. 16 at 2). Based on the above physical requirements,
Plaintiff asserts that substantial evidence does not support
that Plaintiff could return to his previous work.
initial matter, Plaintiff does not allege that the RFC
determined by the ALJ is not supported by substantial
evidence. Rather, Plaintiff alleges that after determining
his RFC, the ALJ improperly considered Plaintiff's past
relevant work of a shipping supervisor as light work and,
therefore, improperly determined that Plaintiff could to
return to that position based on his RFC. However, Plaintiff
does not address the fact that while the ALJ determined
Plaintiff could return to his previous position, he
specifically noted that such a return would be based on the
job as generally performed, not as Plaintiff performed it.
(Tr. at 26) (“The vocational expert testified that the
claimant could perform work as a Shipping supervisor per
the DOT but not per his testimony. As noted above, the
DOT indicates that this work activity is performance of work
activity at the light exertional level. Accordingly, although
the claimant may not be able to perform work as a Shipping
supervisor as actually performed, the claimant would
be able to perform past relevant work as Shipping supervisor
as generally performed.”) The record is clear
that the ALJ properly evaluated the exertional demands of
Plaintiffs past work based on Plaintiffs testimony and
acknowledged that Plaintiff performed his previous job at a
medium level, and not the light level that the RFC dictated.
Therefore, Plaintiffs position that the ALJ erred by failing
to consider all of the physical duties of Plaintiffs
composite job, when determining that Plaintiff could return
to his past relevant work as a shipping supervisor, is
without merit. Namely, because the ALJ did not determine that
Plaintiff could return to his previous job as it was
performed by Plaintiff or that his previous work, as
performed, was at the light exertional level. Further, there
is no evidence that the ALJ erred in determining that
Plaintiff could return to his previous position as a shipping
supervisor, as it was generally performed. For the reasons
set forth above, Plaintiffs first assignment of error is
second assignment of error is that the ALJ erred in not
including a statement of Plaintiff s pain and its functional
effects and that he improperly assessed Plaintiffs
credibility. (Doc. 16 at 4). Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ
erroneously cherry-picked small portions of Dr. King's
(Plaintiffs treating physician) deposition testimony to
discredit Plaintiff. (Doc. 16 at 4). In support of his
position, Plaintiff refers to the testimony of Dr. King,
wherein Dr. King explained that “there's going to
be periods of time, several days out of the month or
whatever, where he may have issues with that and not be able
to complete that task […] Because of pain related to
the shoulder, sure.” (Doc. 16 at 4; Tr. 495). Plaintiff
also asserts that another portion of Dr. King's
testimony, contrary to the ALJ opinion, makes it clear that
Dr. King was not confused about the exertional level of