United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
KATHERINE P. NELSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) Plaintiff, Kristina
Bedwell, (“Bedwell” or “Plaintiff”)
seeks judicial review of an adverse social security ruling
denying disability insurance benefits. (Docs. 1, 12). 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. 15,
17). The parties moved to waive oral argument and their
request was granted. (See Docs. 15, 18). 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 beneifts income
on June 25, 2013. (Doc. 12 at 1; Tr. 130-33). Plaintiff
alleged a disability onset date of April 23, 2012. (Doc. 12
at 1; Tr. 130). Her application was initially denied on
October 1, 2013, after which she requested a hearing. (Doc.
12 at 1; Tr. 73-81). Plaintiff attended a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on January 28,
2015, and the ALJ rendered an unfavorable decision on May 5,
2015. (Doc. 12 at 1; Tr. at 12-57).
time of the administrative hearing, Plaintiff was
thirty-seven years old with a high school diploma, three
years of college courses, and previous work history as a
police dispatcher and mail carrier. (Doc. 12-1; Fact Sheet).
Plaintiff alleges she is disabled due to cervical and lumbar
degenerative disc disease, obesity, PTSD, and depression.
(Id.) On May 5, 2015, an ALJ denied benefits after
determining that Plaintiff was capable of performing a
reduced level of light work and, therefore, was not disabled.
(Tr. at 19-26). Plaintiff requested review of the hearing
decision, but the Appeals Council denied the request on
August 25, 2016. (Tr. at 1-7).
asserts four grounds for error. (Doc 12) Defendant has
responded to-and denies-that any error occurred. (Doc. 13,
generally). The issues have been fully briefed and are now
ripe for review.
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).
three of the sequential process, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
had severe impairments of cervical and lumbar degenerative
disc disease, obesity, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
and depression. (Tr. at 17).
four, 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
404.1520(d), 404.1525, and 404.1526).” (Tr. at 26). The
ALJ summarized Plaintiff's medical history as follows:
claimant began having gradually worsening neck pain with
numbness extending into her hands while working as a postal
worker. She had a fainting spell at work in January of 2012.
She was diagnosed with hypoglycemia but also started on
depression medication (Exhibit 1F, 2F). She had a nerve study
that did not show carpel tunnel syndrome. On April 30, 2012,
the claimant had an MRI of the cervical spine that showed a
small disc herniation at ¶ 5-6 and a small annular tear
at ¶ 4-5 (Exhibits 4F, 12F). She had an epidural block
on June 28, 2012 that did not provide much relief (Exhibit
6F). She was referred to Alabama Orthopedics and was seen
there on July 5, 2012. She had a cervical discogram on July
24, 2012 that showed an annular tear at ¶ 5-6 and
annular fissuring at ¶ 6-7 (Exhibit 7F). The Claimant
underwent a cervical decompression and interbody fusion on
September 4, 2012. After six weeks, she was reportedly doing
very well and released to part time work at the post office
with return to full time in one additional week. In December,
she continued to complain of cervical pain at level 3/10 and
numbness in her forearm so she was started on Neurontin and
Zanaflex. X-rays showed good placement of the hardware and
bone grafting material present. In January of 2013, she
continued to complain of worsening neck pain so an MRI was
done. The MRI showed the fusion plate from C5-7; a very
subtle bulge at ¶ 3-4 with mild canal narrowing without
foraminal stenosis; and a subtle bulge at ¶ 4-5 with
mild central canal narrowing and no foraminal stenosis. She
was then referred to pain management (Exhibit 10F). She began
physical therapy at the end of January but was discharged in
April for non-compliance (Exhibit 11F). In June of 2013, she
[had] an additional epidural steroid injection (Exhibit 14F).
determined that “[t]he claimant has the residual
functional capacity to perform a reduced level of light work
as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b). She can lift and carry up
to twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently. She
can sit for at least six hours in an eight-hour day and
stand/walk in combination at least six hours in an eight-hour
day. She can frequently reach overhead bilaterally and con
[sic] only occasionally climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds.
She cannot work at unprotected heights. She is limited to
simple, routine, repetitive tasks with no more than
occasional contact with the public.” (Id. at
asserts the following grounds for error: (1) The ALJ erred in
failing to give substantial weight, if not controlling
weight, to the opinions of the treating physician, Dr. Kidd,
(2) the ALJ erred in making an RFC assessment inconsistent
with the evidentiary record, (3) the ALJ erred in giving
greater weight to the opinion of a reviewing, non-examining
psychologist than the opinion of the treating psychiatrist,
Dr. Cummings, and (4) the ALJ erred in failing to properly
assess Ms. Bedwell's pain and medication side effects in
the RFC determination. (Doc. 12 at 2). The undersigned will
address each contention of error in turn.
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