United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
OWEN BOWDRE CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
27, 2013, the claimant, Eliza Mae Scott, protectively applied
for supplemental social security income and disability
insurance benefits because of her status after a motor
vehicle accident with degenerative disc disease, degenerative
joint disease, and obesity. The Commissioner denied the
claims initially on August 27, 2013. The claimant timely
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge, and
that hearing took place on December 10, 2014. (R. 34, 43).
decision dated January 26, 2015, the ALJ found the claimant
not disabled under Title XVI or Title II, because medical
evidence does not support her subjective testimony. The
claimant filed a timely request for a hearing before the
Appeals Council on April 16, 2015. The Appeals Council denied
the claimant's appeal because her new evidence did not
provide a basis for changing the ALJ's decision. Thus,
the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the
Commissioner on January 26, 2015.
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 Commissioner. (R. 13, 43).
claimant presents the following issues for review:
whether the ALJ committed reversible error in applying the
subjective pain standard.
whether the ALJ committed reversible error by not properly
evaluating claimant's additional medical evidence
submitted after the ALJ's decision.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
standard for reviewing the Commissioner's decision is
limited. This court must affirm the Commissioner's
decision if the Commissioner applied the correct legal
standards and if the factual conclusions are supported by
substantial evidence. 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.
. . . presumption of validity attaches to the
[Commissioner's] legal 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, 401 (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 look only 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 cannot “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 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 52 years old at the time of the ALJ's final
decision; had completed the 9th grade; had past substantial
gainful experience as a security guard, forklift operator,
order filler, home attendant, and stylist; and alleges
disability based on her status after a motor vehicle accident
with degenerative disc disease, degenerative joint disease,
and obesity. (R. 53, 66-67, 187, 206).
claimant's problems came to light on January 26, 2013,
when Regional Paramedic transported the claimant to St.
Vincent's Birmingham Emergency Room because of whiplash
from being rear ended in a motor vehicle accident. The
claimant complained of upper back pain, midline neck pain,
and headaches, and she denied any upper or lower extremity
pain. Dr. Jerod Lindsey Lunsford, an emergency room
physician, treated the claimant, and prescribed her Lortab
(for pain) and released her the same day. Dr. Allen B. Oser,
a radiologist at St. Vincent's Hospital Radiology/Medical
Imaging, analyzed the CT taken of the claimant, and found no
evidence of acute traumatic injury or any acute abnormality,
but did find degenerative discs in her cervical spine on
January 27, 2013. (R. 237-238, 243, 247).
February 7, 2013, the claimant visited Alabama Spine and
Rehabilitation Center after her accident, complaining of
headaches and measuring her neck pain as eight on a ten point
scale. Dr. Dory Curtis, an orthopedist, found that the
claimant had a neck strain with no signs of any neurologic
problems and had normal strength in her upper extremities. On
February 11, 2013, Dr. Curtis assessed that the claimant
needed six weeks of rehabilitation with a home exercise
program. (R. 251-255).
February 7, 2013 and April 17, 2013, Alabama Spine and
Rehabilitation Center treated the claimant fourteen times and
Dr. Curtis found on March 28, 2013, that she still complained
of the same level of neck pain but had normal strength in her
upper extremities, looked and walked very comfortably, and
moved her neck well. Dr. Curtis ...