United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff Margaret Elizabeth
Seales seeks judicial review of a final adverse decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security. The Commissioner denied
Ms. Seales's claim for a period of disability and
disability insurance benefits. After careful review, the
Court affirms the Commissioner's decision.
Seales applied for a period of disability and disability
insurance benefits on February 28, 2013. (Doc. 6-6, p. 2).
Ms. Seales alleges that her disability began on May 20, 2012.
(Doc. 6-6, p. 2). The Commissioner initially denied Ms.
Seales's claim on April 23, 2013. (Doc. 6-5, p. 2). Ms.
Seales requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(ALJ). (Doc. 6-5, p. 7). The ALJ issued an unfavorable
decision on August 7, 2014. (Doc. 6-3, pp. 58-71). On
September 17, 2015, the Appeals Council declined Ms.
Seales's request for review (Doc. 6-3, p. 2), making the
Commissioner's decision final and a proper candidate for
this Court's judicial review. See 42 U.S.C.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
scope of review in this matter is limited. “When, as in
this case, the ALJ denies benefits and the Appeals Council
denies review, ” the Court “review[s] the
ALJ's ‘factual findings with deference' and
[his] ‘legal conclusions with close
scrutiny.'” Riggs v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 522 Fed.Appx. 509, 510-11 (11th Cir. 2013)
(quoting Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th
Court must determine whether there is substantial evidence in
the record to support the ALJ's findings.
“Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is
such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Crawford v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir.
2004). In making this evaluation, the Court may not
“decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, ”
or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Winschel
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178
(11th Cir. 2011) (internal quotations and citation omitted).
If the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial
evidence, then the Court “must affirm even if the
evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's
findings.” Costigan v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec.
Admin., 603 Fed.Appx. 783, 786 (11th Cir. 2015) (citing
Crawford, 363 F.3d at 1158).
respect to the ALJ's legal conclusions, the Court must
determine whether the ALJ applied the correct legal
standards. If the Court finds an error in the ALJ's
application of the law, or if the Court finds that the ALJ
failed to provide sufficient reasoning to demonstrate that
the ALJ conducted a proper legal analysis, then the Court
must reverse the ALJ's decision. Cornelius v.
Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).
SUMMARY OF THE ALJ'S DECISION
determine whether a claimant has proven that she is disabled,
an ALJ follows a five-step sequential evaluation process. The
(1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial
gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a severe
impairment or combination of impairments; (3) whether the
impairment meets or equals the severity of the specified
impairments in the Listing of Impairments; (4) based on a
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) assessment,
whether the claimant can perform any of his or her past
relevant work despite the impairment; and (5) whether there
are significant numbers of jobs in the national economy that
the claimant can perform given the claimant's RFC, age,
education, and work experience.
Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178.
case, the ALJ found that Ms. Seales has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since May 20, 2012, the alleged
onset date. (Doc. 6-3, p. 63). The ALJ determined that Ms.
Seales suffers from the following severe impairments:
obesity, degenerative disc disease, fibromyalgia, diabetes,
sleep apnea, right hip bursitis, and osteoarthritis of the
knees. (Doc. 6-3, p. 63). The ALJ found that Ms. Seales
suffers from the following non-severe impairments:
osteopenia, left foot arthritis, trigger fingering, fecal
incontinence, diabetic neuropathy, depressive disorder, and
anxiety. (Doc. 6-3, p. 64). Based on a review of the medical
evidence, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Seales does not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that meets or
medically equals the severity of any of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
(Doc. 6-3, p. 66).
on Ms. Seales's impairments, the ALJ examined Ms.
Seales's residual functional capacity. The ALJ determined
that Ms. Seales has the RFC to perform:
light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except she can
stand/walk at most 4 hours per 8-hour day; can never climb
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; can occasionally stoop, kneel,
crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs; can occasionally
reach overhead bilaterally; can frequently engage in fine and
gross manipulation bilaterally; must avoid all exposure to
extreme vibration; and must have only occasional exposure to
unprotected heights, use of hazardous machinery, and
operational control of moving machinery.
(Doc. 6-3, p. 66). Based on this RFC, the ALJ concluded that
Ms. Seales is able to perform her past relevant work as an
assistant manager, courier, document specialist, and
cafeteria worker. (Doc. 6-3, pp. 70-71). Accordingly, the ALJ
determined that Ms. Seales has not been under a disability
within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (Doc. 6-3, p.
Seales argues that she is entitled to relief from the
ALJ's decision because the ALJ failed to properly
evaluate her subjective complaints of pain consistent with
the Eleventh Circuit's three-part pain standard.
establish a disability based on testimony of pain and other
symptoms, the claimant must satisfy two parts of a three-part
test by showing ‘(1) evidence of an underlying medical
condition; and (2) either (a) objective medical evidence
confirming the severity of the alleged pain; or (b) that the
objectively determined medical condition can reasonably be
expected to give rise to the claimed pain.'”
Zuba-Ingram v. Commissioner of Social Sec., 600
Fed.Appx. 650, 656 (11th Cir. 2015) (quoting Wilson v.
Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1225 (11th Cir. 2002) (per
curiam)). A claimant's testimony coupled with evidence
that meets this standard “is itself sufficient to
support a finding of disability.” Holt v.
Sullivan, 921 F.2d 1221, 1223 (11th Cir. 1991) (citation
omitted). If an ALJ discredits a claimant's subjective
testimony, then the ALJ “must articulate explicit and
adequate reasons for doing so.” Wilson, 284
F.3d at 1225. “While an adequate credibility finding
need not cite particular phrases or formulations[, ] broad
findings that a claimant lacked credibility . . . are not
enough. . . .” Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553,
1562 (11th Cir. 1995) (per curiam); see SSR 96-7p,
1996 WL 374186 at *2 (“The determination or decision
must contain specific reasons for the finding on credibility,
supported by the evidence in the case record, and must be
sufficiently specific to make clear to the individual and to
any subsequent reviewers the weight the adjudicator gave to
the individual's statements and the reasons for that
her administrative hearing, Ms. Seales testified that she
stopped working because she has trouble “bending,
lifting, [and] staying on [her] feet for a long period of
time.” (Doc. 6-3, p. 25). According to Ms. Seales, she
cannot sit or stand for long periods of time, and lifting
“puts a strain on [her] neck and on [her] back.”
(Doc. 6-3, p. 25). Ms. Seales testified that she walks but is
limited by neuropathy in her feet that causes stinging and
swelling. (Doc. 6-3, p. 29). At home, when Ms. Seales
finishes doing dishes, her back hurts and she has to take a
pain pill and lie down. (Doc. 6-3, p. 30). Ms. Seales
testified that she must shop for groceries slowly and that it
typically takes two to three hours to complete her shopping
because of her pain. (Doc. 6-3, pp. 31-32). Ms. Seales does
some laundry, but her husband and her daughter help with
“the bending and lifting.” (Doc. 6-3, p. 33).
When the ALJ asked Ms. Seales to explain her biggest problem,
Ms. Seales answered that “[i]t's anything that
requires the bending and lifting and just the constant
movement in my arms because I can't even dry my hair
without having to stop and rest two or three times because of
lifting up my arms.” (Doc. 6-3, p. 35). Ms. Seales
stated that she can no longer bowl, garden, or play tennis.
(Doc. 6-3, p. 38). Ms. Seales has trouble driving because she
is “limited in the movement of [her] neck so it's
very hard to . . . check [her] blind spots.” (Doc. 6-3,
Seales receives cervical blocks every four months. (Doc. 6-3,
p. 38). Between the blocks, Ms. Seales testified that she
loses feeling in her hands. (Doc. 6-3, p. 39). Ms. Seales
takes Lortab for her pain which she claims makes her
nauseous. (Doc. 6-3, p. 39). If Ms. Seales takes Lortab and
anti-nausea medicine together, then she must sleep for about
an hour and a half. (Doc. 6-3, p. 39).
explained that Ms. Seales's “medically determinable
impairments could reasonably have been expected to produce
the alleged symptoms, but the alleged intensity, persistence,
duration, and impact on functioning are not credible or
consistent with the totality of the evidence.” (Doc.
6-3, p. 67). The ALJ articulated explicit and adequate
reasons for rejecting Ms. Seales's testimony about the
severity of her back and neck pain. The ALJ rejected Ms.
Seales's subjective pain testimony because he found that
the testimony is inconsistent with the objective medical
evidence as a ...