United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c), plaintiff
Angela Caudle seeks judicial review of a final adverse
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. The
Commissioner denied Ms. Caudle's claims for a period of
disability and disability insurance benefits and supplemental
security income. For the reasons stated below, the Court
affirms the Commissioner's decision.
Caudle applied for a period of disability and disability
insurance benefits and supplemental security income on July
30, 2012. (R. 183, 186). Ms. Caudle alleges that her disability
began December 27, 2010. (R. 19, 183, 186). The Commissioner
initially denied Ms. Caudle's application on November 15,
2012. (R. 215-219). Ms. Caudle requested a hearing before an
administrative law judge (ALJ). (R. 222-223). The ALJ issued
an unfavorable decision on July 17, 2014. (R. 16-29). On
January 19, 2016, the Appeals Council declined Ms.
Caudle's request for review (R. 1), making the
Commissioner's decision final and a proper candidate for
this Court's judicial review. See 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) & 1383(c).
Caudle's July 30, 2012 benefits application is not her
first. On September 10, 2010, she applied for a period of
disability and disability insurance benefits and supplemental
security income. In the 2010 application, Ms. Caudle alleged
disability beginning on April 26, 2009. (R. 167). The
Commissioner denied Ms. Caudle's 2010 application on
December 30, 2010. (R. 20, 167). Ms. Caudle requested and had
a hearing before an ALJ on May 2, 2012. (R. 167). On May 11,
2012, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision regarding Ms.
Caudle's 2010 claim. (R. 167-78). Ms. Caudle did not
appeal the ALJ's May 11, 2012 decision; therefore, the
May 11, 2012 decision became final. (See R. 20).
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 factual 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 evaluating the administrative record, 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 substantial evidence supports the ALJ's
factual findings, 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. Ingram v. Comm'r
of Soc. Sec. Admin., 496 F.3d 1253, 1260 (11th Cir.
2007) (citing 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. Caudle had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since May 12, 2012. (R. 22). The
ALJ determined that Ms. Caudle suffers from the following
severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar
spine with spondylosis, major depressive disorder without
psychosis, episodic cannabis abuse in reported remission, and
posttraumatic stress disorder. (R. 22). Based on a review of
the medical evidence, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Caudle does
not have an impairment or a 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. (R.
light of Ms. Caudle's impairments, the ALJ evaluated Ms.
Caudle's residual functional capacity. The ALJ determined
that Ms. Caudle has the RFC to:
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b) except: she can perform simple routine tasks
requiring no more than short simple instructions and simple
work related decision making with few work place changes. She
can have occasional interactions with co-workers and
supervisors and no interactions with members of the general
(R. 24). Based on this RFC and the testimony of a vocational
expert, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Caudle is able to perform
her past relevant work as a housekeeper, a sewing machine
operator, and a welding machine operator. (R. 29).
Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Ms. Caudle has not been
under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security
Act. (R. 29). The ALJ also determined that no grounds exist
to reopen the May 11, 2012 decision denying Ms. Caudle's
previous application for a period of disability and
supplemental security income. (R. 20). Accordingly, the ALJ
found that res judicata applies through May 11, 2012. (R.
20). Ms. Caudle does not challenge the ALJ's decision not
to reopen the May 11, 2012 decision. (See Doc. 9).
Caudle argues that she is entitled to relief from the
ALJ's decision because the ALJ failed to give proper
weight to the opinions of three consultative examiners and
because the ALJ did not properly evaluate her subjective pain
testimony under with the Eleventh Circuit pain standard.
(Doc. 9, pp. 1-2). The Court considers these arguments in
THE ALJ GAVE PROPER WEIGHT TO THE OPINIONS OF MS.
CAUDLE'S EXAMINING PHYSICIANS
Caudle contends that the ALJ did not properly evaluate and
give weight to the opinions of three consultative examiners:
Dr. Belvia W. Matthews, Dr. William D. McDonald, and Dr. ...