United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
BRADLEY MURRAY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Adam WL Earley brings this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), seeking judicial review
of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“the Commissioner”) denying his claim for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title
II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”) and for
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), based on
disability, under Title XVI of the Act. The parties have
consented to the exercise of jurisdiction by the Magistrate
Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), for all
proceedings in this Court. (Doc. 18 (“In accordance
with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73,
the parties in this case consent to have a United States
Magistrate Judge conduct any and all proceedings in this
case, … order the entry of a final judgment, and
conduct all post-judgment proceedings.”)). See
also Doc. 20. Upon consideration of the administrative
record, Earley's brief, the Commissioner's brief, and
the arguments made at the hearing on September 14, 2017
before the undersigned Magistrate Judge, it is determined
that the Commissioner's decision denying benefits should
applied for a period of disability and DIB, under Title II of
the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 423 - 425, and for SSI, based
on disability, under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C.
§§ 1381-1383d, on August 7, 2015, alleging
disability beginning on January 1, 2010. (Tr. 247-49, 259).
He later amended his alleged onset date to July 6, 2015. (Tr.
42). His application was denied at the initial level of
administrative review on October 22, 2015. (Tr. 132-36). On
November 3, 2015, Earley requested a hearing by an
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Tr. 146-47). After hearings
were held on January 14, 2016, April 14, 2016, and August 3,
2016, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding that
Earley was not under a disability from the date the
application was filed through the date of the decision,
August 25, 2016. (Tr. 37-48, 49-93, 94-105, 16-36). Earley
appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council, and,
on November 2, 2016, the Appeals Council denied his request
for review of the ALJ's decision, thereby making the
ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.
exhausting his administrative remedies, Earley sought
judicial review in this Court, pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) and 1383(c). (Doc. 1). The Commissioner
filed an answer on March 13, 2017 and the social security
transcript on March 14, 2017. (Docs. 12, 13). Both parties
filed briefs setting forth their respective positions. (Docs.
14, 15). Oral argument was held on September 14, 2017. (Doc.
19). The case is now ripe for decision.
CLAIM ON APPEAL
alleges that the ALJ's decision to deny him benefits is
in error for the following reason:
ALJ erred in giving superior weight to a non-examining
medical expert than to the opinion of Earley's
long-standing treating psychiatrist. (Doc. 14 at p. 2).
was born on March 1, 1990, and was 25 years old at the time
he filed his claim for benefits. (Tr. 52). Earley alleged
disability due to a variety of mental issues, including
anxiety, a torn shoulder, and hearing loss. (Tr. 63). After
serving two years in the Army and attending two years of
junior college, he graduated from Huntington College with a
degree in Business Management in May of 2015. (Tr. 54). While
in the Army, he worked in Avionics Survivability Equipment
Repair. (Tr. 55). He has worked as a fast food restaurant
cook and cashier, on the recreational staff at The Grand
Hotel, as a sales associate at several retailers, as a
salesperson at a car dealership, as a supervisor at a grocery
store, and as a bank teller. (Tr. 56-62). Earley engages in
normal life activities; such as, handling his personal care,
making easy meals, going out for walks, working out at the
gym, taking out the garbage, grocery shopping, reading,
watching TV, socializing with friends on occasion, and doing
research and social media on the computer. (Tr. 81-85). He
has a driver's license and is able to drive. (Tr. 53-54).
After conducting several hearings, the ALJ made a
determination that Earley had not been under a disability
during the relevant time period, and thus, was not entitled
to benefits. (Tr.19-31).
considering all of the evidence, the ALJ made the following
findings that are relevant to the issues presented in his
March 23, 2015 decision:
In activities of daily living, the claimant has mild
restriction. On October 21, 2015, Linda Duke, Ph.D. (DDS
reviewing psychologist) completed and signed a Psychiatric
Review Technique (Exhibit 1A). After reviewing the medical
evidence of record, Dr. Duke stated that the claimant has
mild restriction of activities of daily living (Exhibit 1A).
On February 16, 2016, the claimant was examined by Kim
Whitchard, Ph.D. in a mental consultative examination
(Exhibit 9F). Dr. Whitchard stated that the claimant is 25
years old (Exhibit 9F). Dr. Whitchard stated that the
claimant "goes to the gym and exercises every day. He
then comes home, showers, and watches movies. He is able to
perform ADL's." (Exhibit 9F). Additionally, Dr.
Whitchard noted, “He does have a driver's license
and is able to drive himself. He drove himself to the
evaluation." (Exhibit 9F). After considering the overall
record as to the claimant's abilities of daily living,
the undersigned finds that he has mild limitation in this
area of functioning.
In social functioning, the claimant has moderate
difficulties. Dr. Duke stated that the claimant has moderate
difficulties in maintaining social functioning (Exhibit 1A).
Dr. Whitchard stated that the claimant "described his
childhood as 'good, loving ... He has never been married
and has no children. He currently lives with his maternal
grandmother." (Exhibit 9F). After considering the
overall record as to the claimant's abilities of social
functioning, the undersigned finds that he has moderate
limitation in this area of functioning.
With regard to concentration, persistence or pace, the
claimant has moderate difficulties. Dr. Duke stated that the
claimant has moderate difficulties in maintaining
concentration, persistence or pace (Exhibit 1A). Dr.
Whitchard stated that the claimant was in the U.S. Army for
two years (Exhibit 9F). Dr. Whitchard stated that the
claimant “obtained an AA from Faulkner in 2013. He
received a BA in Business Management from Huntington College
in 2015." (Exhibit 9F). Dr. Whitchard stated that the
claimant “was able to perform serial 7's. He was
able to perform serial 4's. He was able to calculate 3 of
3 multiplication questions. He was able to calculate 2 of 2
simple word problems."(Exhibit 9F). In the third
hearing, the medical expert testified that the claimant would
not meet listings 12.04 or 12.06 (Hearing Testimony). ...