United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
E. Ott, Chief United States Magistrate Judge
Jerry Leon Williams brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g), seeking review of the final decision of the
Acting Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying his applications for
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and
supplemental security income (“SSI”). (Doc.
The case has been assigned to the undersigned United States
Magistrate Judge pursuant to this court's general order
of reference. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction
of this court for disposition of the matter. (Doc. 14). Upon
review of the record and the relevant law, the undersigned
finds that the Commissioner's decision is due to be
filed applications for a period of disability, DIB, and SSI,
alleging disability beginning January 15, 2013. (R. 124,
131). His claims were denied initially on April
19, 2013. (R. 77). Plaintiff then requested a hearing by an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (R. 85). A
hearing was held on April 4, 2014. (R. 31). The ALJ denied
Plaintiff's request for DIB and SSI on October 24, 2014.
(R. 6). Review by the Appeals Council was requested and
denied. (R. 1). Plaintiff filed this action on June 16, 2016.
(Doc. 1 at 1). This matter is properly before the court for
review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
court's review of the Commissioner's decision is
narrowly circumscribed. The function of the court is to
determine whether the Commissioner's decision is
supported by substantial evidence and whether proper legal
standards were applied. Richardson v. Perales, 402
U.S. 389, 390, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1422 (1971); Wilson v.
Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002). The
court must “scrutinize the record as a whole to
determine if the decision reached is reasonable and supported
by substantial evidence.” Bloodsworth v.
Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983).
Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a
reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Id. It is “more than a
scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Id.
court must uphold factual findings that are supported by
substantial evidence. However, it reviews the ALJ's legal
conclusions de novo because no presumption of
validity attaches to the ALJ's determination of the
proper legal standards to be applied. Davis v.
Shalala, 985 F.2d 528, 531 (11th Cir. 1993). If the
court finds an error in the ALJ's application of the law,
or if the ALJ fails to provide the court with sufficient
reasoning for determining that the proper legal analysis has
been conducted, it must reverse the ALJ's decision.
See Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46
(11th Cir. 1991).
STATUTORY AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK
qualify for DIB and SSI under the Social Security Act, a
claimant must show the inability to 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 last for a continuous period of not less than 12
months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); 42 U.S.C.
§ 1382(a)(3)(A). A physical or mental impairment is
“an impairment that results from anatomical,
physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are
demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory
diagnostic techniques.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(3); 42
U.S.C. § 1382(a)(3)(D).
of disability under the Social Security Act requires a five
step analysis. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4).
Specifically, the Commissioner must determine in sequence:
whether the claimant: (1) is unable to engage in substantial
gainful activity; (2) has a sever medically determinable
physical or mental impairment; (3) has such an impairment
that meets or equals a Listing and meets the duration
requirements; (4) can perform his past relevant work, in
light of his residual functional capacity; and (5) can make
an adjustment to other work, in light of his residual
functional capacity, age, education, and work experience.
Evans v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 551 Fed.Appx. 521,
524 (11th Cir. 2014) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)).
Plaintiff bears the burden of proving that he was disabled
within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Moore v.
Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211 (11th Cir. 2005). The
applicable regulations “place a very heavy burden on
the claimant to demonstrate both a qualifying disability and
an inability to perform past relevant work.”
FINDINGS OF THE ALJ
was 60 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. (R.
5, 76). He possesses a 10th grade education. (R. 166). He has
worked as a brick mason, a concrete finisher, and a packer of
coat hangers. (R. 34-35). He has been unemployed since 2013.
(R. 40). As noted above, his alleged disability onset date is
January 15, 2013. (R. 37, 79). Plaintiff alleges his
disability is due to arthritis in his shoulder, back
problems, high blood pressure, and leg problems. (R. 165). He
initially experienced back pain when he bent over and tried
to pick up a box at work in about November 2012. (R. 18). He
“heard and felt a pop in his mid-back.”
found that Plaintiff's severe impairment is lumbar spine
degenerative joint disease. (R. 11). The ALJ further found
that Plaintiff has hypertension that is not “severe,
” and that there is no medical evidence establishing
alleged shoulder, leg, and neuropathy problems. (R. 17).
careful consideration of Plaintiff's impairments, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform the full range of medium work
as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(c). (R. 17). Premised on the
testimony of the vocational expert at the hearing, the ALJ
then determined that Plaintiff could perform his past
relevant work because the work does not require the
performance of activities precluded by his RFC. (R. 22).
asserts five arguments in support of reversal and remand of
his case: (1) the ALJ improperly accepted the opinion of Dr.
Thomas A. Wilson, a workers compensation treating physician,
as binding (doc. 10 at 13); (2) the ALJ improperly evaluated
the opinion of Dr. Zakir Naeem Khan, a consultative physical
examiner (id. at 13); (3) the ALJ improperly
evaluated the opinion of Dr.
Plaintiff's present treating physician (id. at
15); (4) the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff is not
precluded from past work is not supported by substantial
evidence (id. at 16); and (5) the ALJ erred in not
identifying any other medium jobs Plaintiff can perform
(id. at 17).
The ALJ properly evaluated Dr. Wilson's opinion and did
not accept the opinion as binding.
initially argues that the ALJ erred in evaluating Dr.
Wilson's opinion because he improperly accepted Dr.
Wilson's statement that Plaintiff had only a five percent
impairment rating and could return to work without
restriction as binding on his decision. (Doc. 10 at 12-13).
Plaintiff contends it also was error for the ALJ to accept as
binding a physician's statement that includes a workers
compensation ratings finding that a claimant is not disabled.
(Id. at 13). The Commissioner argues that the ALJ
properly evaluated Dr. Wilson's opinion and found that
the opinion supports his RFC assessment. (Doc. 11 at 8).
Eleventh Circuit has held that medical source statements that
a claimant is disabled for purposes of workers compensation
impairment ratings are not binding on the ALJ and that the
Social Security Act's definition of disability controls
because the ultimate issue of disability is left to the
Commissioner. Symonds v. Astrue, 448 Fed.Appx. 10,
13 (11th Cir. 2011). Here, however, there is nothing in the
ALJ's opinion to suggest that he accepted Dr.
Wilson's opinion as binding. The ALJ stated that he gave
the opinion a “great deal of ...