United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
WALLACE CAPEL, JR., CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Wade Long (“Plaintiff”) filed an application for
disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social
Security Act, alleging he became disabled on October 1, 2009.
Plaintiff later amended his alleged onset date to January 15,
2014. Plaintiff's application was denied at
the initial administrative level. He then requested and
received a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). Following the hearing, the ALJ issued an
unfavorable decision on April 23, 2015, and the Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. The
ALJ's decision consequently became the final decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”). See Chester v. Bowen,
792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986). The case is now before
the court for review of that decision under 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), both parties
have consented to the conduct of all proceedings and entry of
a final judgment by the undersigned United States Magistrate
Judge. Pl.'s Consent to Jurisdiction (Doc. 15);
Def.'s Consent to Jurisdiction (Doc. 14). Based on the
court's review of the record and the briefs of the
parties, the court AFFIRMS the decision of the Commissioner.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A), a person is entitled to
benefits when the person is unable 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
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).
this determination, the Commissioner employs a five-step,
sequential evaluation process. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520, 416.920 (2011).
(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 [the Listing of Impairments]?
(4) Is the person unable to perform his or her former
(5) Is the person unable to perform any other work within the
economy? 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
McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir.
burden of proof rests on a claimant through Step Four.
See Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1237-39
(11th Cir. 2004). A claimant establishes a prima
facie case of qualifying disability once they have
carried the burden of proof from Step One through Step Four.
At Step Five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner, who must
then show there are a significant number of jobs in the
national economy the claimant can perform. Id.
perform the fourth and fifth steps, the ALJ must determine
the claimant's Residual Functional Capacity
(“RFC”). Id. at 1238-39. The RFC is what
the claimant is still able to do despite the claimant's
impairments and is based on all relevant medical and other
evidence. Id. It may contain both exertional and
nonexertional limitations. Id. at 1242-43. At the
fifth step, the ALJ considers the claimant's RFC, age,
education, and work experience to determine if there are jobs
available in the national economy the claimant can perform.
Id. at 1239. To do this, the ALJ can either use the
Medical Vocational Guidelines (“grids”),
see 20 C.F.R. pt. 404 subpt. P, app. 2, or call a
vocational expert (“VE”). Id. at
grids allow the ALJ to consider factors such as age,
confinement to sedentary or light work, inability to speak
English, educational deficiencies, and lack of job
experience. Each factor can independently limit the number of
jobs realistically available to an individual.
Phillips, 357 F.3d at 1240. Combinations of these
factors yield a statutorily-required finding of
“Disabled” or “Not Disabled.”
court's review of the Commissioner's decision is a
limited one. This court must find the Commissioner's
decision conclusive if it is supported by substantial
evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Graham v. Apfel,
129 F.3d 1420, 1422 (11th Cir. 1997). “Substantial
evidence is more than a scintilla, but less than a
preponderance. It is such relevant evidence as a reasonable
person would accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 401 (1971); see also Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004) (“Even
if the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's
findings, [a reviewing court] must affirm if the decision
reached is supported by substantial evidence.”). A
reviewing court may not look only to those parts of the
record which support the decision of the ALJ, but instead
must view the record in its entirety and take account of
evidence which detracts from the evidence relied on by the
ALJ. Hillsman v. Bowen, 804 F.2d 1179 (11th Cir.
[The court must] . . . scrutinize the record in its entirety
to determine the reasonableness of the [Commissioner's] .
. . factual findings. . . . No similar presumption of
validity attaches to the [Commissioner's] . . . legal
conclusions, including determination of the proper standards
to be applied in evaluating claims.
Walker v. Bowen, 826 F.2d 996, 999 (11th Cir. 1987).
was fifty years old on the date of the hearing before the
ALJ, and has a high school education. Tr. 30-31. Following
the administrative hearing, and employing the five-step
process, the ALJ found at Step One that Plaintiff “did
not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period
from his alleged onset date of January 15, 2014[, ] through
his date last insured of December 31, 2014[.]” Tr. 16.
At Step Two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffers from the
following severe impairments: “obesity with reports of
pain of unknown etiology and sciatica.” Tr. 16. At Step
Three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff “[t]hrough the date
last insured, . . . did not have an impairment or combination
of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of
one of the listed impairments[.]” Tr. 17. Next, the ALJ
articulated Plaintiff's RFC as follows:
After careful consideration of the entire record, the
undersigned finds that, through the last date insured, the
claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform
medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) except that the
claimant can stand and/or walk at least one hour without
interruption and a total of at least six hours over the
course of an eight-hour workday. The claimant can sit at
least two hours without interruption and a total of at least
six hours over the course of an eight-hour workday. The
claimant cannot climb ropes, poles, or scaffolds. The
claimant can occasionally climb ladders, ramps and stairs.
The claimant can frequently use his upper extremities for
reaching overhead. The claimant can frequently use his lower
extremities for pushing, pulling and the operation of foot
controls. The claimant can frequently balance, stoop, kneel
and crouch. The claimant can occasionally crawl. The claimant
can frequently work in humidity, wetness and extreme
temperatures. The claimant can frequently work in poorly
ventilated areas. The claimant cannot work at unprotected
heights. The claimant can frequently work with operating
hazardous machinery. The claimant can frequently operate
motorized vehicles. The claimant can frequently work while
exposed to vibration.
17-18. At Step Four, having consulted with a VE, the ALJ
concluded that, given Plaintiff's RFC “[t]hrough
the date last insured, the claimant was capable of performing
past relevant work as a textile supervisor [ ] and tow motor
operator/winder/card operator/pinner[.]” Tr. 19. The
ALJ noted that “[t]his work did not require the
performance of work-related activities precluded by the
claimant's residual functional capacity[.]” Tr. 19.
The ALJ further found that, “[a]lthough [Plaintiff] is
capable of performing past relevant work there are other jobs
existing in the national economy that he is also able to
perform.” Tr. 20. Thus, the ALJ found, as an alternate
finding for Step Five, that “considering
[Plaintiff's] age, education, work experience, and
residual functional capacity, there were other jobs that
existed in significant numbers in the national economy that
[Plaintiff] could have performed[.]” Tr. 20. The ALJ
identified several representative occupations, including
packager, store laborer, and janitor. Tr. 21. Accordingly,
the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff “was not under a
disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, at any
time from January 15, 2014, the amended alleged onset date,
through December 31, 2014, the date last insured[.]”
presents five issues to this court which he claims are
reversible error. First, Plaintiff argues that “[t]he
ALJ failed to accord proper weight to the treating physician,
Dr. Dolores Victoria[, ]” and that the “[t]he ALJ
substituted his own opinion for the opinion of Dr. Dolores
Victoria.” Doc. 11 at 1. Second, Plaintiff argues that
“[t]he [f]inding that [he] can perform past work is not
supported by [s]ubstantial [e]vidence and is not in
accordance with proper legal standards.” Id.
Third, Plaintiff argues that he “Meets Grid Rule
201.14.” Id. Fourth, Plaintiff argues that
“[t]he case should be remanded because the ALJ failed
to assess the intensity and persistence of [his] symptoms
pursuant to Social Security Ruling 16-3p.” Id.
Finally, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ “failed to
consider all of [his] severe impairments.” Id.
Whether the ALJ erred in failing to give appropriate weight
to the opinions of Plaintiff's treating
opinions are statements from physicians and psychologists or
other acceptable medical sources that reflect judgments about
the nature and severity of [the claimant's]
impairment(s), including [the claimant's] symptoms,
diagnosis and prognosis, what [the claimant] can still do
despite impairment(s), and [the claimant's] physical or
mental restrictions.” 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1527(a)(2), 416.927(a)(2). Absent “good cause,
” an ALJ is to give the medical opinions of treating
physicians “substantial or considerable weight.”
Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1440 (11th Cir.
1997); see also 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1527(d)(1)-(2), 416.927(d)(1)-(2). Good cause to discount
a treating physician's opinion exists “when the:
(1) treating physician's opinion was not bolstered by the
evidence; (2) evidence supported a contrary finding; or (3)
treating physician's opinion was conclusory or
inconsistent with the doctor's own medical
records.” Phillips, 357 F.3d at 1241. With
good cause, an ALJ may disregard a treating physician's
opinion, but he “must clearly articulate [the]
reasons” for doing so. Id. at 1240-41. The
Eleventh Circuit has recently re-emphasized that courts
“will not second guess the ALJ about the weight the
treating physician's opinion deserves so long as he
articulates a specific justification for it.”
Hunter v. Soc. Sec. Admin., Comm'r, 808 F.3d
818, 823 (11th Cir. 2015).
Plaintiff argues the ALJ committed reversible error by giving
little weight to the opinion of Plaintiff's treating
physician, Dr. Dolores Victoria. Doc. 11 at 6-8. Dr. Victoria
completed a functional capacity evaluation of Plaintiff on
December 9, 2014, which concluded, inter alia, that
Plaintiff had chronic and continuous pain as a result of a
medical condition; that he would need to rest constantly
during the day; and that, as a result of his condition,
attendant limitations, pain and/or any side effects of
medication(s), Plaintiff “would miss three or more days
per month from work.” Tr. 262.
afforded Dr. Victoria's opinion “little
weight.” Tr. 20. In so doing, the ALJ provided the
The [Social Security] Regulations [ ] recognize that treating
sources are important sources of medical evidence and that
their opinions about the nature and severity of an
individual's impairment are entitled to special
significance, and sometimes the medical opinions of treating
sources are entitled to controlling [weight]. However, it is
an error to give an opinion controlling weight simply because
it is the opinion of the treating source if it is not well
supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory
diagnostic techniques or it is inconsistent with the other
substantial evidence in the case record[.] Dr.
Victoria's opinion is not consistent with the totality of
the evidence, including the treatment notes and diagnostic
tests. In fact, the treatment notes really show very little
impairment at all. Accordingly, this opinion is
therefore given minimal evidentiary weight[.]
Tr. 19 (emphasis added).
review of the ALJ's opinion in its entirety further
supports the ALJ's reasoning for discounting Dr.
Victoria's opinion. Specifically, the ALJ noted that
Plaintiff's “[p]hysical examinations were generally
unremarkable[, ]” and that he was “noted to have
normal range of motion, muscle strength, and stability in all
extremities, with no pain on inspection and no edema.”
Tr. 18-19. The ALJ also noted that “[r]ecords dated
since the amended alleged onset date are also rather
unremarkable. Although [Plaintiff] complained of intense
pain, February, April and June 2014 physical examination
records all note normal range of motion, muscle strength, and
stability in all extremities with no pain on inspection. . .
. A lumbar x-ray was negative.” Tr. 19. Further, the
ALJ noted that Plaintiff's “ability to maintain his
household, live alone, and drive, in conjunction with the
medical evidence demonstrating minimal abnormalities,
reflect[ed] a significant functional capacity and not an
individual unable to sustain regular and continuing work due
to medically determinable impairments.” Tr. 19. In sum,
the ALJ concluded that, “[w]hile records confirm some
complaints of back pain, there is little to establish any
other impairments, and findings on exam are fairly
normal.” Tr. 19.
noted previously, an ALJ must give the opinion of a treating
physician “substantial or considerable weight unless
good cause is shown to the contrary.”
Phillips, 357 F.3d at 1240. “Good cause exists
‘when the: (1) treating physician's opinion was not
bolstered by the evidence; (2) evidence supported a contrary
finding; or (3) treating physician's opinion was
conclusory or inconsistent with the doctor's own medical
records.'” Id. at 1240-41. Dr.
Victoria's opinion was discounted in large part due to
the fact that subjective medical records did not support Dr.
Victoria's opinion. Indeed, the ALJ noted that physical
examinations of Plaintiff were unremarkable, and that he was
noted to have normal range of motion, muscle strength, and
stability in all extremities, with no pain on
inspection. Tr. 19; Tr. 248 (Ex. F) (physician report on
April 9, 2014, noting that Plaintiff has “[n]ormal
range of motion, muscle strength, and stability in all
extremities with no pain on inspection.”). This reason
is considered “good cause” to discount the
opinion of Dr. Victoria. See Phillips, 357 F.2d at
1240. And, because the Eleventh Circuit directs courts not to
second guess the ALJ's discount of a physician's
opinion so long as the ALJ provides proper reasoning, the
undersigned's inquiry ends with the conclusion that the
ALJ provided proper justification for discounting the opinion
of Dr. Victoria. See Hunter, 808 F.3d at
823. Accordingly, Plaintiff's argument fails.
Whether the ALJ erred in finding that Plaintiff could perform
argues that the ALJ's decision should be reversed because
the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff can perform past work is
not supported by substantial evidence, nor is it in
accordance with proper legal standards. Doc. 11 at 8-10.
Plaintiff challenges the ALJ's failure to “consider
any of the duties of [Plaintiff's] past work” and
his failure to evaluate Plaintiff's “ability to
perform those duties in spite of his impairments.”
Id. He points the court to several cases where the
court found reversible error when the ALJ failed to develop
the particulars of the plaintiff's past relevant work.
Id. at 8-10 (citing Johnson v. Colvin, No.
8:14-cv-0041-T-27TBM, 2015 WL 1423127 (M.D. Fla. March 27,
2015); Butler v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., Case No.
8:15-cv-2356-T-27JSS, 2016 WL 7217253 (M.D. Fla. Nov. 11,
2016); and Lucas v. Sullivan, 918 F.2d 1567 (11th
Security Ruling 82-62 provides that, in finding that an
individual has the capacity to perform a past relevant job,
the determination must contain a “specific finding[ ]
of fact . . . as to the physical and mental demands of the
past job/occupation.” SSR 82-62 (S.S.A.), 1982 WL 31386
at *4. The Ruling further provides that a claimant can return
to past relevant work if he can perform the specific job he
performed, either in the manner he performed it, or as it is
usually performed in the national economy. See Dudley v.
Apfel, 75 F.Supp.2d 1381, 1382 (N.D.Ga. 1999).
the hearing before the ALJ, the following exchange occurred
ALJ: . . . And you have a long history in the yard - in the