United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
E. OTT Chief United States Magistrate Judge.
Shenandoah 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. (See
Doc. 17). See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Fed.R.Civ.P.
73(a). Upon review of the record and the relevant law, the
undersigned finds that the Commissioner's decision is due
to be affirmed.
protectively filed his current DIB and SSI applications on
July 18, 2013, alleging he became disabled beginning November
7, 2012. (R. 11). They were initially denied. An
administrative law judge (“ALJ”) held a video
hearing on March 3, 2015 (R. 11) and issued an unfavorable
decision on May 20, 2015 (R. 11-22). Plaintiff submitted his
appeal to the Appeals Council. Upon consideration, the
Appeals Council found no reason to review the ALJ's
decision. (R. 1). Plaintiff's request for review was
denied on May 9, 2016. (R. 1).
was 50 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. He
has a tenth grade education and has worked in the past as a
truck driver, forklift operator, plating equipment tender,
and concrete mixing truck driver. (R. 37, 176, 181).
Plaintiff alleged onset of disability due to gout, high blood
pressure, obesity, anxiety, arthritis, and diabetes mellitus.
(R. 46, 175, 200).
a hearing, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following
medically determinable impairments: morbid obesity, dyspnea,
gout, estimated borderline to low average intellectual
functioning, and depressive disorder. (R. 13). He also found
Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one
of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P,
app. 1. (R. 14). He further found Plaintiff retained the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform
light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b)
and 416.967(b) that did not require: (1) climbing ropes,
ladders, or scaffolds; (2) work at unprotected heights or
with hazardous machinery; (3) concentrated exposure to
temperature extremes; (4) more than frequent interaction with
co-workers and supervisors; and (5) more than occasional
contact with the public. (R. 57). Based on that RFC finding
and testimony from a vocational expert (“VE”),
the ALJ concluded Plaintiff could not perform his past
relevant work as a truck driver, forklift operator, plating
attendant tender, or concrete mixing truck driver. (R. 20).
However, based on his age, education, work experience, and
RFC, the ALJ found that jobs existed in significant numbers
in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform, such as
a sorter and final sorter. (R. 21). Accordingly, the ALJ
determined Plaintiff was not under a disability, as defined
in the Social Security Act, since November 7, 2012, through
the date of his decision. (R. 22).
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.
§ 1382c(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. § 1382c(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 severe 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 F. App'x
521, 524 (11th Cir. 2014) (citing 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)). The 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.” Id.
argues five grounds of error: First, the ALJ failed to state
with “some measure of clarity” his reason for
“repudiating the opinion of Dr. David Wilson”;
Second, the ALJ failed to state adequate reasons for finding
Plaintiff not credible; Third, the ALJ failed to give proper
consideration to Plaintiff's obesity; Fourth, the
ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence;
and Fifth, the ALJ failed to assess the intensity and
persistence of Plaintiff's symptoms pursuant to SSR
16-3p. (Doc. 13 at 3). Each argument will be addressed below.
Dr. David Wilson
argues that the ALJ failed to clearly state his reasons for
repudiating the opinion of consultative psychological
examiner Dr. Wilson. (Id. (Issue 1)). The
Commissioner responds that the ALJ fully evaluated and
properly weighed Dr. Wilson's opinion. (Doc. 14 at 6).
The court agrees with the Commissioner.
Wilson examined Plaintiff one time on September 25, 2013. He
diagnosed Plaintiff as suffering from depressive disorder,
gout, hypertension, and morbid obesity. He also stated that
Plaintiff's gout “could possibly make him unable to
maintain a job. He has cognitive deficits and he is only
capable of doing some type of manual labor job - and his gout
and morbid obesity could make those jobs very difficult. He
is also very depressed and this will also make it very
difficult for him to work.” (R. 372). Dr. Wilson also
assessed Plaintiff “as having a GAF of 50, indicating
psychological symptomology and mental functional limitations
of disabling proportions.” (R. 18).
evaluating a disability claim, it is well settled that an ALJ
is “required to state with particularity the weight he
gave the different medical opinions and the reasons
therefor.” Sarfaz v. Bowen, 825 F.2d 278, 279
(11th Cir. 1987). The opinion of a one-time examiner, i.e.,
non-treating doctors, is not entitled to deference or special
consideration. See Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1160 (11th Cir. 2004) (stating that
the opinion of a doctor who examines a claimant on only one
occasion is not entitled to great weight). In assessing Dr.
Wilson's opinions, the ALJ stated: (1) “the
underlying findings of medical and non-medical evidence are
found to be more relevant in determining the claimant's
residual functional capacity than a GAF score, which lacks
reliability in disability determinations”; (2)
“[i]n terms of [Plaintiff's] borderline
intellectual functioning, the record contains no evidence of
a significant deficit in adaptive functioning”; (3) the
determination of whether Plaintiff is disabled is reserved
for the Commissioner; and (4) Dr. Wilson's opinions are
inconsistent with the remainder of the record. (R. 19-20).
The court finds that the ALJ properly weighed Dr.
regard to the GAF score, “The Commissioner [has] ...
declined to endorse the GAF scale for use in the Social
Security and SSI disability programs, and ... [has] indicated
that GAF scores have no direct correlation to the severity
requirements of the mental disorders listings.”
Wind v. Barnhart, 133 F. App'x 684, 692 n.5
(11th Cir. 2005) (internal quotations omitted) (citing 60
Fed. Reg. 50746, 50764-65 (Aug. 21, 2000)). While a GAF score
distills an individual's symptoms and functioning to a
single number, an ALJ assessing a claimant's RFC must
consider the claimant's “‘functional
limitations or restrictions and assess ... [his] work-related
abilities on a function by function basis.'”
Freeman v. Barnhart, 220 F. App'x 957, 959 (11th
Cir. 2007) (quoting Social Security Ruling (SSR) 96-8p, 1996
WL 374184). The court also notes that the latest edition of
the Manual of Mental Disorders has abandoned the GAF scale
because of “its conceptual lack of clarity ... and
questionable psychometrics in routine practice.”
Diagnostic and Statistical ...