United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION
DAVID PROCTOR, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Angela Dawn Locke (“Plaintiff”) brings this
action pursuant to Sections 205(g) and 1631(c)(3) of the
Social Security Act (the “Act”), seeking review
of the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) to deny his claim for disability
insurance benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental
Security Income (“SSI”). See 42 U.S.C.
§§405(g) and 1383(c). Based on the court's
review of the record and the briefs submitted by the parties,
the court finds that the decision of the Commissioner is due
to be affirmed.
filed her application for DIB on January 18, 2015 and SSI on
March 31, 2015, alleging that her disability began on May 16,
2014. (Tr. 46, 101). The claim was initially denied on March
25, 2015. (Tr. 46, 111). Plaintiff filed a written request
for a hearing on April 7, 2015. (Tr. 46, 121). On April 7,
2016, Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Amy H.
Naylor held a video hearing. (Tr. 46, 145-49). On May 23,
2016, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled
under Sections 216(i), 223(d), and 1614(a)(3)(A). (Tr. 46,
5, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request
for review of the ALJ decision. (Tr. 23-27). Following that
denial, the final decision of the Commissioner became a
proper subject of this court's appellate review. See
Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986)
(finding the ALJ decision final for purposes of judicial
review when the Appeals Council denied review).
Angela Locke was 39 years old at the time of her hearing and
also when the ALJ's decision was rendered. (Tr. 46, 202).
Plaintiff alleges her work-related medical conditions began
with pain in her right wrist diagnosed as carpal tunnel
syndrome in 2009. (Tr. 53, 274). She continued to work
despite her wrist pain, completed her GED in 2011, and held
several sales associate and cashier positions from May 2011
to May 2014. (Tr. 206). During that time period, Plaintiff
was examined at Northeast Alabama Regional Medical Center on
two occasions. (Tr. 406-25). She first visited in January
2012 for back pain after she fell up the stairs at her house.
(Tr. 406-08). Her second visit was in September 2012 for
chest pain resulting from dehydration and low potassium
levels. (Tr. 414, 421). She was treated, given a
prescription, and released on the same day. (Tr. 422-25).
2014, Plaintiff stopped working. (Tr. 69, 467). She alleges
that she left her job because of her back pain and anxiety,
yet she reported to at least one doctor that she was
“let go.” (Id.). She asserts that the
onset of her disabilities began on May 16, 2014. (Tr. 46,
101). On May 28, 2014, almost two weeks after the alleged
onset, Plaintiff was examined at St. Vincent's Family
Care in Pell City. (Tr. 431). She reported feeling well with
only minor complaints but was prescribed medication for her
chronic back pain, anxiety, and depression. (Tr. 431, 433).
March 2015, Plaintiff was seen by two consulting examiners.
On March 9, 2015, Dr. Morton Rickless examined her and noted
her complaints of back pain, depression and anxiety, and
headaches with some question of hypoglycemia. (Tr. 470).
However, Dr. Rickless determined that she was in no acute
distress, had no significant physical limitations, and
scheduled her for a psychological examination. (Tr. 467,
471). On March 25, 2015, Dr. Robert Summerlin performed a
psychological exam and noted that Plaintiff performed some
activities such as light housework, simple cooking, talking
on the phone, watching television, and interacting on
Facebook. (Tr. 55-56, 479-82). Dr. Summerlin diagnosed
Plaintiff with adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and
depressed mood, chronic. (Tr. 482). During the evaluation,
Plaintiff stated that she could not go back to work because
of her panic issues. (Tr. 479). However, Dr. Summerlin opined
that Plaintiff “does not have a psychological disorder
which would cause her to be unemployable; nonetheless, I do
believe that she has anger issues….” (Tr. 482).
was examined at Talladega Primary & Urgent Care Center on
six occasions throughout 2015 and into 2016. (Tr. 483-504).
During those visits, the examining physicians noted her
anxiety and back pain. (Tr. 483-504). Concurrently, Plaintiff
was being seen by Dr. Jorge Castro for psychiatric
examinations at Highland Health Systems. (Tr. 505-28). During
those visits, Plaintiff reported that having to care for her
boyfriend's children was a stressor. (Tr. 510, 516). The
reports from those visits indicate that the medications were
sometimes effective but at other times required adjustment.
(Tr. 505-528). Finally, on March 30, 2016, Plaintiff was
evaluated by D'Angelo Smith, a therapist working under
Dr. Castro. (Tr. 529-31). Smith concluded that Plaintiff had
moderate to severe impairments and was unable to return to
work. (Tr. 529-31).
The ALJ's Decision
uses a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine a
claimant's disability. 20 C.F.R. §404.1520(a) and
416.920(a). First, the ALJ must determine whether the
claimant is engaging in substantial gainful activity. 20
C.F.R. §404.1520(b) and 416.920(b). Substantial gainful
activity is work done for pay or profit that requires
significant physical or mental activities. 20 C.F.R.
§404.1572(a-b) and 416.972(a-b). If the claimant has
employment earnings above a certain threshold, the ability to
engage in substantial gainful activity is generally presumed.
20 C.F.R. §404.1574, 404.1575, 416.974, and 416.975. If
the ALJ finds that the claimant engages in substantial
gainful activity, then the claimant cannot claim disability,
regardless of a medical condition or age, education, and work
experience. 20 C.F.R. §414.1520(b) and 416.920(b).
the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has a
medically-determinable impairment that significantly limits
the claimant's ability to perform basic work activities.
20 C.F.R. §404.1420(c) and 416.920(a)(4)(ii). Absent
such impairment, the claimant may not claim disability.
Id. Third, the ALJ must determine whether the
claimant's impairment meets or functionally equals an
impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. §404, Subpart P, Appendix
1. If the criteria for impairment is met or functionally
equal, the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§404.1520(a)(4)(iii) and 416.920(a)(4)(iii).
impairment does not meet the criteria or is not functionally
equivalent, the ALJ will assess the claimant's residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform, given
their impairment, in a work setting. 20 C.F.R.
§§404.15245(a)(1) and 416.920(a)(1). The RFC is
based on medical and other evidence in the record. 20 C.F.R.
§§404.1520(a)(4)(iv) and 416.920(a)(4)(iv). The ALJ
makes an assessment about a claimant's RFC using a
two-step process that determines: (1) whether there is an
underlying medically-determinable impairment that could
reasonably be expected to produce the claimant's pain;
and (2) the extent to which the claimant's symptoms would
limit claimant's functioning. 20 C.F.R.
§§404.1545(e) and 416.920(e). To determine the
limiting effect of the claimant's impairment, the ALJ
must consider the credibility of the claimant's
statements about their pain in the context of the record. 20
C.F.R. §§404.1529(c)(3) and 416.920(c)(3).
the ALJ has determined Plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ will
consider in step four whether the claimant has the RFC to
perform the requirements of his past relevant work. 20 C.F.R.
§§414.1520(f) and 416.920(f). If the claimant is
found capable of performing past relevant work, then the
claimant is not disabled. Id. If the claimant is
unable to perform past relevant work or has no past relevant
work, then the analysis proceeds to the fifth and final step.
20 C.F.R. §§404.1520(a)(4)(v) and 416.920(a)(4)(v).
In the fifth step, the ALJ will determine whether the
claimant is able to perform any other work in the national
economy that is commensurate with their RFC, age, education,
and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §404.1520(g). Although
the claimant must still prove disability, at this point the
burden of production shifts from the claimant to the ALJ. The