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White v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division

September 11, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         I. Introduction

         The plaintiff, Tonya Lashay White, appeals from the decision of the Commissioner[1] of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying her application for a period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). Ms. White timely pursued and exhausted her administrative remedies and the decision of the Commissioner is ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). The parties have consented to the exercise of dispositive jurisdiction by a magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Doc. 22).

         The plaintiff was 42 years old on the date of the ALJ's opinion. (Tr. at 23). Her past work experience includes employment as a poultry trimmer and poultry eviscerator. (Tr. at 23). The plaintiff claims that she became disabled on April 18, 2013, from “bipolar disorder; panic disorder with agoraphobia; major depressive disorder, recurrent; severe and posttraumatic stress disorder; severe anemia; severe headaches; chronic low back pain; severe right forearm pain and loss of grip strength s/p[2] surgery with pins and plates.” (Doc. 11, p. 3).

         When evaluating the disability of individuals over the age of eighteen, the regulations prescribe a five-step sequential evaluation process. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; see also Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001). The first step requires a determination of whether the claimant is “doing substantial gainful activity.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). If she is, the claimant is not disabled and the evaluation stops. Id. If she is not, the Commissioner next considers the effect of all of the physical and mental impairments combined. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). These impairments must be severe and must meet the durational requirements before a claimant will be found to be disabled. Id. The decision depends on the medical evidence in the record. See Hart v. Finch, 440 F.2d 1340, 1341 (5th Cir. 1971). If the claimant's impairments are not severe, the analysis stops. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). Otherwise, the analysis continues to step three, which is a determination of whether the claimant's impairments meet or equal the severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the claimant's impairments fall within this category, she will be found disabled without further consideration. Id. If they do not, a determination of the claimant's residual functional capacity will be made and the analysis proceeds to the fourth step. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). Residual functional capacity (“RFC”) is an assessment, based on all relevant evidence, of a claimant's remaining ability to do work despite her impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 404.945(a)(1).

         The fourth step requires a determination of whether the claimant's impairments prevent her from returning to past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant can still do her past relevant work, the claimant is not disabled and the evaluation stops. Id. If the claimant cannot do past relevant work, then the analysis proceeds to the fifth step. Id. Step five requires the court to consider the claimant's RFC, as well as the claimant's age, education, and past work experience, in order to determine if she can do other work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v). If the claimant can do other work, the claimant is not disabled. Id. The burden is on the Commissioner to demonstrate that other jobs exist which the claimant can perform; once that burden is met, the claimant must prove her inability to perform those jobs in order to be found disabled. Jones v. Apfel, 190 F.3d 1224, 1228 (11th Cir. 1999).

         Applying the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that the plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the application date, April 18, 2013. (Tr. at 13). According to the ALJ, the plaintiff has the following impairment that is considered “severe” based on the requirements set forth in the regulations: “bipolar disorder.” Id. He also determined that the plaintiff's “dyspnea, bradycardia, heart murmur, edema, numbness, and tingling” were related to anemia resulting from menorrhagia, were responding well to treatment, and are non-severe. Id at 13-4. Additionally, Plaintiff's allergic rhinitis, lower back pain, and right arm pain resulting from a prior fracture and surgery are non-severe. Id at 14-5. He determined that the plaintiff's carpal tunnel syndrome was not supported by evidence of a medically determinable physical or mental condition (Tr. at 15). The ALJ found that the plaintiff's severe and non-severe impairments, separately and in combination, neither meet nor medically equal any of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Id at 16. The ALJ found that the plaintiff's physical impairments were not limiting as required by the listings. Id. The ALJ found the plaintiff to have moderate restriction in activities of daily life, moderate difficulties in social functioning, and moderate difficulties with regard to concentration and persistence. Id. The ALJ determined that the plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform work at all exertional levels with non-exertional limitations. Id at 17. The ALJ further elaborated:

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following non-exertional limitations: the claimant can understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions, but not detailed or complex instructions; can adapt to workplace changes that are infrequent and introduced gradually; can occasionally interact with the public and frequently interact with co-workers and supervisors; and lastly, is capable of sustaining concentration and attention for at[least] two (2) hours at a time with customary breaks throughout an eight-hour workday.

(Tr. at 17-8)

         According to the ALJ, the plaintiff is able to perform her past relevant work as a poultry eviscerator and poultry trimmer, she is a “younger individual, ” and has “at least a high school education, ” as those terms are defined by the regulations. (Tr. at 23). In addition to her past work as a poultry trimmer and poultry eviscerator, the ALJ determined that there are a significant number of other jobs in the national economy that she is capable of performing, such as a cleaner, hand packer, or laundry worker. (Tr. at 24). The ALJ concluded his findings by stating that Plaintiff “has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since April 18, 2013, the date the application was filed.” Id.

         II. Standard of Review

         This court's role in reviewing claims brought under the Social Security Act is a narrow one. The scope of its review is limited to determining (1) whether there is substantial evidence in the record as a whole to support the findings of the Commissioner, and (2) whether the correct legal standards were applied. See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390, 401 (1971); Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002). The Court approaches the factual findings of the Commissioner with deference, but applies close scrutiny to the legal conclusions. See Miles v. Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996). The court may not decide facts, weigh evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Id. “The substantial evidence standard permits administrative decision makers to act with considerable latitude, and ‘the possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does not prevent an administrative agency's finding from being supported by substantial evidence.'” Parker v. Bowen, 793 F.2d 1177, 1181 (11th Cir. 1986) (Gibson, J., dissenting) (quoting Consolo v. Federal Mar. Comm'n, 383 U.S. 607, 620 (1966)). Indeed, even if this court finds that the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's decision, the court must affirm if the decision is supported by substantial evidence. Miles, 84 F.3d at 1400. No decision is automatic, however, for “despite this deferential standard [for review of claims] it is imperative that the court scrutinize the record in its entirety to determine the reasonableness of the decision reached.” Bridges v. Bowen, 815 F.2d 622, 624 (11th Cir. 1987). Moreover, failure to apply the correct legal standards is grounds for reversal. See Bowen v. Heckler, 748 F.2d 629, 635 (11th Cir. 1984).

         The court must keep in mind that opinions such as whether a claimant is disabled, the nature and extent of a claimant's residual functional capacity, and the application of vocational factors “are not medical opinions, . . . but are, instead, opinions on issues reserved to the commissioner because they are administrative findings that are dispositive of a case; i.e., that would direct the determination or decision of disability.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(e), 416.927(d). Whether the plaintiff meets the listing and is qualified for Social Security disability benefits is a question reserved for the ALJ, and the court “may not decide facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the Commissioner.” Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005). Thus, even if the court were to disagree with the ALJ about the significance of certain facts, the court has no power to reverse that finding as long as there is substantial evidence in the record supporting it.

         III. Discussion

         Plaintiff Tonya Lashay White asserts nine points of error that she argues require the case to be remanded to the Commissioner for further consideration. (Doc. 11, p. 1). First, Plaintiff alleges that the ALJ failed to give sufficient weight to the opinion of Dr. Odjegba, a treating physician, and did not articulate reasons for rejecting his opinion. Id. Second, Ms. White asserts that the ALJ did not consider all of her severe impairments. Id. Third, she argues that the ALJ should have given more weight to the opinion of Dr. Feist or more clearly articulated the reasons that the opinion was discredited. Id. Fourth, Ms. White claims it was reversible error for the ALJ to give so little weight to the Commissioner's own consultative examiner. Id. Fifth, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's finding that she can perform past work is erroneous, not supported by substantial evidence, and not in accordance with correct legal standards. Id. Sixth, the plaintiff asserts that the ALJ did not articulate sufficient reasons to find the plaintiff not credible or to discredit her testimony. Id. Seventh, Plaintiff asserts that she meets the requirements for Listing 12.04 and/or 12.06, and the ALJ's finding to the contrary is not backed by substantial evidence. Id. Ms. White's eighth asserted error is that the Appeals Committee failed to consider newly submitted evidence dated after the ALJ decision and failed to include that evidence in the record. Id. Ninth and lastly, Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ erroneously did not fully consider all of the side effects of her medication. Id.

         A. Treating Physicians

         Ms. White alleges that the opinions from her two treating sources, Dr. Odjegba and Dr. Feist, should have been given greater weight, and that the ALJ failed to show good cause for giving the opinions less weight. (Doc. 11, pp. 20-2, 24-5). The Commissioner argues that there is substantial evidence to support the ALJ's decision to give less weight than is normally afforded to the opinion of a treating source. (Doc. 16, pp. 17, 20). The ALJ gave “little weight” to the opinion of Dr. Odjegba because she found that the opinion “is not supported by the objective medical evidence or his own PE findings, which show little abnormalities.” (Tr. at 16). The ALJ gave “little weight” to the opinion of Dr. Feist because she found it was “without substantial support from other evidence of record, ” “quite conclusory, ” and expressed limitations that were “extremely out of proportion with his treatment notes and other evidence of record.” (Tr. at 20).

         A treating physician's testimony is entitled to “substantial or considerable weight unless ‘good cause' is shown to the contrary.” Crawford v. Commissioner of Social Security, 363 F.3d 1155, 1159 (11th Cir. 2004) (quoting Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1440 (11th Cir. 1997)) (internal quotations omitted). The weight to be afforded a medical opinion regarding the nature and severity of a claimant's impairments depends, among other things, upon the examining and treating relationship the medical source had with the claimant, the evidence the medical source presents to support the opinion, how consistent the opinion is with the record as a whole, and the specialty of the medical source. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(d), 416.927(d). Furthermore, “good cause” exists for an ALJ to not give a treating physician's opinion substantial weight 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 v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1241 (11th Cir. 2004) (citing Lewis, 125 F.3d at 1440); see also Edwards v. Sullivan, 937 F.2d 580, 583-84 (11th Cir. 1991) (holding that “good cause” existed where the opinion was contradicted by other notations in the physician's own record).

         The Court also must be aware of the fact that opinions such as whether a claimant is disabled, the claimant's residual functional capacity, and the application of vocational factors “are not medical opinions, . . . but are, instead, opinions on issues reserved to the Commissioner because they are administrative findings that are dispositive of a case; i.e., that would direct the determination or decision of disability.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(e), 416.927(d). The Court is interested in the doctors' evaluations of the claimant's “condition and the medical consequences thereof, not their opinions of the legal consequences of his [or her] condition.” Lewis, 125 F.3d at 1440. Such statements by a physician are relevant to the ALJ's findings, but they are not determinative, as it is the ALJ who bears the responsibility for assessing a claimant's residual functional capacity. See, e.g., 20 C.F.R. § 404.1546(c).

         1. Dr. Odjegba

         The ALJ gave “little weight” to Dr. Odjegba's opinion in the Physical Capacities Form completed on May 28, 2015. (Tr. at 15). In that opinion, Dr. Odjegba opined that Plaintiff: (1) could stand for two hours; (2) would need to lie down, sleep, or prop up her feet for four out of eight day time working hours; (3) could not push or pull well enough to use controls; and (4) had some manipulative limitations with both her left and right hand. (Tr. at 560). He indicated that the plaintiff's restrictions were caused by “lumbago, severe anemia, carpal tunnel syndrome, hand pain, and bipolar disorder.” Id. He also stated that the plaintiff experienced nausea and vomiting as side effects of her medication. Id.

         The ALJ noted that these finding were excessive in comparison to the limitations which Dr. Odjegba noted during his physical examinations of the plaintiff. (Tr. at 15). The ALJ found that the doctor's treatment notes do not show that Dr. Odjegba ever diagnosed or treated the plaintiff for carpal tunnel syndrome or that she ever consistently reported chronic pain to him. Id. Additionally, she noted that the plaintiff's anemia was a seriously limiting condition, but the plaintiff had responded well to treatment and her red blood cell levels where almost back to normal. Id. Additionally, the ALJ found that the limitations expressed in Dr. Odejegba's opinion were not explained by the plaintiff's bipolar disorder. Id. Similarly, Dr. Odjegba opined that the plaintiff experiences nausea and vomiting as side effects of her medication, yet the plaintiff never reported those side effects during her check-ups. Id.

         The court has reviewed the medical records. Plaintiff has a history of low back pain. On October 4, 2012, she was treated at Gadsden Memorial Hospital and on October 11, 2012, she was treated at Riverview Medical Center for back pain (lumbago). (Tr. at 346-7, 505). However, she did not report back pain as a symptom or receive treatment from Dr. Odjegba for it. See (Tr. at 475-540). Similarly, Plaintiff has a history of “profound” anemia, which required a blood transfusion. (Tr. at 448-470). Plaintiff's anemia was caused by menorrhagia, and through a combination of Provera, iron treatments, and blood transfusions, her anemia is vastly improved. (Tr. at 518, 527, 535, 548). The court agrees with the ALJ that it can find no mention at all where Dr. Odjegba diagnosed the Ms. White as having carpal tunnel syndrome, nor did he ever prescribe treatment for the condition. See (Tr. at 16). There also is no support in the treatment notes for the opinion that the plaintiff is suffering from disabling hand pain. Plaintiff complained of hand pain on August 26, 2014, but at her next visit on September 16, 2014, she no longer reported the pain and did not report it again subsequently. (Tr. at 479, 485-7). Plaintiff has a long history of mental health issues, including bipolar disorder. (Tr. at 415, 429, 432, 471-3, 475-6, 552). However, given that this is a mental impairment, the court does not see how this could explain the significant physical limitations in Dr. Odjegba's opinion. In sum, the court finds that the ALJ had good cause to give Dr. Odjegba's opinion only “little weight.”

         2. Dr. Feist

         Dr. Feist was Ms. White's treating psychiatrist, and the plaintiff argues that the ALJ did not have good cause to reject Dr. Feist's opinion. (Doc. 11, p. 24). The Commissioner argues that the ALJ was correct in her determination that the limitations expressed in the Mental Health Source Statement were not supported by Dr. Feist's treatment notes. (Doc. 16, p. 17). In a form dated May 13, 2015, he opined that the plaintiff could “understand, remember, or carry out very short and simple instructions.” (Tr. at 551). However, he also opined that Plaintiff could not (1) “maintain attention, concentration, and/or pace for periods of at least two hours, ” (2) “perform activities within a schedule, maintain regular attendance, and be punctual within customary practices, ” (3) “sustain an ordinary routine without special supervision, ” (4) “accept and respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors, ” or (5) “maintain socially appropriate behavior and adhere to basic standards of neatness and cleanliness.” Id. Additionally, Dr. Feist stated that he would expect Plaintiff to miss 15-20 days of work out of a 30-day period due to her symptoms. Id. He could not opine whether these limitations dated to April 18, 2013, when the plaintiff alleges she became disabled, presumably because he was not treating the patient at that time. Id.

         The ALJ gave this opinion “little weight” because it was conclusory and inconsistent with the medical evidence. In reviewing the medical records, the court must note, as an initial point, that many of the treatment notes from Dr. Feist are illegible. See (Tr. at 431, 557). Given that neither the ALJ nor counsel for either side seems to have been able to decipher them, the court's analysis will proceed from that point. See (Tr. at 20-1), (Doc. 11, p. 24-6), (Doc. 16 at 17-20). On November 19, 2014, Dr. Feist noted that the plaintiff was depressed; had insomnia; had “fair” judgment, insight, appetite, and energy/motivation; had tangential thought process, had obsessive thought content; had agitated behavior; was of adequate weight; and had an overall risk level of moderate. (Tr. at 431). The written treatment notes record that “[she] doesn't like to be around people, ” “depressed, ” “thoughts of suicide, ” and “father died of heroin O.D.” Id. On March 11, 2015, Plaintiff again saw Dr. Feist. (Tr. at 557). This time he noted that she was depressed and anxious; had insomnia; had fair insight, judgment and appetite; had a tangential and loose thought process; was having auditory/visual hallucinations; had poor energy/motivation; exhibited agitated behavior; had inadequate thought and concentration; had decreased weight; and had an overall risk level of “high.” Id. The written treatment notes indicate “not sleeping well, ” “awakens at 4-5 a.m., ” “lives with 25 y.o. daughter, ” “has 3 grandchildren.” Id. These evaluations depict a serious degree of mental impairment and worsening condition. Despite this apparent worsening of her condition, Dr. Feist reported her progress as “fair, ” with the only follow-up plan was for plaintiff to continue her weekly counseling sessions and to see Dr. Feist again in 3 to 6 months. (Tr. at 557).

         However, when compared with other treatment records from other care providers, the evaluations seem wholly incongruous with other records from the time frame. Before the plaintiff met with Dr. Feist on November 19, 2014, she was treated by a therapist at CED Mental Health on October 23, 2014, where she was noted to have appropriate appearance, dysphoric mood, and normal affect. (Tr. at 433). She also was noted to be oriented to person, place, time, and situation. Id. She did report stress, anxiety, and depression, but also reported that she left the house three times a week. Id. Just two weeks before seeing Dr. Feist, plaintiff was seen by Dr. Odjegba for a follow-up on her menorrhagia and anemia on November 5, 2014. (Tr. at 495). At this visit Ms. White was noted to be “negative” for anxiety and depression and as having “no changes to sleep patterns.” Id. She also made no complaints related to her mental health at the appointment. Id. Plaintiff was again seen by Dr. Odjegba on March 16, 2015, just five days after seeing Dr. Feist, for a rash and for a follow up of her menorrhagia. (Tr. at 542). Ms. White again reported “no changes to sleep patterns” and was noted to have “appropriate mood and affect.” Id. at 543, 547. A month later, plaintiff was treated by another therapist at CED on April 17, 2015. (Tr. at 556). At this visit, Ms. White indicated that she was having depression and paranoia, but was noted to be oriented to person, place, time, and situation. Id. Her appearance was appropriate, her mood euthymic, and her affect was normal. Id. She reported that “things were going okay, ” but was afraid that an abusive ex-boyfriend might be released from prison soon. Id.

         Additionally, the treatment notes from Dr. Feist are quite brief and conclusory. See (Tr. at 431, 557). They do not provide the court with additional evidence to substantiate the medical opinions that he provided. Id. This fact, in combination with the fact that Dr. Feist's evaluations and opinion indicated a much lower level of psychiatric functioning than any other piece of medical evidence from the time frame, provided substantial evidence to support the ALJ's opinion, and provided good cause for the ALJ to afford less weight to Dr. Feist's opinion. The ALJ did not err in reaching her conclusions regarding the weight to be accorded these treating physicians' opinions.

         B. Severe Impairments

         Plaintiff contends that the case should be remanded because the ALJ found that she had only one severe impairment-bipolar disorder. (Doc. 11, p. 23). She argues that her “panic disorder with agoraphobia; major depressive disorder, recurrent, severe; posttraumatic stress disorder; headaches; anemia; chronic low back pain; [and] severe right forearm pain and loss of grip strength s/p surgery with pins and plates following fracture during motor vehicle accident” also should have been considered severe impairments. Id. The Commissioner argues that the ALJ considered all of the plaintiff's severe impairments. (Doc. 16, p. 6).

         To the extent that Plaintiff relies on McDaniel v. Bowen for the proposition that “only claims based on the most trivial impairments [should be] rejected, ” this is without merit in the context of this case. See (Doc. 11, p. 24) (citing McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026 (11th Cir. 1986). In McDaniel v. Bowen, the court reiterated the Brady standard for the determination of severe impairment. 800 F.2d at 1031 (citing Brady v. Heckler, 724 F.2d 914 (11th Cir.1984)). That standard provides an “impairment can be considered as not severe only if it is a slight abnormality which has such a minimal effect on the individual that it would not be expected to interfere with the individual's ability to work, irrespective of age, education or work experience.” McDaniel, 800 F.2d at 1031 (citing Brady, 724 F.2d 914). However, both McDaniel and Brady were cases where the plaintiff was found not to have any severe impairment at all. See McDaniel, 800 F.2d 1026, Brady 724 F.2d 914. Thus, in both cases, the five-step sequential process was ended at Step Two. See McDaniel, 800 F.2d 1026, Brady 724 F.2d 914. In the plaintiff's case, however, the analysis did not end at Step Two. (Tr. at 13-16). Rather, because the plaintiff was found to be suffering from at least one severe impairment, the ALJ continued to Step Three. (Tr. at 16). The number or nature of severe impairments found at Step Two is unimportant if the sequential analysis continues because, in assessing the claimant's RFC at Step Four, all of the claimant's impairments must be considered. The designation of an impairment as “severe” at Step Two only has the effect of pushing the sequential analysis to the next step.

         Plaintiff also alleges that the ALJ did not follow the “slight abnormality standard” when she determined that Plaintiff's conditions, other than bipolar disorder, were non-severe. (Doc. 11, p. 23). However, the ALJ looked at each of the plaintiff's other alleged impairments in turn and determined either that it “[had] not been shown to have lasted at least twelve months during the relevant period and [was] non-severe” or that the “impairment [constituted], at most, only a slight abnormality that cannot reasonably be expected to produce more than minimal, if any, work-related limitations, and is non-severe.” (Tr. at 14). The ALJ carefully explained her findings for each alleged impairment by reference to medical evidence in the record. Having the reviewed the medical evidence, the court has no reason to second-guess the ALJ's application of the slight abnormality standard. Accordingly, to the extent that Plaintiff seeks remand on that ground, such request is declined.

         Plaintiff additionally seeks remand on the ground that the ALJ violated SSR 96-3p by failing to consider the effects of the plaintiff's conditions which the ALJ found to be non-severe. (Doc. 11, p. 23). SSR 96-3p is a policy interpretation document that interprets 20 CFR 404.1502, 416.920, and 416.924 to clarify that:

Because a determination whether an impairment(s) is severe requires an assessment of the functionally limiting effects of an impairment(s), symptom-related limitations and restrictions must be considered at this step of the sequential evaluation process, provided that the individual has a medically determinable impairment(s) that could reasonably be expected to produce the symptoms. If the adjudicator finds that such symptoms cause a limitation or restriction having more than a minimal effect on an individual's ability to do basic work activities, the adjudicator must find that the impairment(s) is severe and proceed to the next step in the process even if the objective medical evidence would not in itself establish that the impairment(s) is severe. In addition, if, after completing development and considering all of the evidence, the adjudicator is unable to determine clearly the effect of an impairment(s) on the individual's ability to do basic work activities, the adjudicator must continue to follow the sequential evaluation process until a determination or decision about disability can be reached.

1996 WL 374181 at *2 (July 2, 1996). The effect of this interpretation is that an ALJ should in essence “err” on the side of allowing the five-step sequential analysis to move forward. See id. In Ms. White's case, the analysis did move on to Step Three where the ALJ considered whether she had “an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 416.920(d), 416. 925, and 416.926), ” and found that she did not. (Tr. at 16).

         Additionally, the court has reviewed the medical evidence and has found substantial evidence to support the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff's limitations, other than bipolar disorder, were non-severe. As an example, Plaintiff asserts that her low back pain (“lumbago”) should have been considered severe. Plaintiff presented to the emergency room at the Gadsden Regional Medical Center complaining of lower back pain on October 4, 2012, and October 11, 2012. (Tr. at 346-7, 505). Since then, Plaintiff has not complained of lower back pain again. See, e.g., (Tr. at 14, 339-43, 427-8, 429-47, 471-504, 518-9, 520-49). Plaintiff additionally had an x-ray on September 6, 2013, where it was noted that she had minimal underlying rotary scoliosis that was possibly positional (i.e. an artifact of the position in which the x-ray was taken). (Tr. at 420). Other than this, no abnormality was noted. Id. There is nothing in the medical records to suggest that the plaintiff ever experienced back pain during the period she alleged it contributed to her being disabled. Therefore, the ALJ properly assessed that this condition was non-severe. The other ailments that the plaintiff alleges as “severe” present similarly one-sided facts: she reported chronic “pain in limb” on only one occasion (Tr. at 427) and her anemia was well-treated with medication. The court finds no error in the ALJ's assessment that these ailments are non-severe.

         C. Opinion of the Consultative Examiner

         As addressed previously, the ALJ must consider several factors in determining the weight to be given to a medical opinion. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c). Different types of medical sources are entitled to differing weights. The opinion of a treating physician, who has an ongoing relationship with the patient, is entitled to the greatest weight. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1502. A non-treating physician or psychologist who has examined the patient but does not treat the patient is entitled to less weight. Id. The least weight is given to a non-examining medical source, who may provide an opinion based on a review of the record but who has not examined the patient. Id. Even so, any medical source's opinion can be rejected where the evidence supports a contrary conclusion. See, e.g., McCloud v. Barnhart, 166 Fed.Appx. 410, 418-19 (11th Cir. 2008).

         It is difficult to tell on what grounds that the plaintiff challenges the ALJ's decision to afford “limited weight” to the opinion of the consultative examiner (“CE”) June Nichols because the brief on the matter contains over four pages of block quotations and not a single sentence explaining to the court the relevance of those quotations to the case at hand. To the extent that the plaintiff argues that the ALJ had to accept the opinion of the CE simply because she was hired by the Commissioner, this argument is without merit. The ALJ may reject the opinion of any medical source, regardless of who hired her, if the opinion is not supported by the evidence. See, e.g., McCloud v. Barnhart, 166 Fed.Appx. 410, 418-19 (11th Cir. 2008).

         Plaintiff also cites McClurkin v. Social Security Administration. In McClurkin, “the Eleventh Circuit reversed the denial of benefits because the ALJ failed to state with at least ‘some measure of clarity' the grounds for his decision in repudiating the opinion of an examining physician.” (Doc. 11, p. 26) (citing McClurkin v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 625 Fed.Appx. 960 (11th Cir. 2015). In that case the ALJ did not did explicitly state the weight given to the opinion of a CE or explain the reasons for giving weight to the other opinions in the case. Id. at 962. The Eleventh Circuit determined that “when the ALJ fails to state with at least some measure of clarity the grounds for his decision, we will decline to affirm simply because some rationale might have supported the ALJ's conclusion.” Id. (citing Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1179 (11th Cir. 2011).

         In Ms. White's case, however, the ALJ clearly articulated the weight given to the opinion of the CE and the reasons for it. She stated:

Limited weight is given to Dr. Nichols['] opinion for various reasons. As to her opinion regarding a guarded prognosis for significant improvement because of the claimant's past treatment and medication without resolution of symptoms, the undersigned notes that any lack of improvement was due to the fact that the claimant has not consistently participated in treatment. Nor has she taken her medications consistently either. In addition, Dr. Nichols' diagnoses are inconsistent with the CED treatment notes which show a much higher level of functioning. There are other differing opinions regarding the claimant's actual diagnosis. While Dr. Nichols included post-traumatic stress disorder as a diagnosis, the medical staff at C.E.D. considered and disregarded this diagnosis (Exhibit 3F).

(Tr. at 22). Given that the ALJ clearly articulated the weight assigned to the opinion and the reasons why the opinion was given that weight, the court finds that the ALJ complied with the mandate of McClurkin. The ALJ explained her reasoning “with at least ‘some measure of clarity.'”

         Plaintiff also points to a line of cases beginning with Wilder v. Chater, a case out of the Seventh Circuit. (Doc. 11, p. 28) (citing Wilder v. Chater, 64 F.3d 335, 337-8). In Wilder, the Seventh Circuit remanded a denial of benefits because the ALJ disregarded the opinion of a psychiatrist appointed by the Commissioner. Wilder, 64 F.3d at 337. The court was skeptical of this decision because the psychiatrist was the only medical opinion in the case which could establish the onset date of the plaintiff's severe depression, a fact that was critical to the case. Id. Wilder and its progeny have come to stand for the proposition that an ALJ may not disregard the only medical opinion in a case simply because the ALJ finds that the claimant's current activities are incongruous with the opinion. See Wilder, 64 F.3d 335; Blakes ex rel. Wolfe v. Barnhart, 331 F.3d 565 (7th Cir. 2003); Haag v. Barnhart, 333 F.Supp.2d 1210, 1220 (N.D. Ala. 2004).

         The facts of Wilder do not correspond to the plaintiff's case. It is correct that the ALJ afforded “limited weight” to the opinion of Dr. Nichols, the consultative examiner. (Tr. at 22). However, Dr. Nichols was not the only medical opinion in the case related to the plaintiff's psychiatric health. (Tr. at 20-2). The ALJ considered Plaintiff's treatment records from CED; the opinion of Dr. Feist; the opinion of Ms. Ridley, a therapist at CED; the opinion of Dr. Nichols; and the opinion of the state agency psychologist, Guendalina Ravello, Ph. D. Id. The ALJ's opinion was based on multiple medical opinions and the medical records, rather than a hunch as was the issue in Wilder.

         Additionally, the court has reviewed the medical records and found substantial evidence to support the ALJ's decision to afford only limited weight to the opinion of Dr. Nichols. At the evaluation, Dr. Nichols described the plaintiff as “neat and clean, ” with normal and clear speech, but having a depressed mood and decreased appetite and energy. She found the plaintiff to follow a clear stream of consciousness, and to be “oriented to person, place, time and situation.” (Tr. at 417). She also found Plaintiff's “speed of mental processing adequate, ” memory functions to be “grossly intact, ” “general fund of knowledge to be adequate, ” thought processes to be “within normal limits, ” and judgment and insight to be good. Id. These observations are inconsistent with the extremely severe limitations and impairment that Dr. Nichols opined existed. See (Tr. at 415-8). Accordingly, the ALJ's assessment of the weight given to the consultative examiner's opinion was not erroneous.

         D. Ability to Perform Past Work

         Ms. White asserts that the ALJ's determination that she could perform her past work as a poultry eviscerator and a poultry trimmer was not supported by substantial evidence and was not in accordance with proper legal standards. (Doc. 11, p. 30). She argues that the ALJ had the duty to develop the record as to the physical and mental demands of her past work so as to allow a comparison of Ms. White's current limitations. Id. The Commissioner replies that the ALJ properly relied upon the testimony of the Vocational Expert (VE) in response to a hypothetical that incorporated all of the plaintiff's limitations. (Doc. 16, p. 29-31). Further, if the plaintiff believed that the record was lacking, she was represented by an attorney at the hearing who could and should have elicited testimony to carry her burden of proving she was unable to perform her past relevant work. Id. The ALJ specifically found:

The claimant is capable of performing past work as a poultry eviscerator, DOT Code 525.687-074, light, unskilled, SVP of 2, and a poultry trimmer, DOT Code 781.687-070, light, unskilled, SVP of 2. Neither requires the performance of work-related activities precluded by ...

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