United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION I. INTRODUCTION
OWEN BOWDRE, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
March 7, 2014, the claimant, Nelda Marie Cooper, filed a
Title II application for a period of disability and
disability insurance benefits and a Title XVI application for
supplemental security income. The claimant alleged disability
commencing on September 27, 2013, because of bone spurs,
herniated disks in her back, depression, stress, and anxiety.
The Commissioner denied the claim on July 15, 2014. The
claimant filed a timely request for a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge, and the ALJ held a hearing on
November 16, 2015. (R. 32, 66-103).
decision dated February 25, 2016, the ALJ found that the
claimant was not disabled as defined by the Social Security
Act and was, therefore, ineligible for social security
benefits. On February 15, 2017, the Appeals Council denied
the claimant's request for review. Consequently, the
ALJ's decision became the final decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration. The
claimant has exhausted her administrative remedies, and this
court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§
405(g) and 1383(c)(3). For the reasons stated below, this
court AFFIRMS the decision of the Commissioner. (R. 1-5,
claimant presents the following issues for review:
1. whether the ALJ properly assessed the claimant's
subjective complaints under the pain standard; and
2. whether the ALJ accorded proper weight to the opinions of
the claimant's consulting physician, Dr. Fava.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
standard of reviewing the Commissioner's decision is
limited. This court must affirm the ALJ's decision if he
applied the correct legal standards and if substantial
evidence supports his factual conclusions. See 42
U.S.C. § 405(g); Graham v. Apfel, 129 F.3d
1420, 1422 (11th Cir. 1997); Walker v. Bowen, 826
F.2d 996, 999 (11th Cir. 1987).
. . . presumption of validity attaches to the
[Commissioner's] legal conclusions, including
determination of the proper standards to be applied in
evaluating claims.” Walker, 826 F.2d at 999.
This court does not review the Commissioner's factual
determinations de novo. The court will affirm those
factual determinations that are supported by substantial
evidence. “Substantial evidence” is “more
than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 401 (1971).
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(d), 416.927(d).
the claimant 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 substantial evidence in the record supports it.
court must “scrutinize the record in its entirety to
determine the reasonableness of the [Commissioner]'s
factual finding.” Walker, 826 F.2d at 999. A
reviewing court must not only look to those parts of the
record that support the decision of the ALJ, but also must
view the record in its entirety and take account of the
evidence that detracts from the evidence relied on by the
ALJ. Hillsman v. Bowen, 804 F.2d 1179, 1180 (11th
evaluating pain and other subjective complaints, the
Commissioner must consider whether the claimant demonstrated
an underlying medical condition, and either (1)
objective medical evidence that confirms the severity of the
alleged pain arising from the condition or (2) that
the objectively determined medical condition is of such a
severity that it can reasonably be expected to give rise to
the alleged pain. Holt v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d 1221,
1223 (11th Cir. 1991). Once the claimant establishes an
impairment, the ALJ must consider all evidence about the
intensity, persistence, and functionally limiting effects of
pain or other symptoms in deciding the issue of disability.
Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1561 (11th Cir.
1995). In addition to objective medical evidence, the ALJ
will consider daily activities; the location, duration,
frequency, and intensity of the claimant's pain or other
symptoms; precipitating and aggravating factors; medication,
treatments, and other measures used to alleviate pain or
other symptoms; and functional limitations and restrictions
caused by pain or other symptoms. See 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1529 (c).
ALJ decides to discredit the claimant's testimony as to
her pain or other symptoms, he must articulate explicit and
adequate reasons for that decision. Foote, 67 F.3d
at 1561-62. A reviewing court will not disturb a clearly
articulated credibility finding with supporting substantial
evidence in the record. Id. at 1562.
Global Assessment Functioning Score (GAF) is a subjective
determination that represents the clinician's judgment of
the individual's overall level of functioning. Wesley
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 99-1226, 2000 WL 191664,
at *3 (6th Cir. 2000). Failure to reference a GAF score is
not, standing alone, sufficient ground to reverse a
disability determination. Howard v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 276 F.3d 235, 241 (6th Cir. 2002). An assessment
of a GAF score of 50 or below can indicate serious mental
impairments in functioning. McCloud v. Barnhart, 166
Fed.Appx. 410, 418 (11th Cir. 2006) (citing the American
Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of
Mental Disorders 34 (4th ed. 1994)). For any GAF score in the
medical record revealing possible serious mental impairments,
the ALJ should determine what weight, if any, to give that
particular score. Id. However, the GAF scale
“does not have a direct correlation to the severity
requirements in [the] mental disorders listings.”
Nye v. Commissioner of Social Sec., 524 Fed.Appx.
538 (11th Cir. 2013). Therefore, the ALJ is not required to
rely on a GAF score in making his ultimate disability
determination. Luterman v. Commissioner, 518
Fed.Appx. 683, 690 (11th Cir. 2013).
the ALJ must state with particularity the weight he gave
different medical opinions and the reasons therefore, and
failure to do so is reversible error. Sharfarz v.
Bowen, 825 F.2d 278, 279 (11th Cir. 1987); see also
MacGregor v. Bowen, 786 F.2d 1050, 1053 (11th Cir.
1986). The ALJ must consider all medical opinions, but does
not have to give special deference to an opinion from a
single consultation. Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d
1436, 1440 (11th Cir. 1997). The Commissioner may reject any
medical opinion if the evidence supports a contrary finding.
Sryock v. Heckler, 764 F.2d 834, 835 (11th Cir.
claimant was fifty-seven years old at the time of the
ALJ's decision. The claimant has a ninth grade education
and has worked as a cook, caregiver, and housekeeper. The
claimant alleges disability beginning on September 27, 2013,
because of bone spurs, herniated disks in her back,
depression, stress, and anxiety. (R. 14, 163, 204-09).
earliest report of the claimant's back pain in the record
is dated June 30, 2005, when she visited Dr. Anne Davis at
Talladega Internal Medicine for a pre-employment physical to
work as a caregiver at Sunset Inn. Dr. Davis reported that
the claimant had a herniated disk, suffered from lower back
pain, but appeared to be able to work. On September 13, 2005,
the claimant visited the Citizens Baptist Medical
Center's emergency room because of back pain, and Dr.
Radwan Mallah prescribed Lortab, Flexeril, and Voltaren to
the claimant. (R. 268-76, 281).
claimant returned to Dr. Davis on June 12, 2007 for another
employment physical for Sunset Inn. The claimant reported
back pain, primarily in her lumbar region. Dr. Davis stated
that the claimant appeared “adequately suited” to
work at Sunset Inn and prescribed Naproxen for her back pain.
The record does not contain medical notes about the
claimant's back pain from June 13, 2007 to June 22, 2011.
claimant attended a third employment physical for Sunset Inn
on June 23, 2011, where she reported back pain and chronic
dizziness. The claimant reported that she took Aleve for her
back pain and Meclizine for dizziness. Her final physical was
on February 13, 2012 and was for a new job at Gardens of
Talladega. Dr. Davis reported that the claimant had no
complaints and appeared to be physically fit and able to
work. The record ...