United States District Court, N.D. Alabama
OWEN BOWDRE, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
August 1, 2013, the claimant, Jonathan Williams, protectively
applied for disability and disability insurance benefits
under Title II of the Social Security Act and for
supplemental security income under Title XVI. In both
applications, the claimant alleged disability commencing on
November 13, 2011, because of bipolar disorder, manic
depression, suicidal ideation, ulcerative colitis, neck and
back impairments, and a wrist injury. The Commissioner denied
the claims on December 5, 2013. The claimant filed a timely
request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(ALJ) on December 10, 2013, and the ALJ held a hearing on
April 22, 2015. (R. 12, 155, 172).
decision dated September 17, 2015, the ALJ found that the
claimant was not disabled as defined by the Social Security
Act, rendering him ineligible for Social Security benefits.
On January 18, 2017, the Appeals Council denied the
claimant's requests for review. Consequently, the
ALJ's decision became the final decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration. The
claimant has exhausted his 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 REVERSES and REMANDS the decision of the
Commissioner to the ALJ for reconsideration.
issue before the court is whether the ALJ accorded proper
weight to the opinions of the claimant's treating
physician Dr. James Yates. Although the claimant raised other
issues on appeal, the court does not reach those issues
because it will reverse on this issue.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
standard for reviewing the Commissioner's decision is
limited. This court must affirm the Commissioner's
decision if the Commissioner applied the correct legal
standards and if his factual conclusions are supported by
substantial evidence. 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.
. . . 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). Whether 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 findings.” 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 evidence
that detracts from the evidence relied on by the ALJ.
Hillsman v. Bowen, 804 F.2d 1179, 1180 (11th Cir.
must state with particularity the weight he gave different
medical opinions and the reasons for that weight, and the
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 give the testimony of a treating
physician substantial or considerable weight unless the ALJ
shows “good cause” to the contrary. Sryock v.
Heckler, 764 F.2d 834, 835 (11th Cir. 1985). As the
Eleventh Circuit explained:
[G]ood cause exists when: (1) the 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. When electing to disregard
the opinion of a treating physician, the ALJ must clearly
articulate its reasons.
Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1240 (11th Cir.
2003) (citing Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1440
(11th Cir. 1997).
the ALJ fails to state specific reasons for not giving a
treating physician substantial weight or if his articulated
reasons lack substantial evidence, he has committed
reversible error. See Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d
1208, 1212 (11th Cir. 2005).
claimant was thirty-seven years old at the time of the
ALJ's final decision; has a 10th grade education; has
past relevant work as a data clerk and janitor; and alleges
disability based on bipolar disorder, manic depression,
suicidal ideation, ulcerative colitis, neck and back
impairments, and a wrist injury. (R. 23, 155, 172, 183).
and Mental Impairments
January 18, 2006, the claimant went to the Northeast Alabama
Regional Medical Center complaining of neck and left shoulder
pain. Dr. David Bodne ordered a cervical x-ray that showed
normal results. Later that year, the claimant once again went
to Northeast Alabama Regional Medical Center on June 4
seeking treatment for bloody stools and abdominal pain and
was admitted until June 9. The claimant informed Dr.
Vishwanath Reddy that he has a past medical history of
“opiate abuse, ” and “subsequent chronic
methadone dependence, followed by a methadone clinic.”
Dr. Reddy ordered a colonoscopy that showed an acutely
inflamed large bowel. Dr. Reddy diagnosed the claimant with
ulcerative colitis, anxiety, depression, and a history of
chronic narcotic dependence. Dr. Reddy prescribed the
claimant Levaquin 500 mg IV, Flagyl 500 mg t.i.d., and
Azulfidine. (R.404-410, 421, 434).
March 9, 2009, the claimant saw Dr. James Yates, an
internist, at the Jacksonville Medical Center, seeking to
establish himself as a patient. The claimant reported to Dr.
Yates that he was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and has
bouts of upper abdominal cramping and “mucous-like
stools.” Dr. Yates noted the claimant was an
“alert, ” “well-developed, well-nourished
white male in no acute distress.” Dr. Yates further
noted that the claimant's depression questionnaire was
“positive on all the questions.” Dr. Yates
diagnosed the claimant with ulcerative colitis, inguinal
lymphadenopathy, and depression. (R. 460).
that point, the record contains no relevant medical evidence
until December 16, 2010, when the claimant again saw Dr.
Yates, complaining of “back pain into his shoulders and
[legs].” During his physical examination of the
claimant, Dr. Yates noted the claimant had “tenderness
in the lower cervical and lower lumbar area, ” and that
the claimant straight leg testing was “negative.”
He diagnosed the claimant with degenerative disc disease of
the cervical and lumbar area and prescribed Vicoprofen and
Klonopin. (R. 459).
claimant returned to Dr. Yates on March 31, 2011, when Dr.
Yates noted “no change in [the claimant's]
examination.” He additionally noted that the claimant
continued to have “slight upper lumbar
tenderness.” Dr. Yates prescribed acetaminophen and
hydrocodone and refilled his Klonopin prescription. (R. 459).
November 13, 2011, the claimant returned to the Northeast
Alabama Medical Center following a suicide attempt. The
attempt resulted in a laceration of his flexor tendons, ulnar
artery, median nerve, and ulnar nerve on his left wrist. Dr.
Dewayne Clark and Dr. Duane Tippets performed an operation on
the claimant's left wrist, repairing most of the
injuries. At a follow-up visit on January 10, 2012, Dr.
Tippets noted that the claimant has diffuse contracture of
the fingers and that the claimant's recovery would likely
be very limited. (R. 439-449, 454).
August 6, 2012, the claimant again saw Dr. Yates, following
another suicide attempt. Dr. Yates noted that the claimant
“has quite a bit of problem with depression including
the suicide attempt” and that he “needs to get
back on some medications.” Dr. Yates noted the claimant
continued to have degenerative disc disease and chronic pain
syndrome and prescribed the claimant Lortab as needed for
pain and Klonopin for his depression. (R. 457).
October 16, 2012, the claimant met again with Dr. Yates for a
follow-up appointment. Dr. Yates noted the claimant's
pain symptoms were “about the same.” Dr. Yates
refilled the claimant's previous medications. (R. 457).
claimant returned to Dr. Yates for another follow-up
appointment on March 27, 2013. Dr. Yates noted that the
claimant was “overall doing fairly well, ” and
made an assessment of generalized anxiety disorder classified
as “slightly symptomatic.” Dr. Yates additionally
noted that the claimant's chronic pain syndrome from the
degenerative disc disease was stable and prescribed the
claimant Klonopin, Lortab, and Cymbalta. (R. 456).
August 9, 2013, the claimant again saw Dr. Yates. Dr. Yates
noted that the claimant informed him that he was going out of
town and needed his prescriptions for Klonopin and Lortab
refilled that same day. (R. 455).
month later, on September 9, 2013, the claimant had another
appointment with Dr. Yates, where he complained of pain in a
specific area of his back. Dr. Yates found a “localized
spasm at about L1 on the right.” Dr. Yates noted the
claimant's chronic pain syndrome was the “same,
” and diagnosed him with a “localized muscle
spasm in [his] upper lumbar area.” Dr. ...