United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
OWEN BOWDRE CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
23, 2014, the claimant 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 beginning on December 5, 2011, because of
diabetes; high cholesterol; lung problems; high blood
pressure; arthritis and neuropathy in her feet; bone spurs in
her right foot; and broken left and right ankles with pins,
plates, and screws. The Commissioner denied the claim on
August 26, 2014. The claimant filed a timely request for a
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge, and the ALJ held
a video hearing on December 15, 2015. (R. 33-80, 94, 123-31,
decision dated January 26, 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 April 27, 2017, the Appeals Council denied
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 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. (R. 1-3, 16-27).
the ALJ erred in not assigning weight given to the medical
opinion of Dr. John Haney, PhD., who personally examined the
claimant and reviewed her medical records.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
standard for 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. This 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, 402 (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 a claimant
meets a 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, 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
review 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
must state with particularity the weight he gave different
medical opinions and the reasons for them; 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). If the ALJ
at a minimum does not state with “some measure of
clarity” the reasons for his decision in discrediting
the opinion of an examining physician, it is reversible
error. McClurkin v. SSA, 625 Fed.Appx. 960, 960
(11th Cir. 2015).
claimant was fifty-eight years old at the time of the
ALJ's final decision; has a GED; has past relevant work
as a waitress, meat clerk, and a convenience store clerk; and
alleges disability based on diabetes, high cholesterol, lung
problems, high blood pressure, arthritis and neuropathy in
her feet, bone spurs in her right foot, and broken right and
left ankles with pins, plates, and screws. (R. 21, 27, 46-47,
69, 189, 198, 205, 211, 241).
and Mental Impairments
February 7, 2012, the claimant saw Dr. Michael Dick of
Alabama Medicine and Rheumatology complaining of ankle and
back pain that resulted from a prior car accident in 1985.
The claimant stated that her symptoms were constant and achy
and that the pain radiates down both her thighs to just above
her ankles. She reported that walking and prolonged standing
worsen her pain. The claimant described her pain as an 10/10
in severity, with the past month ranging from 6/10 as a
minimum to 10/10 as a maximum. Dr. Dick noted tenderness in
both “gluteal and ischial bursae as well as over both
sacroiliac joint margins.” He also noted that she was
tender in her hips and behind the bottom of both her knees.
Additionally, Dr. Dick noted extra bone growth in both ankles
and tenderness across the back of both ankles and on the
sides. Dr. Dick diagnosed her with inflammation of her hips
and pain in both legs; compressed nerves and traumatic
osteoarthritis in both ankles, with the right being greater
than the left. Dr. Dick prescribed Lortab for pain
management. (R. 795-94).
request of the Social Security Administration, the claimant
completed a “Function Report-Adult” on August 16,
2012. In that report, the claimant stated that she takes care
of her two-year-old grandson; can cook and clean, but it
takes her all day because she only can do things a little at
a time; and cannot stand, sit, or lay for a long time. The
claimant further stated that she can feed herself and use the
toilet, but it takes her a while to care for her hair, dress,
shave, or bathe herself. The claimant also stated that she
prepares her meals daily, but it takes her most of the day;
can clean daily; can do laundry twice a week; can iron once a
week; and can grocery shop in stores twice a month for two
hours. The claimant mentioned that she does not drive because
does not have a license and she wouldn't feel comfortable
driving with pain. (R. 221-224).
her activities, the claimant stated in her Function Report
that she watches TV off and on daily between daily chores,
and typically talks to and goes to take care of personal
business with others. She further stated she regularly goes
to pay bills and shop for groceries and clothes twice a
month; however, she needs someone to accompany her. (R. 225).
her abilities, the claimant stated in her Function Report
that she has pain when lifting, squatting, bending, standing,
reaching, walking, sitting, kneeling, stair climbing,
completing tasks, and using her hands. The claimant mentioned
she cannot walk far at all before needing to stop and rest;
when she does rest, she stated that it takes her two to three
minutes before she can resume walking. She further stated
that her pain affects her ability to see, concentrate, and
sleep because it wakes her up. Additionally, the claimant
stated that she can pay attention for a span of fifteen
minutes; can finish what she starts; can follow written and
spoken instructions well; gets along with authority figures;
has never been fired or laid off from a job because of
problems getting along with other people; does not handle
stress well; does not handle changes in routine well; and has
experienced anxiety as a result of her pain. (R. 226-27).
September 9, 2012, the claimant's live-in friend, Paul
Benson, also completed a “Function Report-Adult-Third
Party, ” similar to the report completed by the
claimant. Mr. Benson explained that he is usually at work six
days a week but, when he can, he is the one who mainly takes
the claimant to run her errands. He mentioned the claimant
does chores a little at a time but gets everything done. Mr.
Benson further stated that the claimant does not need any
help or encouragement doing these activities. He explained
that the claimant rarely goes shopping. Mr. Benson further
explained that the claimant can pay attention well; finishes
what she starts; rarely follows written instructions; can
follow spoken instructions; gets along with authority
figures; handles stress well; and handles changes in routine
well. He mentioned the claimant worries how she is going to
be able to take care of herself should something happen to
him. (R. 229-35).
request of the Social Security Administration, the claimant
met with Dr. John Haney, PhD, for a consultative
psychological examination on September 25, 2012. The claimant
informed Dr. Haney that her friend drove her to the
appointment. Dr. Haney then personally examined the claimant
and reviewed her medical records. He noted that the claimant
appeared sad and tearful but was alert, polite, and
cooperative. He further noted that the claimant was not
certain as to the reason for the appointment, but her
conversation was logical and goal directed.
claimant informed Dr. Haney that she stopped working because
of severe pain from arthritis in her legs and ankles that she
has experienced since a motor vehicle accident she suffered
in 1985. She explained that she underwent surgery on both
ankles and also has severe diabetes and high blood pressure.
The claimant further stated that she had “three or
four” arrests for possession of a controlled substance
and crack cocaine, and served a three year prison sentence
until 2006. She explained that, while she occasionally drinks
alcohol, she has not used crack cocaine in over five years
and has not smoked marijuana in the past seven months.
However, she informed Dr. Haney that she smokes one pack of
cigarettes daily. When asked if she had any psychiatric
hospitalizations and outpatient mental health treatment, the
claimant responded that she had not, but she received
substance abuse counseling while in prison. (R. 391).
his psychological examination of the claimant, Dr. Haney
noted that she was oriented to time, place, and person; was
unable to subtract serial sevens but was able to count
forward by threes; had difficulty performing most simple
problems in change making and arithmetic; was able to find
some abstract similarities between paired objects and
interpret simple proverbs; gave little accurate general
information; recalled four digits forward and four backward
and none of three objects after five minutes; appeared
“generally intact” regarding her recent and
remote memory; and had an estimated low average to borderline
range of intelligence. (R. 391).
Haney additionally noted that the claimant showed no
psychotic symptoms, such as auditory or visual
hallucinations, delusions, ideas of reference or grandiosity.
The claimant admitted to Dr. Haney that she had been feeling
more depressed since her son overdosed on drugs and died in
January 2012. The claimant stated she has experienced
sadness; crying spells; pain; worry; an inability to feel
happiness; poor memory and concentration; inability to relax;
and disturbed sleep, lack of energy, and decreased appetite.
However, when asked if she had any suicidal thoughts or
attempts, she informed Dr. Haney that she had not. Dr. Haney
also noted that the claimant's insight appeared poor but
that she seemed able to manage her own funds, should any be
awarded to her. (R. 392).
asked to describe an average day, the claimant explained to
Dr. Haney that her day begins around four-thirty in the
morning. She further explained that she mostly stays home,
cares for her grandson, does light household chores, and
denied other hobbies or leisure or ...