United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
MICHAEL PUTNAM UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
plaintiff, Patrick William Wise, appeals from the decision of
the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying his application for a
period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”). Mr. Wise timely pursued and exhausted
his 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. 24).
Accordingly, the court issues the following memorandum
plaintiff was 47 years old on the date of the ALJ's
opinion. (Tr. at 35). His past work experience includes
employment as a master carpenter. (Tr. at 34). The plaintiff
claims that he became disabled on August 21, 2013, due to
severe low back pain, severe neck pain, carpal tunnel
syndrome, depression, panic disorder with agoraphobia,
post-traumatic stress disorder, and attention deficit
disorder with hyperactivity. (Doc. 15, p.2).
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 he is, the claimant
is not disabled and the evaluation stops. Id. If he
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, he 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 his impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 404.945(a)(1).
fourth step requires a determination of whether the
claimant's impairments prevent him 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 his 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
he 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 his or her inability to perform those jobs in
order to be found disabled. Jones v. Apfel, 190 F.3d
1224, 1228 (11th Cir. 1999).
the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that the
plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since his alleged onset date of August 21, 2013. (Tr. at 20).
According to the ALJ, the plaintiff has the following
impairments that are considered “severe” based on
the requirements set forth in the regulations:
“cervical disc disease, obesity, s/p carpal tunnel
surgery, and lumbar back pain.” Id. He also
determined that the plaintiff's “major
depression-recurrent and anxiety disorder” are
non-severe. Id. at 27. 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 29. The ALJ found the plaintiff
to have mild restriction in activities of daily life, mild
difficulties in social functioning, and mild difficulties
with regard to concentration. (Tr. at 28). The ALJ determined
that the plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to
perform work at a sedentary level of exertion as defined in
20 CFR 416.967(a). Id. The ALJ further elaborated:
The claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform
sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a), which allows
for occasional stooping and crouching; no upper extremities
pushing or pulling; no driving; and a temperature controlled
(Tr. at 24)
to the ALJ, the plaintiff is unable to perform any of his
past relevant work and has “a high school education, a
2-year electronics degree, and is able to communicate in
English” as those terms are defined by the regulations.
(Tr. at 33). He determined that “[t]ransferability of
job skills is not material to the determination of disability
because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework
supports a finding that the claimant is ‘not
disabled,' whether or not the claimant has transferable
job skills.” Id. Even though the plaintiff is
limited to sedentary work, the ALJ determined that there are
a significant number of jobs in the national economy that he
is capable of performing, such as assembler, table worker,
and surveillance monitor. (Tr. at 36). The ALJ concluded his
findings by stating that Plaintiff “has not been under
a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since
August 21, 2013, the amended onset date of disability.”
Standard of Review
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).
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.
Wise argues that the ALJ's decision was erroneous and
should be remanded for three reasons. (Doc. 15, p.1). First,
he claims that the ALJ failed to afford the proper weight to
the opinions of his treating physician, Dr. Tariq, and his
treating psychologist, Dr. Lachman, and failed to show good
case for doing so. Id. Second, Wise argues that the
ALJ failed to state his reasons for affording less weight to
the opinions of Dr. June Nichols and Dr. David Wilson with
“at least some measure of clarity.” Id.
Third, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ did not consider all of
his severe mental impairments. Id.
Treating Medical Providers
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 not
to 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).
court must also 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 ...