United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff Melanie Dempsey Adams
seeks judicial review of a final adverse decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security. The Commissioner denied Ms.
Adams's claim for a period of disability and disability
insurance benefits. After careful review, the Court affirms
the Commissioner's decision.
of 2014, Ms. Adams applied for a period of disability and
disability insurance benefits. (Doc. 6-3, p. 20; Doc. 6-6, p.
2). Ms. Adams alleges her disability began on September 17,
2013. (Doc. 6-6, p. 2). The Commissioner denied Ms.
Adams's claim on August 7, 2014. (Doc. 6-3, p. 20; Doc.
6-4, pp. 30-31).
Adams requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(ALJ). (Doc. 6-5, p. 16). The hearing took place on May 12,
2016. (Doc. 6-3, p. 42). The ALJ issued an unfavorable
decision on July 13, 2016. (Doc. 6-3, p. 17). On May 12,
2017, the Appeals Council declined Ms. Adams's request
for review (Doc. 6-3, p. 2), making the Commissioner's
decision final for this Court's judicial review.
See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
scope of review in this matter is limited. “When, as in
this case, the ALJ denies benefits and the Appeals Council
denies review, ” the Court “review[s] the
ALJ's ‘factual findings with deference' and
[his] ‘legal conclusions with close
scrutiny.'” Riggs v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 522 Fed.Appx. 509, 510-11 (11th Cir. 2013)
(quoting Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th
Court must determine whether there is substantial evidence in
the record to support the ALJ's factual findings.
“Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is
such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Crawford v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir.
2004). In evaluating the administrative record, the Court may
not “decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence,
” or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ.
Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 631 F.3d
1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (internal quotations and citation
omitted). If substantial evidence supports the ALJ's
factual findings, then the Court “must affirm even if
the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's
findings.” Costigan v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec.
Admin., 603 Fed.Appx. 783, 786 (11th Cir. 2015) (citing
Crawford, 363 F.3d at 1158).
respect to the ALJ's legal conclusions, the Court must
determine whether the ALJ applied the correct legal
standards. If the Court finds an error in the ALJ's
application of the law, or if the Court finds that the ALJ
failed to provide sufficient reasoning to demonstrate that
the ALJ conducted a proper legal analysis, then the Court
must reverse the ALJ's decision. Cornelius v.
Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).
SUMMARY OF THE ALJ'S DECISION
determine whether a claimant has proven disability, an ALJ
follows a five-step sequential evaluation process. The ALJ
(1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial
gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a severe
impairment or combination of impairments; (3) whether the
impairment meets or equals the severity of the specified
impairments in the Listing of Impairments; (4) based on a
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) assessment,
whether the claimant can perform any of his or her past
relevant work despite the impairment; and (5) whether there
are significant numbers of jobs in the national economy that
the claimant can perform given the claimant's RFC, age,
education, and work experience.
Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178.
case, the ALJ found that Ms. Adams has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since September 17, 2013, the
alleged onset date. (Doc. 6-3, p. 22). The ALJ determined
that Ms. Adams suffers from the following severe impairments:
obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD); attention-deficit
hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); major depressive disorder,
recurrent, moderate with anxiety; and status-post right knee
total arthroplasty. (Doc. 6-3, p. 23). The ALJ determined
that Ms. Adams suffers from the following non-severe
impairments: diabetes mellitus, hypertension, and
gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). (Doc. 6-3, p. 23).
Based on a review of the medical evidence, the ALJ concluded
that Ms. Adams does not have an impairment or a combination
of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
any of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart
P, Appendix 1. (Doc. 6-3, p. 25).
light of Ms. Adams's impairments, the ALJ evaluated her
residual functional capacity. The ALJ determined that through
her date last insured, Ms.
had the RFC to perform:
medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) with additional
limitations. Specifically, the claimant was able to
frequently use right foot controls and frequently climb ramps
and stairs but never climb ladders or scaffolds. The claimant
could have frequently stooped but c[ould] only occasionally
crouched, kneeled and crawled. The claimant should never have
been exposed to unprotected heights, dangerous machinery,
dangerous tools, hazardous processes or operated commercial
motor vehicles. The undersigned further finds that the
claimant could have done routine and repetitive tasks and she
would have been limited to making simple work-related
decisions. She would have been able to accept constructive
non-confrontational criticism, could work in small group
settings and have been able to accept changes in the work
place setting if introduced gradually and infrequently. The
claimant would have been unable to perform assembly line work
with production rate pace but could have performed other
goal-oriented work. In addition to normal workday breaks, she
would have been off-task 5 percent of an 8-hour workday
(Doc. 6-3, p. 28).
on this RFC, the ALJ concluded that through the date last
insured, Ms. Adams could not perform her past relevant work
as an English teacher, a driver's education instructor,
or a recruiter. (Doc. 6-3, p. 34). Relying on testimony from
a vocational expert, the ALJ found that other jobs existed in
the national economy that Ms. Adams could have performed,
including auto detailer, bagger, and hospital cleaner. (Doc.
6-3, pp. 35-36). Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Ms.
Adams was not under a disability within the meaning of the
Social Security Act at any time from September 17, 2013, the
alleged onset date, through June 30, 2014, the date last
insured. (Doc. 6-3, p. 36).
Adams appeals the ALJ's decision for two reasons. Ms.
Adams maintains that the ALJ improperly evaluated her
credibility under the Eleventh Circuit pain standard, and Ms.
Adams challenges the ALJ's evaluation of the medical
opinion evidence pertaining to her mental functioning. After
considering the parties' arguments and examining the
record, the Court finds that substantial evidence in the
record supports the ALJ's decision.
Substantial evidence supports the ALJ's credibility
ALJ's credibility determination is based on substantial
evidence. The Eleventh Circuit pain standard “applies
when a disability claimant attempts to establish disability
through his own testimony of pain or other subjective
symptoms.” Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206,
1210 (11th Cir. 2005). To establish disability based on
testimony regarding pain and other symptoms, a claimant
“must satisfy two parts of a three-part test showing:
(1) evidence of an underlying medical condition; and (2)
either (a) objective medical evidence confirming the severity
of the alleged pain; or (b) that the objectively determined
medical condition can reasonably be expected to give rise to
the claimed pain.” Wilson v. Barnhart, 284
F.3d 1219, 1225 (11th Cir. 2002) (citing Holt v.
Sullivan, 921 F.2d 1221, 1223 (11th Cir. 1991)). A
claimant's testimony coupled with evidence that meets
this standard “is itself sufficient to support a
finding of disability.” Holt v. Sullivan, 921