United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division
TYRONE M. DIXON, Plaintiff,
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
F. BIVINS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Tyrone M. Dixon (hereinafter “Plaintiff”) seeks
judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security denying his claim for a period of disability
and disability insurance benefits under Title II of the
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et
seq. On October 12, 2018, the parties consented to have
the undersigned conduct any and all proceedings in this case.
(Doc. 12). Thus, the action was referred to the undersigned
to conduct all proceedings and order the entry of judgment in
accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 73. (Doc. 13). Upon careful consideration of
the administrative record and the memoranda of the parties,
it is hereby ORDERED that the decision of
the Commissioner be AFFIRMED.
Procedural History 
protectively filed his application for benefits on July 6,
2015, alleging disability beginning February 5, 2015, based
on hearing loss, a right knee problem, and high cholesterol.
(Doc. 8 at 91, 180). Plaintiff's application was denied
and, upon timely request, he was granted an administrative
hearing before Administrative Law Judge Marni R. McCaghren
(hereinafter “ALJ”) on February 8, 2017.
(Id. at 61). Plaintiff attended the hearing with his
counsel and provided testimony related to his claims.
(Id. at 61, 65). A vocational expert also appeared
at the hearing and provided testimony. (Id. at 84).
On March 6, 2017, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision
finding that Plaintiff is not disabled. (Id. at 42).
The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review
on November 9, 2017. (Id. at 5). Therefore, the
ALJ's decision dated March 6, 2017, became the final
decision of the Commissioner.
exhausted his administrative remedies, Plaintiff timely filed
the present civil action. (Doc. 1). Oral argument was
conducted on November 19, 2018 (Doc. 19), and the parties
agree that this case is now ripe for judicial review and is
properly before this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§
Issues on Appeal
1. Whether the ALJ reversibly erred by giving little weight
to the opinion of Plaintiff's treating psychologist,
Susan Rhodes, Ph.D.?
2. Whether the Appeals Council reversibly erred in finding
that a report from a psychological evaluation performed after
the ALJ's decision was not chronologically relevant to
the determination of whether Plaintiff was disabled on or
before the date of the ALJ's decision?
was born on January 3, 1970, and was forty-seven years of age
at the time of his administrative hearing on February 8,
2017. (Doc. 8 at 65). Plaintiff has a twelfth-grade education
and can read and write. (Id. at 66). Plaintiff last
worked as a heavy equipment operator in February 2015.
(Id. at 67). Plaintiff's employment as a heavy
equipment operator ended when he declined his employer's
request to switch to a different position within the company
because the new job “would keep [him] in constant
pain.” (Id. at 67-68, 367). Prior to his
employment as a heavy equipment operator, Plaintiff worked
jobs as a truck driver and shipyard helper. (Id. at
was in the U.S. Army from 1988 to 1991 and served in a tank
battalion during the First Gulf War. (Id. at 160,
465). He received an honorable discharge. (Id. at
465). In 2014, Plaintiff was awarded VA disability benefits
with a rating of 50% for service-connected post-traumatic
stress disorder (“PTSD”). (Id. at 23).
Plaintiff's rating for PTSD was increased to 100%
effective April 7, 2017, after the Department of Veterans
Affairs determined that Plaintiff's PTSD had worsened.
(Id. at 13, 23).
hearing, Plaintiff testified that he is unable to work
because he has difficulty concentrating as a result of his
PTSD and because of ongoing pain and other problems involving
his surgically-repaired right knee. (Id. at 71-74).
Plaintiff receives psychological therapy at the VA, regularly
attends group PTSD sessions, and has been prescribed various
medications for PTSD-related symptoms, including anxiety,
depression, and nightmares. (Id. at 26, 896).
Plaintiff was diagnosed with severe bone-on-bone right knee
medial compartment arthritis. (Id. at 328). He
underwent a right knee arthroscopy with medial meniscectomy,
medial femoral condyle microfracture, and right high tibial
osteotomy on October 13, 2015, and his right knee was also
treated by physical therapy and medications. (Id. at
471). Plaintiff was also diagnosed with bilateral hearing
loss and tinnitus, but he received hearing aids in July 2015
which allow him to hear well. (Id. at 445-46).
Standard of Review
reviewing claims brought under the Act, this Court's role
is a limited one. The Court's review is limited to
determining (1) whether the decision of the Commissioner is
supported by substantial evidence and (2) whether the correct
legal standards were applied. Martin v. Sullivan, 894
F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990). A court may not decide the
facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute its judgment
for that of the Commissioner. Sewell v. Bowen, 792
F.2d 1065, 1067 (11th Cir. 1986). The Commissioner's
findings of fact must be affirmed if they are based upon
substantial evidence. Brown v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d
1233, 1235 (11th Cir. 1991). “Substantial evidence is
more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance”
and consists of “such relevant evidence as a reasonable
person would accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d
1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983). In determining whether
substantial evidence exists, a reviewing court must consider
the record as a whole, taking into account evidence both
favorable and unfavorable to the Commissioner's decision.
Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986)
(per curiam); Short v. Apfel, 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS
10163, at *4 (S.D. Ala. June 14, 1999).
Statutory and Regulatory Framework
individual who applies for Social Security disability
benefits must prove his or her disability. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1512. Disability is defined as the “inability to
engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any
medically determinable physical or mental impairment which
can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can
be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than
12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); see
also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a). The Social Security
regulations provide a five-step sequential evaluation process
for determining whether a claimant has proven his or her
disability. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520.
claimant must first prove that he or she is not engaged in
substantial gainful activity. Carpenter v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 614 Fed.Appx. 482, 486 (11th Cir. 2015) (per
curiam). The second step requires the claimant to prove that
he or she has a severe impairment or combination of
impairments. Id. If, at the third step, the claimant
proves that the impairment or combination of impairments
meets or equals a listed impairment, then the claimant is
automatically found disabled regardless of age, education, or
work experience. Id. If the claimant cannot prevail
at the third step, the ALJ must determine the claimant's
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) before
proceeding to step four. Id. A claimant's RFC is
an assessment, based on all relevant medical and other
evidence, of a claimant's remaining ability to work
despite his or her impairments. Lewis v. Callahan,