United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
JOHN R. JOHNSON, III, Plaintiff,
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c), plaintiff John
R. Johnson, III seeks judicial review of a final adverse
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. The
Commissioner denied Mr. Johnson's claims for disability
insurance benefits and supplemental security income. After
careful review, the Court remands this matter for additional
Johnson applied for a period of disability, disability
insurance benefits, and supplemental security income on
September 27, 2016. (Doc. 7-3, p. 11; Doc. 7-6, pp. 2-4; Doc.
7-6, pp. 5-12). Mr. Johnson initially alleged that his
disability began on October 26, 2011. (Doc. 7-3, p. 11; Doc.
7-6, pp. 2-12). Mr. Johnson later amended his onset date to
August 26, 2015. (Doc. 7-3, p. 11; Doc. 7-7, p. 21). The
Commissioner initially denied Mr. Johnson's application.
(Doc. 7-4, pp. 4-5). Mr. Johnson requested a hearing before
an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Doc. 7-5, pp. 10-11). The
hearing took place on March 23, 2017. (Doc. 7-3, p. 36). The
ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on April 10, 2017. (Doc.
7-3, p. 22). The Appeals Council declined Mr. Johnson's
request for review (Doc. 7-3, p. 2), making the
Commissioner's decision final for this Court's
appellate review. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and
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 that he is disabled,
an ALJ follows a five-step sequential evaluation process. The
(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 Mr. Johnson meets the insured status
requirements through September 30, 2019. (Doc. 7-3, p. 13).
According to the ALJ, Mr. Johnson has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since August 26, 2015, the
alleged onset date. (Doc. 7-3, p. 13). The Court notes that
the ALJ's reference to 2015 is consistent with some
documents in the record (Doc. 7-3, p. 11; Doc. 7-7, p. 21),
but other documents reflect that Mr. Johnson stopped working
in August 2016. (Doc. 7-8, p. 6; Doc. 7-8, p. 33). Also
during the administrative hearing, Mr. Johnson's attorney
indicated that Mr. Johnson's amended onset date is August
26, 2016. (Doc. 7-3, p. 40).
determined that Mr. Johnson suffers from three severe
impairments: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),
degenerative disc disease, and degenerative joint disease.
(Doc. 7-3, p. 13). Based on her review of the medical
evidence, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Johnson 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. 7-3, p. 14).
light of Mr. Johnson's impairments, the ALJ evaluated Mr.
Johnson's residual functional capacity. The ALJ
determined that Mr. Johnson has the RFC to:
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b) except occasional postural maneuvers; no climbing
of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; no crawling; frequent
overhead reaching with bilateral upper extremities; avoid
dangerous, moving, unguarded machinery and unprotected
heights; can understand, remember, and apply simple
instructions and tasks; limited to jobs involving infrequent
and well explained work place changes; limited to occasional
interaction with coworkers and the general public; and can
concentrate and remain on task for two hours at a time,
sufficient to complete an eight-hour workday.
(Doc. 7-3, p.16). Based on this RFC and vocational expert
testimony, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Johnson is able to
perform his past relevant work as a surveillance system
monitor. (Doc. 7-3, pp. 20, 58). Relying on the
Medical-Vocational Guidelines and expert testimony, the ALJ
found that Mr. Johnson is capable of doing other light jobs
including housekeeper, product marker, and packager. (Doc.
7-3, p. 21). Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Mr. Johnson
has not been under a disability within the meaning of the
Social Security Act. (Doc. 7-3, p. 22).
Johnson argues that he is entitled to relief from the
ALJ's decision because the ALJ did not properly evaluate
the credibility of his subjective testimony concerning PTSD.
(Doc. 11, p. 5). Mr. Johnson also maintains that the ALJ
did not provide good cause for giving less weight to the
opinion of Dr. Brannon, Mr. Johnson's treating
psychiatrist. (Doc. 11, p. 18). Because the ALJ's
negative credibility finding is not based on substantial
evidence, the Court will remand for further administrative
proceedings. See Carpenter v. Astrue, No.
8:10-CV-290-T-TGW, 2011 WL 767652, at *5 (M.D. Fla. Feb. 25,
2011) (“[I]f a credibility determination is inadequate,
a remand to the agency for further consideration is 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 a disability based on
testimony concerning the symptoms of an impairment,
“the 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 [symptoms]; or (b)
that the objectively determined medical condition can
reasonably be expected to give rise to the claimed
[symptoms].” 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, 921 F.2d at 1223
(citation omitted). If the ALJ discredits a claimant's
subjective testimony, the ALJ “must articulate explicit
and adequate reasons for doing so.” Wilson v.
Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1225 (11th Cir. 2002).
credibility is at issue, the provisions of SSR 16-3p apply.
SSR 16-3p provides:
[W]e recognize that some individuals may experience symptoms
differently and may be limited by symptoms to a greater or
lesser extent than other individuals with the same medical
impairments, the same objective medical evidence, and the
same non-medical evidence. In considering the intensity,
persistence, and limiting effects of an individual's
symptoms, we examine the entire case record, including the
objective medical evidence; an individual's statements
about the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of
symptoms; statements and other information provided by
medical sources and other persons; and any other relevant
evidence in the individual's case record.
SSR 16-3p, 2016 WL 1119029, at *4. Concerning the ALJ's
burden when discrediting a claimant's subjective
symptoms, SSR 16-3p provides:
it is not sufficient . . . to make a single, conclusory
statement that “the individual's statements about
his or her symptoms have been considered” or that
“the statements about the individual's symptoms are
(or are not) supported or consistent.” It is also not
enough . . . simply to recite the factors described in the
regulations for evaluating symptoms. The determination or
decision must contain specific reasons for the weight given
to the individual's symptoms, be consistent with and
supported by the evidence, and be clearly articulated so the
individual and any subsequent reviewer can assess how the
adjudicator evaluated the individual's symptoms.
SSR 16-3p, 2016 WL 1119029, at *10.
evaluating a claimant's subjective report of his
symptoms, an ALJ “must consider the following factors:
(i) the claimant's ‘daily activities; (ii) the
location, duration, frequency, and intensity of the
[claimant's] pain or other symptoms; (iii)
[p]recipitating and aggravating factors; (iv) the type,
dosage, effectiveness, and side effects of any medication the
[claimant took] to alleviate pain or other symptoms; (v)
treatment, other than medication, [the claimant] received for
relief ... of pain or other symptoms; and (vi) any measures
the claimant personally used to relieve pain or other
symptoms.'” Leiter v. Comm'r of SSA,
377 Fed.Appx. 944, 947 (11th Cir. 2010) (quoting 20 C.F.R.
Johnson developed PTSD following his military service in the
Gulf War. As a member of the Army, Mr. Johnson served in Iraq
for one year. (Doc. 7-11, p. 48; 7-12, p. 29). Mr. Johnson
primarily drove an armored combat vehicle and helped with
route clearance. (Doc. 7-11, p. 48). During his deployment,
Mr. Johnson was “blown off the road twice” and
witnessed deaths. (Doc. 7-11, p. 48; Doc. 7-12, p. 54).
Johnson testified that the VA originally misdiagnosed him
with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. (Doc. 7-3, p. 44).
Mr. Johnson received a PTSD diagnosis from the VA in August
or September of 2016. (Doc. 7-3, p. 45; Doc. ...