United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(g), plaintiff Wendy Twilley seeks
judicial review of a final adverse decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying
her application for supplemental security income
(“SSI”). For the reasons stated below, the Court
affirms the Commissioner's decision.
September 12, 2013, Ms. Twilley protectively filed an
application for SSI, alleging that her disability began on
June 1, 2007. (Doc. 6-3, p. 22; Doc. 6-6, p. 2-7; Doc. 6-7,
p. 22). Subsequently, Ms. Twilley amended the onset date to
September 12, 2013. (Doc. 6-3, p. 43). On December 13, 2013,
the Commissioner initially denied her claims. (Doc. 6-3, p.
February 11, 2014, Ms. Twilley requested a hearing before an
ALJ. (Doc. 6-3, p. 22). On April 8, 2015, the ALJ held a
hearing on Ms. Twilley's claims. (Doc. 6-3, pp. 39-66).
On June 19, 2015, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision and
found that Ms. Twilley was not disabled. (Doc. 6-3, pp.
19-34). On August 20, 2015, Ms. Twilley asked the Appeals
Council to review the ALJ's decision. (Doc. 6-3, p. 15).
On December 15, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Ms.
Twilley's request for review. (Doc. 6-3, p. 2).
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 her
‘legal conclusions with close scrutiny.'”
Riggs v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 522
Fed.Appx. 509, 510-11 (11th Cir. 2013) (quoting Doughty
v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001)).
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., 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 she 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 Ms. Twilley had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since September 12, 2013, the
amended onset date. (Doc. 6-3, p. 24). The ALJ determined
that Ms. Twilley suffers from the following severe
impairments: “migraines, history of pseudo seizure
disorder, mitral valve disorder, history of asthma,
fibromyalgia, and obesity.” (Doc. 6-3, p. 24). The ALJ
also determined that Ms. Twilley “does not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that meets or
medically equals the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 CFR Part 404 Subpart P, Appendix 1.”
(Doc. 6-3, p. 27).
respect to the identified impairments, the ALJ evaluated Ms.
Twilley's RFC and found that Mr. Twilley has:
the [RFC] to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR
416.967(b) except that [Ms. Twilley] can occasionally
balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and
stairs, but can never climb ladders and scaffolds. The
claimant can tolerate occasional exposure to extreme cold and
heat, but should never be exposed to unprotected heights,
moving mechanical parts, or operating a motor vehicle for
commercial purposes. [Ms. Twilley] should avoid large bodies
of water and have no more than occasional exposure to dust,
odors and pulmonary irritants. [Ms. Twilley] is limited to
simple tasks and few changes in a routine work setting due to
possible pain distractions.
(Doc. 6-3, p. 28).
found that Ms. Twilley “has no past relevant
work.” (Doc. 6-3, p. 33). Based on the testimony of a
vocational expert, the ALJ found that “there are jobs
that exist in significant numbers in the national economy
that [Ms. Twilley] can perform” including garment
folder, small products assembler, or office helper. (Doc.
6-3, pp. 33-34). Therefore, the ALJ concluded that:
“[Ms. Twilley] has not been under a disability, as
defined in the Social Security Act, since September 12, 2013,
the date the application was filed.” (Doc. 6-3, p. 34).
appeal, Ms. Twilley has raised multiple challenges to the
ALJ's decision. The Court considers each argument in
Substantial evidence supports the ALJ's credibility
Twilley argues that ALJ failed to properly state reasons for
discounting her credibility. (Doc. 11, p. 24). “To
establish a disability based on testimony of pain and other
symptoms, the claimant must satisfy two parts of a three-part
test by 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.'”
Zuba-Ingram v. Comm'r of Social Sec., 600
Fed.Appx. 650, 656 (11th Cir. 2015) (quoting Wilson v.
Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1225 (11th Cir. 2002) (per
curiam)). A claimant's testimony coupled with evidence
that meets this standard “is itself sufficient to
support a finding of disability.” Holt v.
Sullivan, 921 F.2d 1221, 1223 (11th Cir. 1991) (citation
ALJ discredits a claimant's subjective testimony, then
the ALJ “must articulate explicit and adequate reasons
for doing so.” Wilson, 284 F.3d at 1225.
“While an adequate credibility finding need not cite
particular phrases or formulations[, ] broad findings that a
claimant lacked credibility . . . are not enough . . .
.” Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1562 (11th
Cir. 1995) (per curiam); see SSR 96-7P, 1996 WL
374186 at *2 (“The determination or decision must
contain specific reasons for the finding on credibility,
supported by the evidence in the case record, and must be
sufficiently specific to make clear to the individual and to
any subsequent reviewers the weight the adjudicator gave to
the individual's statements and the reasons for that
Twilley reported limitations related to migraines and
fibromyalgia, among other issues. (Doc. 6-7, p. 13). In her
function report, she stated that sometimes she has to stay in
bed all day if she has a bad migraine. (Doc. 6-7, p. 26). She
also reported that she sometimes cooks for her children, she
can drive when she is not having a migraine or a seizure, and
she goes shopping about once a week. (Doc. 6-7, pp. 28-29).
administrative hearing, Ms. Twilley testified that she has
migraines approximately three times per month, and her
migraine headaches typically last one week. (Doc. 6-3, pp.
46-47). She reported taking medication, but she stated that
it does not work. (Doc. 6-3, p. 48). She explained that when
she has a migraine, she must lie down in a dark room. (Doc.
6-3, p. 48). She stated that her daughter does most of the
housework. (Doc. 6-3, p. 53). She also stated that she has
fibromyalgia that causes her pain. (Doc. 6-3, p. 49). Ms.
Twilley stated that in a 12 month period, she may have
stress-induced seizures in eight of those months. (Doc. 6-3,
p. 58). Sometimes three days pass between the seizures, and
other times, seizures may occur in two-week intervals. (Doc.
6-3, pp. 58-59).
found that “[Ms. Twilley's] medically determinable
impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged
symptoms; however, [Ms. Twilley's] statements concerning
the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these
symptoms are not entirely credible . . . .” (Doc. 6-3,
determined that a “lack of medical treatment and
objective abnormalities undermines the claimant's
allegations about the debilitating nature of her
impairments.” (Doc. 6-3, p. 31). Regarding headaches
and seizures, the ALJ stated that the record does not contain
“a longitudinal treatment history of [Ms.
Twilley's] impairments, only a few hospital
visits.” (Doc. 6-3, p. 31). The ALJ recognized that Ms.
Twilley's doctor stated that she had multiple admissions
and consultations, but the ALJ noted that the doctor did not
provide “treatment records or objective medical
evidence to support his statement.” (Doc. 6-3, p. 31).
In addition, the ALJ observed that Ms. Twilley's test
results generally were normal. (Doc. 6-3, p. 31). With
respect to Ms. Twilley's fibromyalgia, history of asthma,
and mitral valve disorder, the ALJ observed that Ms. Twilley
“received little or no treatment.” (Doc. 6-3, p.
31). The ALJ noted that Ms. Twilley's doctor, Dr. Sesay,
found that Ms. Twilley suffers from fibromyalgia, but the ALJ
observed that there were no treatment records, and
examination records contained normal findings. (Doc. 6-3, p
31). The ALJ also determined that Ms. Twilley's
“activities of daily living are greater than what one
would expect of a fully disabled individual.” (Doc.
6-3, p. 32). In addition, the ALJ explained that Ms.
Twilley's work history undercuts her testimony. (Doc.
6-3, p. 32).
brief, Ms. Twilley states that the evidence “does
reveal six admissions and/or ER visits for migraine headaches
with seizures.” (Doc. 11, p. 21).Otherwise, Ms.
Twilley does not identify evidence in the administrative
record that contradicts the ALJ's findings. The Court has
examined the medical evidence and the evidence concerning Ms.
Twilley's daily activities and finds that substantial
evidence supports the ALJ's credibility determination.
evaluating the credibility of the claimant's reports of
the severity of her condition, an ALJ may examine the extent
to which a claimant has sought medical treatment. SSR 96-7p,
1996 WL 374186, *7. An ALJ also may consider whether tests
results in medical records reveal normal findings. Brown
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 680 Fed.Appx. 822, 826 (11th
Cir. 2017) (evidence supported the ALJ's determination
that claimant was only partially credible where no physician
suggested claimant could not work, physicians reported mostly
normal conditions, MRI scans were normal, doctors recommended
conservative treatments, and claimant could engage in a range