United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Elizabeth Wade seeks judicial
review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security. The Commissioner denied her claim for a
period of disability and disability insurance benefits. After
careful review, the Court reverses the Commissioner's
Wade applied for a period of disability and disability
insurance benefits on March 27, 2015. (Doc. 6-3, p. 23; Doc.
6-6, p. 2). Ms. Wade alleges that her disability began June
19, 2014. (Doc. 6-5, p. 74; Doc. 6-6, p. 2). The Commissioner
initially denied Ms. Wade's claim. (Doc. 6-3, p. 23; Doc.
6-7, p. 2). Ms. Wade requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Doc. 6-3, p. 23; Doc. 6-7,
p. 9). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. (Doc. 6-3, pp.
20, 38). The Appeals Council declined Ms. Wade'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 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 making this evaluation, 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 the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial
evidence, 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. Wade meets the insured status
requirements through December 31, 2019. (Doc. 6-3, p. 26).
Ms. Wade has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since June 19, 2014, the onset date. (Doc. 6-3, p. 26). The
ALJ determined that Ms. Wade suffers from the following
severe impairments: history of adhesions with
pelvic/abdominal pain, history of lumbar spondylosis with
stenosis with L4 and L5 decompressive laminectomies and
foraminotomies with back pain and sciatica, degenerative
joint disease of the knee, and chronic lymphocytic leukemia
in remission. (Doc. 6-3, p. 26). The ALJ found that Ms. Wade
suffers from the following non-severe physical impairments:
hyperlipidemia, vitamin D deficiency, tobacco use disorder,
abscesses with cellulitis, benign colon polyp, sigmoid
diverticulosis, hemorrhoids, hiatal hernia with mild erosive
esophagitis, diffuse gastritis, history of MRSA infection,
irritable bowel syndrome, history of breast reduction
surgery, history of bladder sling times two, TMJ syndrome,
and headaches. (Doc. 6-3, p. 30). The ALJ determined that Ms.
Wade's anxiety, somatic symptom disorder, and depressive
disorder with dysthymic syndrome are non-severe mental
impairments. (Doc. 6-3, pp. 31, 33). Based on a review of the
medical evidence, the ALJ found that Ms. Wade does not have
an impairment or 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. 33).
determined that Ms. Wade has the RFC to perform medium work
as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(c) except with
occasional stooping and crouching; no right lower extremity
pushing or pulling; and no climbing. (Doc. 6-3, p. 34).
“Medium work involves lifting no more than 50 pounds at
a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing
up to 25 pounds.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(c). The ALJ
concluded that Ms. Wade is able to perform her past relevant
work as a licensed practical nurse, work that Ms. Wade
previously did in a nursing home, because this position does
not require work-related activities precluded by Ms.
Wade's RFC. (Doc. 6-3, p. 38; Doc. 6-5, p.
Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Ms. Wade has not been
under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security
Act. (Doc. 6-3, p. 38).
Wade argues that she is entitled to relief from the ALJ's
decision because the ALJ did not properly evaluate her claim
under the Eleventh Circuit pain standard. (Doc. 11, p. 5).
Based on its review, the Court finds that the record does not
contain substantial evidence to support the ALJ's
negative credibility determination as it pertains to the
ALJ's conclusion that Ms. Wade can perform medium
Eleventh Circuit pain standard “applies when a
disability claimant attempts to establish disability through
his own testimony of pain or other subjective
symptoms.” Holt v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d 1221,
1223 (11th Cir. 1991); Coley v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., No. 18-11954, 2019 WL 1975989, at *3 (11th Cir.
May 3, 2019). When relying upon subjective symptoms to
establish disability, “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, 921
F.2d at 1223); Chatham v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.,
No. 18-11708, 2019 WL 1758438, at *2 (11th Cir. Apr. 18,
2019) (citing Wilson). If the ALJ does not
demonstrate “proper application of the three-part
standard[, ]” reversal is appropriate. McLain v.
Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 676 Fed.Appx. 935, 937
(11th Cir. 2017) (citing Holt).
claimant's credible testimony coupled with medical
evidence of an impairing condition “is itself
sufficient to support a finding of disability.”
Holt, 921 F.2d at 1223; see Gombash v.
Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 566 Fed.Appx. 857, 859
(11th Cir. 2014) (“A claimant may establish that he has
a disability ‘through his own testimony of pain or
other subjective symptoms.'”) (quoting Dyer v.
Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005)). If an
ALJ rejects a claimant's subjective testimony, the ALJ
“must articulate explicit and adequate reasons for
doing so.” Wilson, 284 F.3d at 1225;
Coley, 2019 WL 1975989, at *3. As a matter of law,
the Secretary must accept the claimant's testimony if the
ALJ inadequately or improperly discredits it. Cannon v.
Bowen, 858 F.2d 1541, 1545 (11th Cir. 1988);
Kalishek v.Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 470 Fed.Appx.
868, 871 (11th Cir. 2012) (citing Cannon); see
Hale v. Bowen, 831 F.2d 1007, 1012 (11th Cir. 1987)
(“It is established in this circuit if the Secretary
fails to articulate reasons for refusing to credit a
claimant's subjective pain testimony, then the Secretary,
as a matter of law, has accepted that testimony as
credibility is at issue, the provisions of Social Security
Regulation 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.
16-3p, 2016 WL 1119029, at *4. Concerning the ALJ's
burden when discrediting a claimant's subjective
symptoms, SSR 16-3p clarifies:
[I]t 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.
16-3p, 2016 WL 1119029, at *10. Additionally, in evaluating a
claimant's reported symptoms, an ALJ must consider the
(i) [the claimant's] daily activities; (ii) [t]he
location, duration, frequency, and intensity of [the
claimant's] pain or other symptoms;
(iii) [p]recipitating and aggravating factors; (iv) [t]he
type, dosage, effectiveness, and side effects of any
medication [the claimant] take[s] or ha[s] taken to alleviate
. . . pain or other symptoms; (v) [t]reatment, other than
medication, [the claimant] receive[s] or ha[s] received for
relief of . . . pain or other symptoms; (vi) [a]ny measures
[the claimant] use[s] or ha[s] used to relieve . . . pain or
other symptoms (e.g., lying flat on your back, standing for
15 to 20 minutes every hour, sleeping on a board, etc.); and
(vii) [o]ther factors concerning [the claimant's]
functional limitations and restrictions due to pain or other
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1529(c)(3), 416.929(c)(3);
Leiter v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 377 Fed.Appx.
944, 947 (11th Cir. 2010).
found that Ms. Wade's medical records and daily
activities do not support her testimony regarding her
subjective pain and limitations. (Doc. 6-3, pp. 35-37). An
ALJ may discount a claimant's pain based on conflicting
evidence in medical records and in reports of daily
activities. See Crow, 571 Fed.Appx. At 808
(“Given Crow's quick and sustained improvement
using prednisone, and daily activity that indicated a greater
capacity for work than alleged, the ALJ made a clearly
articulated credibility finding that was supported by
substantial evidence.”) (citing Foote v.
Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1562 (11th Cir. 1995));
Loveless v. Massanari, 136 F.Supp.2d 1245, 1249-1250
(N.D. Ala. 2001) (affirming the ALJ's decision to
discredit the claimant's subjective pain testimony
because it did not align with the claimant's objective
medical evidence and reported daily activities). Accordingly,
the Court first examines Ms. Wade's testimony and then
compares her testimony to the medical evidence in the record
and to the evidence relating to her daily activities.
Ms. Wade's Testimony
administrative hearing on August 2, 2017, Ms. Wade testified
that she was 58 years old. (Doc. 6-5, pp. 69, 78, 79). Ms.
Wade stopped working in 2014 because she did not recover well
from a surgical procedure (pelvic), and she began
experiencing back problems which required additional surgery.
(Doc. 6-5, pp. 74-75). Ms. Wade stated that she suffered from
back, abdominal, and knee pain, and she lacked energy. (Doc.
6-5, pp. 75, 78). Ms. Wade stated that her pain and fatigue
prevented her from working. (Doc. 6-5, pp. 75, 78). Ms. Wade
was using a pain management plan to treat her pain, taking
oxycodone (20 mg) four times daily. (Doc. 6-5, p.
Medication helped Ms. Wade manage her pain, but she reported
that medication did not eliminate her pain. (Doc. 6-5, p.
scale of one to ten - with ten being pain so severe a person
would need to go to the emergency room - at the
administrative hearing, Ms. Wade rated her pain as a six with
rest and medication. (Doc. 6-5, p. 76). Ms. Wade stated that
her pain increased to eight with activity. (Doc. 6-5, p. 76).
Ms. Wade stated that she was most comfortable in a recliner
and reclined “four and a half to five hours”
daily to manager her pain. (Doc. 6-5, p. 77). Ms. Wade has
received pain injections for her back and knees. (Doc. 6-5,
p. 78). Ms. Wade stated that the last knee injections before
the administrative hearing helped a little bit, but other
pain procedures did not. (Doc. 6-5, p. 78).
Wade and her husband have three children ages ten, six, and
five. (Doc. 6-5, p. 76). Ms. Wade does household chores with
a lot of help from her husband. (Doc. 6-5, p. 76). Her oldest
child helps too. (Doc. 6-5, p. 77).
Wade breaks up chores because of her pain: “Yeah, it
takes a little bit, you know. I'll go and I'll sweep
… then I go and I rest because it'll stir my back
up.” (Doc. 6-5, p. 76). Ms. Wade drives her children to
and from school, which is a quarter mile from home. (Doc.
6-5, p. 76). She drives herself and her children to
doctor's appointments. (Doc. 6-5, pp. 76-77). Ms. Wade
testified that she occasionally shops for groceries, but her
“husband does the most part.” (Doc. 6-5, p. 77).