United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c), Tammy Jeanease
Reeves seeks judicial review of a final adverse decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security. The Commissioner denied
Ms. Reeves’s claims for disability insurance benefits
and supplemental security income. Ms. Reeves also has moved
to remand. (Doc. 12). For the reasons stated below, the Court
denies Ms. Reeves’s motion and affirms the
Reeves applied for disability, disability insurance benefits,
and supplemental security income. (Doc. 6-3, p. 11; Doc. 6-4,
pp. 22, 23). Ms. Reeves alleges that her disability began
August 15, 2014. (Doc. 6-3, p. 11; Doc. 6-4, pp. 21, 23). She
was working at the time, but her work “did not rise to
the level of substantial gainful activity.” (Doc. 6-3,
p. 13). The Commissioner initially denied Ms. Reeves’s
claim. (Doc. 6-3, p. 11; Doc. 6-4, p. 22, ¶ 19; Doc.
6-4, p. 23, ¶ 19). Ms. Reeves requested a hearing before
an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Doc. 6-3, p. 11; Doc.
6-5, p. 11). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. (Doc.
6-3, pp. 11, 23-24). The Appeals Council declined Ms.
Reeves’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. §
Reeves previously applied for benefits and claimed disability
beginning on April 1, 2011. (Doc. 6-3, p. 40). Another ALJ
determined on a record substantially similar to the record in
this case that Ms. Reeves was not disabled. (Doc. 6-3, p.
21). That previous ALJ found that Ms. Reeves’s pain
testimony was inconsistent with her pain reports to
physicians. Those reports never exceeded five on a ten-point
scale. In addition, there was no information in Ms.
Reeves’s medical records to confirm her complaints of
side effects from her medication. (Doc. 6-3, pp. 50-51). The
district court affirmed that ALJ’s decision. Reeves
v. Colvin (Reeves I), No.
4:14-CV-01970-RDP, 2016 WL 778029 (N.D. Ala. Feb. 29, 2016);
(Doc. 6-3, pp. 39-54). The Court discusses below the
significance of this earlier determination as it pertains to
Ms. Reeves’s current appeal.
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, Soc. Sec.
Admin., 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, Soc. Sec. Admin., 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, 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. Reeves meets the insured status
requirements through June 30, 2016. (Doc. 6-3, p. 11). Ms.
Reeves has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since
August 15, 2014, the alleged onset date. (Doc. 6-3, p. 13).
The ALJ determined that Ms. Reeves suffers from the following
severe impairments: degenerative disc disease, degenerative
joint disease, obesity, and depression. (Doc. 6-3, p. 13).
The ALJ found that Ms. Reeves suffers from the following
non-severe impairments: gastroesophageal reflux disease,
anxiety, and hypertension. (Doc. 6-3, p. 14). Based on a
review of the medical evidence, the ALJ found that Ms. Reeves
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. 14).
determined that Ms. Reeves has the RFC to perform sedentary
work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(a),
416.967(a) subject to the following limitations:
no following complex instructions or procedures; no climbing
ropes, ladders, or scaffolds; no working at unprotected
heights or with hazardous machinery; occasionally stooping,
crouching balancing, crawling, kneeling, and climbing of
ramps or stairs; no interacting frequently with co-workers,
supervisors, and the general public; occasionally using foot
controls bilaterally; and avoiding concentrated exposure to
extreme heat, cold, or vibrations.
(Doc. 6-3, p. 17). “Sedentary work involves lifting no
more than 10 pounds at a time and occasionally lifting or
carrying articles like docket files, ledgers, and small
tools.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a); 20 C.F.R. §
416.967(a). “Jobs are sedentary if walking and standing
are required occasionally and other sedentary criteria are
met.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a); 20 C.F.R. §
concluded that Ms. Reeves cannot perform her past relevant
work. (Doc. 6-3, p. 22). Relying on testimony from a
vocational expert, the ALJ found that other jobs exist in the
national economy that Ms. Reeves can perform, including
surveillance system monitor, cuff folder, and lens inserter.
(Doc. 6-3, p. 23). Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Ms.
Reeves has not been under a disability within the meaning of
the Social Security Act. (Doc. 6-3, pp. 23-24).
Motion to Remand
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)’s sentences four and six,
Ms. Reeves asks the Court to remand this matter so that the
ALJ may consider a favorable decision on her most recent
benefits application and a January 2018 medical source
statement. (Doc. 12; Docs. 12-1, 12-2). “Under sentence
four, a district court may remand in conjunction with a
judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the
Secretary’s decision.” Melkonyan v.
Sullivan, 501 U.S. 89, 98 (1991). Ms. Reeves asks the
Court to remand before reaching a substantive decision, so
sentence four does not provide a vehicle for remand. 501 U.S.
district court may remand under § 405(g)’s
sentence six if a claimant offers “new, noncumulative
evidence . . . [that] is ‘material, ’ that is,
relevant and probative so that there is a reasonable
possibility that it would change the administrative
result[.]” Caulder v. Bowen, 791 F.2d 872, 877
(11th Cir. 1986). Additionally, a claimant must demonstrate
“good cause for the failure to submit the evidence at
the administrative level.” Caulder, 791 F.2d
Hunter v. Comm’r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 808 F.3d
818, 822 (11th Cir. 2015), the Eleventh Circuit Court of
Appeals held that a favorable decision on a subsequent
benefits application “is not evidence for § 405(g)
purposes.” The Eleventh Circuit reasoned:
Faced with the same record, different ALJs could disagree
with one another based on their respective credibility
determinations and how each weighs the evidence. Both
decisions could nonetheless be supported by evidence that
reasonable minds would accept as adequate. The mere existence
of a later favorable decision by one ALJ does not undermine
the validity of another ALJ’s earlier unfavorable
decision or the factfindings upon which it was premised.
Hunter, 808 F.3d at 822. Consequently, Ms. Reeves
cannot rely on her recent favorable determination to support
a sentence six remand.
consultative report may warrant a sentence six remand if it
meets the Caulder requirements. (Doc. 14, pp. 6, 7).
The report that Ms. Reeves offers, Dr. Oguntuyo’s 2018
report, does not indicate that Ms. Reeves’s functional
impairments existed prior to the ALJ’s 2017
determination in this case. See Watts ex rel. A.W. v.
Comm’r, Soc. Sec. Admin., No. 4:11-CV-02625-RDP,
2012 WL 2358160, at *3 (N.D. Ala. June 15, 2012) (denying
motion to remand because the new evidence did not relate to
the disability period that the ALJ considered); cf.
Caulder, 791 F.2d at 877-78 (“The [new] evidence
also contains a medical opinion on the presence of the
impairment during the time period for which benefits are
sought.”). Because Dr. Oguntuyo’s report does
not provide information that establishes a reasonability
probability of a different administrative result, it does not
Reeves argues that she is entitled to relief from the
ALJ’s decision because the ALJ did not properly
evaluate the side effects of her pain medication under the
Eleventh Circuit pain standard or provide reasons for
discrediting the consultative opinions of Dr. Daniel Prince
and Dr. Jane Teschner. (Doc. 9, p. 2). Additionally, Ms.
Reeves maintains that the ALJ did not pose an accurate
hypothetical question to the vocational expert. (Doc. 9, pp.
2, 35). This Court affirms because substantial evidence
supports the ALJ’s decision that Ms. Reeves is not
disabled. The Court begins its analysis with the side effects
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, Soc. Sec.
Admin., 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, Soc. Sec.
Admin., No. 18-11708, 2019 WL 1758438, at *2 (11th Cir.