United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c), plaintiff
Jeanette Chandler seeks judicial review of a final adverse
decision by the Commissioner of Social Security. The
Commissioner denied Ms. Chandler's claims for disability
insurance benefits and supplemental security income. After
careful consideration of the record, the Court remands for
Chandler applied for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income. (Doc. 6-3, p. 15; Doc. 6-4, pp.
36, 37). Ms. Chandler alleges that her disability began on
November 23, 2015. (Doc. 6-3, p. 15; Doc. 6-3, p.
The Commissioner initially denied Ms. Chandler's claims.
(Doc. 6-3, p. 15; Doc. 6-4, pp. 36, 37). Ms. Chandler
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
(Doc. 6-3, p. 15; Doc. 6-5, pp. 10-11). The ALJ issued an
unfavorable decision. (Doc. 6-3, pp. 15-27). The Appeals
Council declined Ms. Chandler's request for review (Doc.
6-3, p. 2), making the Commissioner's decision final for
appellate 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, 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 factual findings.
“Substantial evidence is something more than a mere
scintilla, but less than a preponderance. If the
Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial
evidence, this Court must affirm, even if the proof
preponderates against it.” Dyer v. Barnhart,
395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005) (internal quotation
marks and citations omitted); see also Costigan v.
Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 603 Fed.Appx. 783, 786
(11th Cir. 2015) (same). 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, Soc. Sec.
Admin., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (internal
quotation marks and citation omitted).
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
ordinarily 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.
the ALJ found that Ms. Chandler met the insured status
requirements for disability insurance benefits through
December 31, 2015. (Doc. 6-3, p. 17). Ms. Chandler had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 23,
2015, the alleged amended onset date. (Doc. 6-3, p. 18). The
ALJ determined that Ms. Chandler suffered from five severe
impairments: obesity, osteoarthritis, asthma, anxiety, and
depression. (Doc. 6-3, p. 18). The ALJ determined that Ms.
Chandler's hypertension and residual symptoms from a 2017
car accident were non-severe impairments. (Doc. 6-3, p. 18).
Based on his review of the medical evidence, the ALJ
concluded that Ms. Chandler did not have an impairment or a
combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the
severity of any of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part
404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Doc. 6-3, p. 18).
these impairments, the ALJ determined that Ms. Chandler had
the RFC to “perform light work” with the
The claimant is unable to climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds;
perform around hazards; perform commercial driving; or
perform in concentrated exposure to extreme hot or cold
temperatures, wetness, humidity, or environments of fumes,
odors, dust, gases, poor ventilation, etc. The claimant can
occasionally climb ramps or stairs, stoop, kneel, crouch, or
crawl. The claimant can understand and remember simple
instructions. The claimant can carry out simple instructions
and sustain attention to routine or familiar tasks for
extended periods. The claimant should have no production
quota and should avoid rapid changes and multiple demands.
Any contact with the public or co-workers should be no more
than occasional and brief (no more than 30 minutes at one
time). The claimant can accept and respond to feedback that
is supportive and can adapt to infrequent, well explained
changes in the work setting expectations.
(Doc. 6-3, p. 21). Based on this RFC and vocational expert
testimony, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Chandler could not
perform her past relevant work as a fast food worker and
house cleaner. (Doc. 6-3, p. 25). Relying on the
Medical-Vocational Guidelines and expert testimony, the ALJ
found that Ms. Chandler was capable of doing light jobs
including cashier II, power screwdriver operator, and marker.
(Doc. 6-3, p. 26). Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Ms.
Chandler was not under a disability within the meaning of the
Social Security Act. (Doc. 6-3, p. 27).
Chandler challenges the ALJ's RFC determination. (Doc. 8,
p. 4). An RFC “is an assessment, based on all relevant
medical and other evidence, of a claimant's remaining
ability to work despite his impairment.” Castle v.
Colvin, 557 Fed.Appx. 849, 852 (11th Cir. 2014). The ALJ
determined that despite her physical and mental impairments,
Ms. Chandler could perform a reduced range of light work.
Under the Social Security regulations, “light
involves lifting no more than 20 pounds at a time with
frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 10
pounds. Even though the weight lifted may be very little, a
job is in this category when it requires a good deal of
walking or standing, or when it involves sitting most of the
time with some pushing and pulling of arm or leg controls. To
be considered capable of performing a full or wide range of
light work, you must have the ability to do substantially all
of these activities. If someone can do light work, we
determine that he or she can also do sedentary work, unless
there are additional limiting factors such as loss of fine
dexterity or inability to sit for long periods of time.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b). In the RFC for light work, the
ALJ placed no limit on Ms. Chandler's ability to stand
and walk or her need for breaks. See p. 5, above;
(Doc. 6-3, p. 24).
administrative hearing, Ms. Chandler testified that she can
stand for only ten minutes at a time. (Doc. 6-3, p. 45). Dr.
Ashley Holdridge, a doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) who
Ms. Chandler saw in January 2015 for a consultative physical
examination, limited Ms. Chandler's ability to stand and
walk “to four hours with frequent breaks.” (Doc.
6-11, pp. 95, 99). Ms. Chandler's testimony about her
ability to stand and Dr. Holdridge's restriction on Ms.
Chandler's ability to stand and walk are inconsistent
with the ALJ's RFC for Ms. Chandler.
respect to Ms. Chandler's testimony about her limited
ability to stand, the ALJ found that Ms. Chandler's
“medically determinable impairments could reasonably be
expected to cause some symptoms and functional limitations.
However, the claimant's statements concerning the
intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of these
symptoms are not entirely consistent with the medical
evidence and other evidence in the record.” (Doc. 6-3,
p. 23). With respect to Dr. Holdridge's opinion regarding
Ms. Chandler's limited ability to stand and walk during a
workday, the ALJ gave “some good weight” to Dr.
Holdridge's assessment of Ms. Chandler's physical
capabilities, but the ALJ found that Dr. Holdridge's
“opinions are not based on the evidence in its entirety
(Exhibit B10F).” (Doc. 6-3, p. 25). The ALJ determined
that Dr. Holdridge's conclusion about Ms. Chandler's
limited ability to stand and walk and Ms. Chandler's need
for frequent breaks was inconsistent with Dr. Holdridge's
“findings [and] the overall evidence of record.”
(Doc. 6-3, p. 25).
respect to the “overall evidence of record” as it
pertains to Ms. Chandler's ability to stand and walk, the
Many of the physical allegations the claimant offered at the
hearing were related to injuries sustained in a recent motor
vehicle accident, but those limitations are expected to
improve within 12 months. Despite her osteoarthritis and
obesity-related pain, the claimant generally exhibits a
normal gait, although she exhibited an antalgic gait at the
January 2015 consultative examination (Exhibits B10F, B11F,
and B15F). She has also generally maintain[ed] full strength
and normal sensation (Exhibits B10F, B18F, and B20F).
Diagnostic imaging has revealed only mild arthritic changes
(Exhibits B6F and B20F). With respect to her obesity, Dr.
Retan has advised her to exercise, which indicates that her
body habitus may exacerbate her pain but does not itself
limit her movement (Exhibits B12F and B16F). She has alleged
severely limited activities, which is inconsistent with the
activity level she reported at the consultative examinations
(Exhibits B12E, B10F, and B11F). Her allegation that she can
stand for only ten minutes is also undermined by her
admission that she walks for exercise.
(Doc. 6-3, p. 24). As part of his examination of Ms.
Chandler's ability to stand and walk, the ALJ also
considered a collection of treatment records from Dr. J.
Walden Retan, a treating physician. (Doc. 6-3, pp. 22-23).
Court must review Dr. Holdridge's findings and the
“overall evidence of record” on which the ALJ
relied, including Dr. Retan's treatment records, to
determine whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's
decision to discount Dr. Holdridge's opinion about Ms.
Chandler's limited ability to stand and walk and her need
for frequent breaks in a workday.
pertinent to Dr. Holdridge's stand/walk restrictions,
when Ms. Chandler saw Dr. Holdridge, Ms. Chandler identified
bilateral knee pain and low back ...