Ellen Nichols v. Comm of Social Security
Per Curiam OPINION filed : We AFFIRM the district court's judgment, decision not for publication. Eugene E. Siler , Jr., Circuit Judge; Eric L. Clay, Circuit Judge and Richard Allen Griffin, Circuit Judge.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR FULL-TEXT PUBLICATION
File Name: 14a0744n.06
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT
Sep 26, 2014
DEBORAH S. HUNT, Clerk
ELLEN D. NICHOLS,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY,
ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED
STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR
THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF
BEFORE: SILER, CLAY, and GRIFFIN, Circuit Judges.
PER CURIAM. Ellen D. Nichols appeals the district court’s judgment affirming the
denial of her applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income
In March 2010, Nichols filed applications for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income benefits, alleging that she became disabled on November 15,
2008. After the Social Security Administration denied the applications, Nichols requested a
hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). The ALJ denied Nichols relief, and the
Appeals Council declined to review the case. The district court affirmed the denial of Nichols’
On appeal, Nichols raises the following arguments:
(1) the district court erred by
reviewing the denial of her applications using the substantial-evidence standard because it is
discriminatory toward indigent claimants; (2) the ALJ erred by failing to consider the proper
Nichols v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec.
onset date for her disability; (3) the ALJ erred by concluding that she failed to meet certain
regulatory listings; (4) the ALJ erred by concluding that she could perform light work; (5) the
ALJ gave improper weight to the medical opinion evidence; (6) the ALJ erred by concluding that
her testimony was not fully credible; and (7) the ALJ erred by failing to incorporate certain
limitations into her residual functional capacity (RFC).
“Our review of the ALJ’s decision is limited to whether the ALJ applied the correct legal
standards and whether the findings of the ALJ are supported by substantial evidence.” Blakley v.
Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 581 F.3d 399, 405 (6th Cir. 2009). “The substantial-evidence standard is
met if a reasonable mind might accept the relevant evidence as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Id. at 406 (internal quotation marks omitted). “We give de novo review to the
district court’s conclusions on each issue.” Id.
Nichols first argues that the district court should not have reviewed the ALJ’s decision
using the substantial-evidence standard because it is discriminatory toward claimants who lack
the financial resources to pay for medical treatment and records.
The district court acted
properly, however, because Nichols has not shown that she was unable to obtain necessary
Nichols next argues that the ALJ erred by considering her alleged onset date of disability
as November 15, 2008, because she argued for an amended onset date of March 1, 2010, in a
post-hearing brief. The ALJ did not err by considering November 15, 2008, as the alleged onset
date of disability because Nichols never formally requested to amend the 2008 onset date that
she alleged in her applications for benefits. Further, any error in failing to explicitly consider the
amended onset date was harmless because the ALJ recognized that Nichols changed age
categories in 2009, see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1563, 416.963, she considered whether the change
Nichols v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec.
affected the disability determination, and she determined that Nichols was not disabled at any
time between November 15, 2008, and the date of the ALJ’s decision.
Nichols next argues that the ALJ erred by concluding that she did not meet the regulatory
listings for major dysfunction of a joint, asthma, and affective disorder. “[T]o be found disabled
based upon a listed impairment, the claimant must exhibit all the elements of the listing.” Elam
ex rel. Golay v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 348 F.3d 124, 125 (6th Cir. 2003). “It is insufficient that a
claimant comes close to meeting the requirements of a listed impairment.” Id.
Substantial evidence supported the ALJ’s determination that Nichols did not meet the
regulatory listing for major dysfunction of a joint because there is no evidence in the record
showing that she was unable to ambulate effectively as defined in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P,
app. 1, § 1.00B(2)(b). See 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1, § 1.02(A). Likewise, substantial
evidence supported the ALJ’s determination that Nichols did not meet the regulatory listing for
asthma because the evidence failed to establish that she suffered from asthma attacks or that she
had chronic asthmatic bronchitis and an insufficient forced expiratory volume. See id. § 3.03.
And substantial evidence supported the ALJ’s determination that Nichols did not meet the
regulatory listing for an affective disorder because the evidence failed to establish that she had
marked difficulties in activities of daily living, maintaining social functioning, or maintaining
concentration, persistence, or pace, or that she had repeated episodes of decompensation. See id.
Finally, Nichols argues that the ALJ made several errors in concluding that she retained
the ability to perform light work: (1) she gave improper weight to the medical opinion evidence;
(2) she erred by concluding that Nichols’ testimony concerning the extent of her impairments
was not fully credible; and (3) she failed to incorporate into Nichols’ RFC certain limitations that
Nichols v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec.
her counsel discussed with the vocational expert. An ALJ must weigh medical opinions from
non-treating and non-examining sources based on all relevant factors, including the examining
relationship or lack thereof, the specialization of the medical source, and the consistency and
supportability of the opinion. Gayheart v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 710 F.3d 365, 376 (6th Cir.
2013). We accord great weight and deference to an ALJ’s credibility finding, but such a finding
must be supported by substantial evidence. Walters v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525, 531
(6th Cir. 1997).
The ALJ’s determination that Nichols retained the capacity for light work was supported
by substantial evidence, including objective medical testing and all of the medical source
opinions. Despite Nichols’ argument to the contrary, the ALJ did not give unreasonable weight
to the medical opinions that concluded Nichols had no significant functional limitations because
the opinions were consistent and supported by the medical evidence in the record. Further,
because Nichols’ testimony concerning the extent of her impairments conflicted with the
majority of objective medical evidence and credible medical source opinions, the ALJ
reasonably discounted the testimony. Similarly, because the functional limitations identified by
Nichols’ counsel lacked evidentiary support, the ALJ reasonably declined to include the
limitations in Nichols’ RFC.
Accordingly, we affirm the district court’s judgment.
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?