Henderson v. Astrue
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER AFFIRMING the decision of the Commissioner. Signed by Honorable Wallace Capel, Jr on 5/19/09. (djy, )
IN THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES F O R THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA N O R T H E R N DIVISION D E B O R A H HENDERSON, P l a in tif f , v. M IC H A E L J. ASTRUE, C o m m is s io n e r of Social Security, D e f e n d a n t. ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) )
CIVIL ACTION NO. 2:07cv828-WC
M E M O R A N D U M OPINION AND ORDER
I. INTRODUCTION P la in tif f Deborah Henderson (Henderson) applied for supplemental security income (S S I ) benefits under title XVI of the Social Security Act (the Act), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 et seq. (T r. 64-67), alleging she was unable to work because of a disability. Henderson's application w a s denied at the initial administrative level. Henderson then requested and received a h e a r in g before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Following two hearings, the ALJ also d e n ie d the claims. The Appeals Council rejected a subsequent request for review. The A L J's decision consequently became the final decision of the Commissioner of Social S ec u rity (Commissioner).1 See Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986). The c a s e is now before the Court for review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
Pursuant to the Social Security Independence and Program Improvements Act of 1994, Pub. L. No. 103-296, 108 Stat. 1464, the functions of the Secretary of Health and Human Services with respect to Social Security matters were transferred to the Commissioner of Social Security.
6 3 6 (c ), both parties have consented to the conduct of all proceedings and entry of a final ju d g m e n t by the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. Pl.'s Consent to Jurisdiction (D o c . #7); Def.'s Consent to Jurisdiction (Doc. #8). Based on the Court's review of the re c o rd and the briefs of the parties, the Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision. II. STANDARD OF REVIEW U n d e r 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A), a person is entitled to disability benefits when the p e rso n is unable to e n g a g e in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically d e ter m in a b le physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period o f not less than 12 months. 4 2 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).2 T o make this determination, the Commissioner employs a five step, sequential e v a lu a tio n process. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920 (2006). (1 ) Is the person presently unemployed? (2 ) Is the person's impairment severe? (3 ) Does the person's impairment meet or equal one of the specific im p a irm e n ts set forth in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1? [the Listing of I m p a i rm e n t s] (4 ) Is the person unable to perform his or her former occupation? (5 ) Is the person unable to perform any other work within the economy? A n affirmative answer to any of the above questions leads either to the next q u e stio n , or, on steps three and five, to a finding of disability. A negative a n sw e r to any question, other than step three, leads to a determination of "not
A "physical or mental impairment" is one resulting from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.
d is a b le d ." M c D a n ie l v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir. 1986).3 T h e burden of proof rests on a claimant through Step 4. See Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F .3 d 1232, 1237-39 (11th Cir. 2004). A claimant establishes a prima facie case of qualifying d is a b ility once they have carried the burden of proof from Step 1 through Step 4. At Step 5, th e burden shifts to the Commissioner, who must then show there are a significant number o f jobs in the national economy the claimant can perform. Id. To perform the fourth and fifth steps, the ALJ must determine the claimant's Residual F u n c tio n a l Capacity (RFC). Id. at 1238-39. RFC is what the claimant is still able to do d e s p ite his impairments and is based on all relevant medical and other evidence. Id. It also c a n contain both exertional and nonexertional limitations. Id. at 1242-43. At the fifth step, th e ALJ considers the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience to determine if th e re are jobs available in the national economy the claimant can perform. Id. at 1239. To d o this, the ALJ can either use the Medical Vocational Guidelines 4 (grids) or call a vocational e x p e rt. Id. at 1239-40. T h e grids allow the ALJ to consider factors such as age, confinement to sedentary or lig h t work, inability to speak English, educational deficiencies, and lack of job experience.
McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026 (11th Cir. 1986), is a supplemental security income case (SSI). The same sequence applies to disability insurance benefits. Cases arising under Title II are appropriately cited as authority in Title XVI cases. See, e.g., Ware v. Schweiker, 651 F.2d 408 (5th Cir. 1981) (Unit A).
See 20 C.F.R. pt. 404 subpt. P, app. 2.
E a c h factor can independently limit the number of jobs realistically available to an in d iv id u a l. Phillips, 357 F.3d at 1240. Combinations of these factors yield a statutorilyre q u ire d finding of "Disabled" or "Not Disabled." Id. The Court's review of the Commissioner's decision is a limited one. This Court must f in d the Commissioner's decision conclusive if it is supported by substantial evidence. 42 U .S .C . § 405(g); Graham v. Apfel, 129 F.3d 1420, 1422 (11th Cir. 1997). "Substantial e v id e n c e is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance. It is such relevant evidence a s a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. P e ra le s, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). A reviewing court may not look only to those parts of t h e record which support the decision of the ALJ, but instead must view the record in its e n t ir e ty and take account of evidence which detracts from the evidence relied on by the ALJ. H ills m a n v. Bowen, 804 F.2d 1179 (11th Cir. 1986). [The court must] . . . scrutinize the record in its entirety to determine the re a so n a b le n e ss of the [Commissioner's] . . . factual findings. . . . No similar p r e s u m p t io n of validity attaches to the [Commissioner's] . . . legal conclusions, in c lu d in g determination of the proper standards to be applied in evaluating c la im s . W a lk e r v. Bowen, 826 F.2d 996, 999 (11th Cir. 1987). III. ISSUES A. Introduction
Henderson was forty-seven years old and had completed the tenth grade at the time
o f the hearing before the ALJ. (Tr. 15). Henderson had no past relevant work experience. Id. Employing the five-step process, the ALJ found Henderson had not engaged in s u b s ta n tia l gainful activity at any time relevant to the decision (Step 1). (Tr. 16). At Step 2 , the ALJ found Henderson suffered from the following severe impairments: bipolar d is o rd e r; fibromyalgia; and migraine headaches. Id. Nonetheless, the ALJ found Henderson d id not possess an impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled the criteria o f any listed impairment set forth in the Listing of Impairments (Step 3). Id. Because H e n d e rso n had no past relevant work experience (Step 4), at Step 5, the ALJ evaluated H e n d e rs o n 's RFC, age, education, and lack of work experience, as well as testimony from a vocational expert (VE) regarding the availability in significant numbers of other work H e n d e rs o n could perform in the national economy. Upon consideration of this evidence, the A L J determined Henderson possessed the RFC to perform jobs that exist in significant n u m b e rs in the national economy. Id. Consequently, the ALJ found Henderson was not d is a b le d within the meaning of the Act. Id. B. H e n d e rs o n 's Claims
H e n d e rso n presents one issue for this Court to consider: Whether the ALJ properly e v a l u a te d Henderson's mental impairments.5
Henderson argues several sub-issues under this single issue. Some of Henderson's complaints regarding the ALJ's determination are no more than one sentence long, and include no case law or even argument. They exist as broad statements. The Court will not address those generalized statements individually, but
D IS C U S S IO N F irs t, Henderson argues that the ALJ failed to address some of the objective medical
s ta tu s examination findings in his opinion. (Doc. #20 at 13). In response, the Commissioner a d m its that "[a]lthough it is true that the ALJ did not discuss every piece of evidence d e sc rib in g Plaintiff's mental impairments, the decision shows that he cited specific e x a m in a tio n findings in support of his determination (Tr. 17-18)." (Doc. #25 at 4). Both parties are correct, the ALJ's decision is not overly detailed. However, the "ALJ w a s not required to list in detail every bit of evidence he relied on to reach [his] decision." W ilk in s o n v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 289 Fed. App'x. 384, at 386 (11th Cir. 2008) (citing Dyer v . Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1211 (11th Cir. 2005)). The ALJ did discuss the treatment notes o f the psychologists at the South Central Alabama Mental Health Center (the Center) and d e te rm i n e d that based on the Center's 2004 report indicating that Henderson's mental f u n c tio n in g was normal and appropriate, as well as Dr. DeFrancisco's 6 determination that H en d erso n was blatantly malingering, Henderson did not suffer from a disability. (Tr. 17). A lso , in making that determination, the ALJ relied on Henderson's description of her daily a c tiv itie s , her subjective complaints, and the medical opinion evidence in the record. Id.
will address the arguments Henderson makes in her complaint and consider those broad statements as part of Henderson's overall argument that the ALJ failed to properly evaluate her mental impairments. Henderson also argued that the ALJ improperly relied on Dr. DeFrancisco's opinion that Henderson was malingering. Dr. DeFrancisco arrived at that opinion after administering the MMPI-II and meeting with Henderson on two occasions. Further, Dr. DeFrancisco's opinion that Henderson's claims of hallucinations was suspect is consistent with Henderson's treatment notes at the Center from the same time period, which did not indicate she was still suffering hallucinations.
" [ T ]h e re is no rigid requirement that the ALJ specifically refer to every piece of e v id e n c e in his decision, so long as the ALJ's decision, as was not the case here, is not a b r o a d rejection which is `not enough to enable [this Court] to conclude that [the ALJ] c o n sid e re d her medical condition as a whole.'" Dyer, 395 F.3d at 1211 (quoting Foote v. C h a te r, 67 F.3d 1553, 1561 (11th Cir. 1995). Next, Henderson argues the ALJ's determination was "internally inconsistent," b e c a u se the ALJ determined that Henderson's mental impairments imposed a "moderate lim ita ti o n in maintaining persistence, concentration, or pace (Tr. 17). Yet, the only mental f u n c tio n a l limitation included in the ALJ's RFC finding was an occasional restriction with interac tio n with the general public and co-workers (Tr. 17)." (Doc. #20 at 13-14). H o w e v e r , as the Commissioner correctly notes: I n addition to the social interaction restrictions cited by Plaintiff, the ALJ also lim ite d Plaintiff to unskilled work (Tr. 17). The regulations define unskilled w o rk as "work which needs little to no judgment to do simple duties that can b e learned in a short period of time." 20 C.F.R. § 416.968(a). (Doc. #25 at 6). Thus, the determination by the ALJ that Henderson could perform unskilled w o rk , is not inconsistent with the ALJ's determination regarding Henderson's mental lim ita tio n s . Next, Henderson argues that it was error for the ALJ to rely on Dr. Eno's opinion b ec au se she did not have access to all of the evidence in the record. (Doc. #20 at 15). H o w e v e r, as noted above, the ALJ did not rely solely on Dr. Eno's opinion. Rather, the ALJ 7
c o n sid e re d all of the medical opinion evidence in the record. Furthermore, the regulations s p e c if ic a lly instruct the ALJ to consider State agency reviewing psychologist opinions. See 2 0 C.F.R. § 416.927(f)(2). Therefore, the ALJ did not err in considering Dr. Eno's opinion. F in a lly, Henderson argues that the ALJ erred in rejecting the opinion offered by H e n d e rs o n 's treating physician, Dr. Lopez, at the Center. (Doc. #20 at 15). The opinion of a treating physician "`must be given substantial or considerable weight unless 'good cause' is shown to the contrary.'" Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1240-41 (11th Cir. 2 0 0 4 )(s u b s ta n tia l evidence supported ALJ decision to give less weight to opinion of treating p h ys ic ia n ; remanded on other grounds) (quoting Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1440 (1 1 th Cir. 1997). "`Good cause' exists when the: (1) treating physician's opinion was not b o l s t e re d by the evidence; (2) evidence supported a contrary finding; or (3) treating p h ys ic ia n 's opinion was conclusory or inconsistent with the doctor's own medical records." Id . (citing Lewis, 125 F.3d at 1440). "When electing to disregard the opinion of a treating p h ys ic ia n , the ALJ must clearly articulate its reasons." Id. (citing Lewis, 125 F.3d at 1440). In this case, the ALJ articulated "good cause" for affording Dr. Lopez's opinion little w e ig h t (Tr. 17-18). Specifically, the ALJ stated that he afforded the opinion little weight b e c au s e the opinion report was prepared just prior to Henderson's psychiatric admission for b ip o la r disorder and sedative dependance in withdrawal "and does not accurately portray her s ta tu s for the duration period." (Tr. 17). As the ALJ states, "[w]hile her condition at the tim e of admission was at a disabling level, there was no period of 12 continuous months that 8
m a tc h e d the [Dr.] Lopez assessment." (Tr. 18). Indeed, the record medical evidence su rrou n d in g the time periods before and after the hospitalization do not show Henderson's c o n d itio n to be at a disabling level. As the ALJ stated, "[f]or example, 8 months after her
h o sp italiz a tio n and after psychiatric treatment, she was reported to have normal behavior, full a le r t n e s s , normal thought content, goal directed thought processes, good memory and atten tio n span, good impulse control and average insight." (Tr. 17-18). Thus, Dr. Lopez's f in d in g s were not consistent with the other medical evidence in the record, and the ALJ p ro v id e d good cause for affording his opinion little weight. V. CONCLUSION P u r s u a n t to the findings and conclusions detailed in this Memorandum Opinion and O r d e r, the Court concludes the ALJ's non-disability determination and denial of benefits is s u p p o rte d by substantial evidence. It is, therefore, ORDERED that the decision of the C o m m is s io n e r is AFFIRMED. A separate judgment is entered herewith. DONE this 19th day of May, 2009. /s/ Wallace Capel, Jr. WALLACE CAPEL, JR. U N IT E D STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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?