Crawford v. Astrue(CONSENT)

Filing 17

MEMORANDUM OPINION that the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED as further set out in the order. A separate judgment is entered herewith. Signed by Honorable Wallace Capel, Jr. on 4/20/2009. (dmn) [Modified on 4/20/2009 to remove the word "ORDER" from the title of the document due to docketing error-typographical error.-DMN]

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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 M A R IE KAYE CRAWFORD, 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. 2:08cv212-WC M E M O R A N D U M OPINION I. INTRODUCTION P la in tif f Marie Kaye Crawford (Crawford) applied for supplemental security income (S S I ) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. 401 et seq. (2000) (the Act), a lle g in g she suffered from a disability. Crawford's application was denied at the initial a d m i n i s tra tiv e level. Crawford then requested and received a hearing before an A d m in i str a tiv e Law Judge (ALJ). Following the hearing, the ALJ also denied the claims. T h e Appeals Council rejected a subsequent request for review. The ALJ's decision c o n se q u e n tly became the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (C o m m issio n er).1 See Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986). The case is n o w before the Court for review under 42 U.S.C. 405(g). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 636(c), b o th parties have consented to the conduct of all proceedings and entry of a final judgment 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. 1 b y the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. Pl.'s Consent to Jurisdiction (Doc. #7); D e f .'s Consent to Jurisdiction (Doc. #8). Based on the Court's review of the record and the b rie f s 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 i m p a i r m 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 s tio 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 d is a b le d ." 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. 2 2 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. E a c h factor can independently limit the number of jobs realistically available to an 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). 4 3 See 20 C.F.R. pt. 404 subpt. P, app. 2. 3 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 th 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 Crawford was thirty-nine years old and had at least a high school education at the time o f the hearing before the ALJ. (Tr. 27). Crawford's prior work experience included 4 e m p lo ym e n t as an industrial housekeeper (unskilled, heavy); nurses assistant (semi-skilled, m ed ium ); laborer (unskilled, medium) and wire harness assembler (semi-skilled, light). (Tr. 2 7 ). Employing the five-step process, the ALJ found Crawford had not engaged in s u b s ta n tia l gainful activity at any time relevant to the decision (Step 1). (Tr. 21). At Step 2 , the ALJ found Crawford suffered from the following severe impairments: hypertension, in s u lin -d e p e n d en t diabetes mellitus, degenerative joint disease of the left knee, degenerative d isc disease of the lumbosacral spine, major depression with psychotic features, and diabetic p e rip h e ra l neuropathy. Id. Nonetheless, the ALJ found Crawford did not possess an im p a irm e n t or combination of impairments that met or equaled the criteria of any listed i m p a i rm en t set forth in the Listing of Impairments (Step 3). (Tr. 23). At Step 4, the ALJ d e te rm in e d Crawford did not possess the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform any p ast relevant work. (Tr. 27). A t Step Five, the ALJ evaluated Crawford's RFC, age, education, and work e x p e rie n c e , as well as testimony from a vocational expert (VE) regarding the availability in s ig n if ic a n t numbers, of other work Crawford could perform in the national economy. Upon co n side ratio n of this evidence, the ALJ determined Crawford possessed the RFC to perform jo b s that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 27). Consequently, the A L J found Crawford was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (Tr. 28). 5 B. C la im s C ra w f o rd presents one issue for this Court to consider: Whether the ALJ properly c o n sid e re d the medical evidence. IV. D IS C U S S IO N C ra w f o rd specifically argues that the ALJ erred by failing to afford proper weight to c o n s u ltin g psychiatrist Dr. Demuth's opinion and instead relied on non-examining sources. T h e Commissioner argues the ALJ properly disregarded Dr. Demuth's conclusions as they w e re inconsistent with his own report and were based on Crawford's subjective complaints th a t were not credible. " [ T ]h e ALJ is free to reject the opinion of any physician when the evidence supports a contrary conclusion." Sryock v. Heckler, 764 F.2d 834, 835 (11th Cir.1985) (quotation m a rk s and citation omitted); see also 20 C.F.R. 404.1527(b) ("[The ALJ] will always c o n sid e r the medical opinions in [the] case record together with the rest of the relevant e v id e n c e ... receive[d]."). Here, the ALJ did not err in assigning minimal weight to the m e d ic a l opinion of Dr. Demuth because he found, after reviewing the entire record, that the o p in io n was not supported by the evidence. See Wilkinson v. Comm'r of Social Sec., 289 F e d . App'x 384, 386 (11th Cir. 2008) (finding no error where ALJ rejected examining p h ys ic ia n 's opinion in favor of non-examining physicians' opinions). Dr. Demuth opined that Crawford had moderate to severe impairments in her ability 6 to understand, remember, and carry out instructions and to respond appropriately to su p e rv isio n , coworkers, and work pressures. (Tr. 123). In his opinion, the ALJ specifically s ta te d that Dr. Demuth's "report faile[ed] to reveal the type of significant clinical and la b o ra to ry abnormalities one would expect if [Crawford] were in fact so limited, and the d o c to r did not specifically address this weakness." (Tr. 26-27). The ALJ also pointed to the f a ct that Dr. Demuth "relied quite heavily on the subjective report of symptoms and lim ita tio n s provided by [Crawford]," which the ALJ determined to be unreliable.5 Indeed, D r. Demuth's report indicated that Crawford was oriented, demonstrated a logical stream of th o u g h t, her memory was fair, and her judgment and decision making were only slightly im p a ire d . Id. The reported details of Dr. Demuth's examination of Crawford regarding her m e m o r y and mental capacities did not match his final conclusions.6 F u rth e r, the ALJ did not give undue weight to the opinions of the non-examining state a g e n c y physicians because he did not rely solely on those opinions. Wilkinson, 289 Fed. A p p 'x at 386; see also Broughton v. Heckler, 776 F.2d 960, 962 (11th Cir.1985) (holding th a t, "taken alone," the opinions of non-examining physicians "do not constitute substantial Crawford does not challenge the ALJ's determination that her subjective complaint testimony was unreliable. According to Dr. Demuth's records, Crawford was able to: complete serial four additions; calculate multiplications; solve word problems; identify similarities and differences between different objects; knew what to do in case of a fire or if she found a stamped envelope; give details about the current news and identify the President and preceding Presidents, large cities, and famous people; give a detailed description of her trip to the examination and describe what she had done in the prior twenty-four hours. (Tr. 122-23). 7 6 5 e v id e n c e on which to base an administrative decision"). The ALJ considered the opinions o f other treating, examining,7 and non-examining physicians, treatment notes, and C raw fo rd's own testimony.8 d e te rm in a tio n in this case. 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 20th day of April, 2009. /s/ Wallace Capel, Jr. WALLACE CAPEL, JR. U N IT E D STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE Substantial evidence in the record supports the ALJ's Examining physician Dr. Colley assessed that Crawford could perform a range of work at the light exertional level. (Tr. 28). Crawford also argued that the ALJ should have discussed treating physician Dr. Howell's narrative report in his opinion. However, the "ALJ was not required to list in detail e v e ry bit of evidence he relied on to reach [his] decision." Wilkinson, 289 Fed. App'x at 3 8 6 , (citing Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir.2005) (stating that "there is n o rigid requirement that the ALJ specifically refer to every piece of evidence in his d e c is io n " )). The Commissioner is correct that Dr. Howell's narrative report does not "challenge Dr. James Colley's findings that [Crawford] was capable of light work." (Doc. #15 at 5). Further, Crawford concedes that the narrative report does not "specifically cit[e] a complete inability to work." (Doc. #12 at 10). It is clear from the ALJ's opinion that he considered Dr. Howell's opinion in making the RFC determination and the RFC determination was not inconsistent with Dr. Howell's treatment notes. 8 8 7

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