Parks v. Astrue
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Honorable Judge Wallace Capel, Jr on 3/13/13. (scn, )
IN THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
BEVERLY ANN PARKS,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,
Commissioner of Social Security,
CIVIL ACTION NO. 2:11cv1020-WC
Plaintiff, Beverly Ann Parks, applied for supplemental security income benefits under
Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 et seq. Her application
was initially denied at the administrative level. Plaintiff then requested and received a
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). Following the hearing, the ALJ issued
an unfavorable decision in which he found Plaintiff not disabled. The Appeals Council
rejected Plaintiff’s request for review of the ALJ’s decision.
The ALJ’s decision
consequently became the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”).1 See Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986). The case
is now before the court for review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(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.
both parties have consented to the conduct of all proceedings and entry of a final judgment
by the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. Pl.’s Consent to Jurisdiction (Doc. 14);
Def.’s Consent to Jurisdiction (Doc. 13). Based on the court’s review of the record and the
briefs of the parties, the court AFFIRMS the decision of the Commissioner.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Under 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A), a person is entitled to disability benefits when the
person is unable to
engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically
determinable 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
of not less than 12 months.
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).2
To make this determination, the Commissioner employs a five-step, sequential
evaluation 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
impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1? [the Listing of
(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?
An affirmative answer to any of the above questions leads either to the next
question, or, on steps three and five, to a finding of disability. A negative
answer 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.
McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir. 1986).3
The burden of proof rests on a claimant through Step 4. See Phillips v. Barnhart, 357
F.3d 1232, 1237-39 (11th Cir. 2004). A claimant establishes a prima facie case of qualifying
disability once they have carried the burden of proof from Step 1 through Step 4. At Step 5,
the burden shifts to the Commissioner, who must then show there are a significant number
of 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
Functional Capacity (RFC). Id. at 1238-39. RFC is what the claimant is still able to do
despite his impairments and is based on all relevant medical and other evidence. Id. It also
can contain both exertional and nonexertional limitations. Id. at 1242-43. At the fifth step,
the ALJ considers the claimant’s RFC, age, education, and work experience to determine if
there are jobs available in the national economy the claimant can perform. Id. at 1239. To
do this, the ALJ can either use the Medical Vocational Guidelines4 (grids) or call a vocational
expert (VE). Id. at 1239-40.
The grids allow the ALJ to consider factors such as age, confinement to sedentary or
light work, inability to speak English, educational deficiencies, and lack of job experience.
Each 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).
See 20 C.F.R. pt. 404 subpt. P, app. 2.
individual. Phillips, 357 F.3d at 1240. Combinations of these factors yield a statutorilyrequired finding of “Disabled” or “Not Disabled.” Id.
The court’s review of the Commissioner’s decision is a limited one. This court must
find 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
evidence is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance. It is such relevant evidence
as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). See also Crawford v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d
1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004) (“Even if the evidence preponderates against the
Commissioner’s findings, [a reviewing court] must affirm if the decision reached is
supported by substantial evidence.”). A reviewing court may not look only to those parts of
the record which support the decision of the ALJ, but instead must view the record in its
entirety and take account of evidence which detracts from the evidence relied on by the ALJ.
Hillsman v. Bowen, 804 F.2d 1179 (11th Cir. 1986).
[The court must] . . . scrutinize the record in its entirety to determine the
reasonableness of the [Commissioner’s] . . . factual findings. . . . No similar
presumption of validity attaches to the [Commissioner’s] . . . legal conclusions,
including determination of the proper standards to be applied in evaluating
Walker v. Bowen, 826 F.2d 996, 999 (11th Cir. 1987).
Plaintiff was forty-eight years old at the time of the ALJ’s decision and held at least
a high school education. Tr. 21. Plaintiff’s past relevant work experience was as a “meat
processor (deboner),” “stocker,” and “housekeeper.” Tr. 20-21. Following an administrative
hearing, and employing the five-step process, the ALJ found Plaintiff “has engaged in a form
of gainful activity since” the alleged onset date. (Step 1) Tr. 13. At Step 2, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff suffers from the following severe impairments: “mild degenerative disc disease
of the cervical spine with history of left radiculitis; mild degenerative disk disease of the
lumbosacral spine; degenerative joint disease of the right knee with probable patellar
chondromalacia of the anterior compartment; hypertension, controlled; status post subtotal
thyroidectomy for Graves disease in 1996, euthyroid with replacement therapy for
hypothyroidism; obesity; and mild left shoulder acromioclavicular joint arthritis.” Id. The
ALJ then found that “[Plaintiff] does not have an impairment or combination of impairments
that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments.” (Step 3) Tr. 15. The ALJ
determined that Plaintiff has the RFC “to perform light work [ . . . ] except that the claimant
requires a sit/stand option allowing her to change position at will.” Id. The ALJ then found
that Plaintiff is unable to perform past relevant work. (Step 4) Tr. 20. At Step 5, after
consulting with the VE, the ALJ found that “considering [Plaintiff’s] age, education, work
experience, and [RFC], there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national
economy that [Plaintiff] can perform.” Tr. 21. The ALJ identified the following occupations
“gate tender”; “egg packer”; and “cleaner/housekeeper.”
Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff “has not been under a disability” since the
application date was filed. Id.
Plaintiff raises a single issue for this court’s review: Whether the ALJ erred by failing
to order a consultative physical examination. Plaintiff points the court to the two consultive
examinations by Dr. Colley, upon which the ALJ relied and asserts that because the reports
were dated nearly a year and one-half prior to the date of the ALJ’s hearing, they are too
remote. Plaintiff also points to the assessment of Dr. Lester, which was provided to the ALJ
ten days prior to the hearing. Plaintiff argues that Dr. Lester’s assessment supports a finding
of disability and because it conflicts with Dr. Colley’s findings, the ALJ should have ordered
an additional consultative examination.
The court finds Plaintiff’s argument to be without merit. At the administrative level,
the ALJ is responsible for assessing a claimant’s RFC. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1546(c). The ALJ
must assess a claimant’s RFC “based on all of the relevant medical and other evidence[,]”
and, in general, the claimant will be responsible for providing the evidence used to make a
finding about the RFC. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(3). While a consultative examination may
be helpful to the ALJ in making an RFC determination, a consultative examination will be
ordered only when the evidence as a whole, both medical and non-medical, is not sufficient
to support a decision on the claim. 20 CFR § 404.1519a. See also Holladay v. Bowen, 848
F.2d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 1988) (the ALJ is not required to order consultative examination,
and has discretion to order such an exam only when necessary); Sellers v. Barnhart, 246 F.
Supp. 2d 1201, 1210 (M.D. Ala. 2002) (same); McCray v. Massanari, 175 F. Supp. 2d 1329,
1338 (M.D. Ala. 2001) (“[I]t is within the ALJ’s discretion to order a consultative
examination where he determines one is warranted.”); Turner v. Califano, 563 F.2d 669, 671
(5th Cir. 1977) (“To be very clear, ‘full inquiry’ does not require a consultative examination
at government expense unless the record establishes that such an examination is necessary
to enable the administrative law judge to make the disability decision.”). Indeed, “[t]he
administrative law judge has a duty to develop the record where appropriate but is not
required to order a consultative examination as long as the record contains sufficient
evidence for the administrative law judge to make an informed decision.” Ingram v. Comm’r
of Social Sec. Admin., 496 F.3d 1253, 1269 (11th Cir. 2007) (citing Doughty v. Apfel, 245
F.3d 1274, 1281 (11th Cir. 2001)).
While the ALJ has the responsibility to make a
determination on Plaintiff’s RFC, it is Plaintiff who bears the burden of proving her RFC.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1512(a) & (c) (instructing claimant that ALJ will consider “only
impairment(s) you say you have or about which we receive evidence” and “[y]ou must
provide medical evidence showing that you have an impairment(s) and how severe it is
during the time you say that you are disabled”).
In the present case, the ALJ had sufficient evidence of record on which to make his
determination. Plaintiff does not specifically set forth what she asserts to be contradictory
between Dr. Colley and Dr. Lester and why a consultative examination would be necessary.
However, the ALJ afforded Dr. Lester’s assessments “little weight” and Plaintiff does not
challenge that determination. Thus, once Dr. Lester’s opinion was rejected, the opinions
remaining (Dr. Colley’s) support the ALJ’s determination and Plaintiff fails to argue as to
why Dr. Colley’s opinion is too remote.5 This is an important point, because as the
Commissioner rightly points out, “Dr. Lester’s opinion failed to mention any change in
Plaintiff’s condition since the consultative examinations (Tr. 286).” Def.’s Br. (Doc. 11) at
Moreover, Plaintiff fails to recognize that the ALJ left open the record in order to
allow for the supplementation of treatment records, which Plaintiff failed to submit. Tr. 19.
In other words, the ALJ was not provided any reason to order an additional consultative
The court has carefully and independently reviewed the record and concludes that, for
the reasons given above, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED. A separate
judgment will issue.
Done this 13th day of March, 2013.
/s/ Wallace Capel, Jr.
WALLACE CAPEL, JR.
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
The alleged disability onset date was July, 1 2007 and the dates of Dr. Colley’s examinations
were May of 2007 and September of 2008. In addition, Dr. Colley’s opinion was reviewed by
Dr. Heilpern who opined that Plaintiff could perform a range of medium work. Tr. 279-83.
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?