Williams v. Colvin (CONSENT)
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Honorable Judge Wallace Capel, Jr on 2/19/16. (djy, )
IN THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
MYRON WADE WILLIAMS,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,
Acting Commissioner of Social Security,
Civil Action No.: 2:15cv109-WC
Myron Wade Williams (“Plaintiff”) filed applications for disability insurance
benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq,
and for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1381, et
seq., on February 2, 2012. His applications were denied at the initial administrative level.
Plaintiff then requested and received a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). Following the hearing, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled
from the alleged onset date of June 1, 2010, through the date of the decision. Plaintiff
appealed to the Appeals Council, which rejected his request for review of the ALJ’s
The ALJ’s decision consequently became the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”).1 See Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d
Pursuant to the Social Security Independence and Program Improvements Act of 1994, Pub. L. No.
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), 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. 10); Def.’s Consent to Jurisdiction (Doc. 9).
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 benefits when the person is
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 (2011).
(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?
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.
A “physical or mental impairment” is one resulting from anatomical, physiological, or psychological
abnormalities that are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic
(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
McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir. 1986).3
The burden of proof rests on a claimant through Step Four. 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 One
through Step Four. At Step Five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner, who must then
show there are a significant number of jobs in the national economy the claimant can
To perform the fourth and fifth steps, the ALJ must determine the claimant’s
Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”). Id. at 1238-39. The RFC is what the claimant is
still able to do despite the claimant’s impairments and is based on all relevant medical
and other evidence. Id. It may 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
McDaniel is a supplemental security income (SSI) case. The same sequence applies to disability
insurance benefits. Supplemental security income cases arising under Title XVI of the Social Security
Act are appropriately cited as authority in Title II cases. See, e.g., Ware v. Schweiker, 651 F.2d 408, 412
(5th Cir. 1981); Smith v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 486 F. App’x 874, 876 n.* (11th Cir. 2012) (“The
definition of disability and the test used to determine whether a person has a disability is the same for
claims seeking disability insurance benefits or supplemental security income.”).
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 individual. Phillips, 357 F.3d at 1240. Combinations of these factors yield a
statutorily-required 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
See 20 C.F.R. pt. 404 subpt. P, app. 2.
in evaluating claims.
Walker v. Bowen, 826 F.2d 996, 999 (11th Cir. 1987).
Plaintiff was forty-eight years old on the alleged disability onset date, and had
completed the ninth grade. Tr. 22, 31-32. Following the administrative hearing, and
employing the five-step process, the ALJ found at Step One that Plaintiff “has not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 1, 2010, the alleged onset date[.]” Tr.
At Step Two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffers from the following severe
impairments: “Mild Degenerative Joint Disease of the Left Knee, and Hypertension.” Tr.
13. At Step Three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff “does not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the
listed impairments[.]” Tr. 14. Next, the ALJ articulated Plaintiff’s RFC as follows:
[T]he claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as
defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). He can sit for a total of six
hours, and can sit for two hour[s] without interruption. He can stand and
walk in combination for a total of six hours, and he can stand and walk in
combination for one to two hour[s] without interruption. He can frequently
lift and carry ten pounds, and occasionally lift and carry twenty pounds. He
can perform simple grasping and fine manipulation, bilaterally. He can
occasionally use his left foot for the operation of foot controls. He can
occasionally bend, stoop, crawl, crouch, kneel, and balance. He can
occasionally climb. He is restricted from ladders, ropes and scaffolds. He
is restricted from activities involving unprotected heights. He is restricted
from being around moving and hazardous machinery, or driving
commercial motorized vehicles. He has mild to moderate pain that
occasionally interferes with concentration, persistence and pace, and which
(pain) limits him to simple, unskilled, repetitive, routine work, in jobs that
require little independent judgment, and in jobs that require only routine
changes, no multiple or rapid changes.
Tr. 14-15. Having consulted with a VE at the hearing, the ALJ concluded at Step Four
that Plaintiff is “unable to perform any past relevant work[.]” Tr. 22. Finally, at Step
Five, and based upon the testimony of the VE, the ALJ determined that “[c]onsidering the
claimant’s age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are
jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can
perform.” Tr. 29. The ALJ identified several representative occupations, including
“Production Assembler,” “Electronic Assembler,” and “Packer.” Tr. 23. Accordingly,
the ALJ determined that Plaintiff “has not been under a disability . . . from June 1, 2010,
through the date of this decision[.]” Tr. 23-24.
Plaintiff presents one issue for the court to consider in its review of the
Commissioner’s decision, arguing that the Commissioner’s decision should be reversed
because the ALJ “did not have sufficient medical evidence to make an informed decision
regarding mental impairments” and, therefore, “should have requested a consultative
medical examination to adequately develop the record and to provide a mental
examination report and assessment for consideration in conjunction with the whole of the
medical evidence of record.” Pl.’s Br. (Doc. 14) at 4, 5.
The ALJ determined that Plaintiff’s depression and anxiety “are not medically
determinable impairments.” Tr. 19. Although Plaintiff faults the ALJ for failing to
obtain a consultative examination concerning Plaintiff’s purported mental impairments
prior to making this determination, it is noteworthy that Plaintiff did not allege any
disability based upon any mental impairment5 and did not mention any mental
impairment at his hearing before the ALJ.6 The only reference in the record to Plaintiff’s
alleged depression or anxiety appears to be Plaintiff’s self-reporting of a prior diagnosis
of “anxiety and depression” included in the Disability Determination Explanation
rendered during the initial agency review of his claim for disability insurance benefits.
See Tr. 53. However, that same report further indicates that Plaintiff “clarified that he is
not seeking any treatment for a mental condition at this time. He has not taken any
psyche meds since 2004/2005 and has no driver’s license due to DUI. Although he
alleges [special education] classes he has worked full time for several years with a
moving company.” Tr. 53. Moreover, the report noted that Plaintiff “appears to be
functional [without] meds per [his own description of his activities of daily living], as
well as, the ability to carry on a full-time job for several years.” Tr. 53.
Despite Plaintiff’s allusion to a prior diagnosis of, and treatment for, anxiety and
depression, there are no medical records establishing such a diagnosis or treatment.
Indeed, the ALJ noted the scant medical evidence available in the record. Tr. 11 (“There
are only four medical exhibits.”). To the extent there is medical evidence in the record
probative of any claim that Plaintiff suffers from any mental impairments, such evidence
See, e.g., Tr. 51, 60 (listing “Residuals from broken left knee,” “Stomach problems,” and
“Problems w/left wrist” as Plaintiff’s allegations of impairments in his initial claim for
When asked by the ALJ why he believes he is disabled, Plaintiff testified only about problems
militates against any finding that Plaintiff’s alleged mental impairments are severe, much
less actually disabling. For example, on October 3, 2012, Plaintiff was seen for a followup evaluation and prescription refill at his medical provider, Health Services, Inc.
Plaintiff was “Negative for anxiety, depression and insomnia,” and exhibited normal
insight, judgment, and appropriate mood and affect. Tr. 227-228. Likewise, on June 7,
2013, Plaintiff was seen for an office visit at Health Services and he again exhibited
normal insight, judgment, and appropriate mood and affect. Tr. 239.
Given that (1) Plaintiff was not alleging any functional limitations due to his
depression or anxiety, (2) the only reference to any diagnosis or treatment for mental
impairments was not corroborated with medical records and, in any event, indicates that
such diagnosis and treatment occurred years before the alleged disability onset date, and
(3) the only available medical records—including records from within the year prior to
the hearing before the ALJ—indicated that Plaintiff was not suffering from any severe
mental impairment, the ALJ was amply justified in concluding that Plaintiff’s depression
and anxiety were not “medically determinable impairments.” Tr. 19. Nor was the ALJ
required, as Plaintiff argues, to obtain a consultative examination in order to make that
determination. See Ingram v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 496 F.3d 1253, 1269 (11th
Cir. 2007) (“Even though Social Security courts are inquisitorial, not adversarial, in
nature, claimants must establish that they are eligible for benefits. The administrative
law judge has a duty to develop the record where appropriate but is not required to order
with his left knee, high blood pressure, and psoriasis. See Tr. 33.
a consultative examination as long as the record contains sufficient evidence for the
administrative law judge to make an informed decision.”); id. (finding that the ALJ did
not err in failing to further develop the record, by ordering a consultative examination,
concerning the claimant’s mental capacity where sufficient information was before the
ALJ and the claimant neglected her “obligation to raise an issue as to her mental capacity
at her hearing”). See also Vesy v. Astrue, 353 F. App’x 219, 224-25 (11th Cir. 2009)
(finding that the ALJ did not fail to develop a “full and fair record” where, “[a]lthough
there was some evidence that Vesy suffered from side effects caused by her medications,
she did not allege that those side effects contributed to her disability and notably, was
represented by counsel. As a result, the ALJ did not have a special duty to make a further
inquiry into the effects of Vesy’s medications”).
The Commissioner’s decision finding Plaintiff not disabled is supported by
substantial evidence in the record and Plaintiff’s lone claim of error is without merit.
Accordingly, the Commissioner’s decision is due to be affirmed.
The court has carefully and independently reviewed the record and concludes that,
for the reasons given above, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.
separate judgment will issue.
Done this 19th day of February, 2016.
/s/ Wallace Capel, Jr.
UNITED 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?