Lynch v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DISMISSING CASE that the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED; costs are taxed against claimant as more fully set out in order. Signed by Judge C Lynwood Smith, Jr on 1/25/2013. (AHI)
2013 Jan-25 PM 01:04
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
ANGEL SUMMERS LYNCH,
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE,
Commissioner, Social Security
Case No. CV-11-S-3335-E
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Claimant, Angel Summers Lynch, commenced this action on September 15,
2011, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final adverse
decision of the Commissioner, affirming the decision of the Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”), and thereby denying her claim for a period of disability, disability
insurance, and supplemental security income benefits. For the reasons stated herein,
the court finds that the Commissioner’s ruling is due to be affirmed.
The court’s role in reviewing claims brought under the Social Security Act is
a narrow one. The scope of review is limited to determining whether there is
substantial evidence in the record as a whole to support the findings of the
Commissioner, and whether correct legal standards were applied. See Lamb v.
Bowen, 847 F.2d 698, 701 (11th Cir. 1988); Tieniber v. Heckler, 720 F.2d 1251, 1253
(11th Cir. 1983).
Briefs are not required in social security appeal cases,1 and claimant did not file
a supporting brief. Nevertheless, this court has carefully reviewed the entire record
in reaching its determination of the merits of claimant’s appeal.
Claimant alleged that she became disabled on May 31, 2007, due to anxiety,
depression, high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, a growth on her kidney, kidney
stones, breathing problems, and irregular heartbeat.2 The ALJ concluded that only
claimant’s hypertension and anxiety constituted “severe impairments,” and that
claimant did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled one of the listed impairments.
Despite claimant’s severe
impairments, the ALJ found that she retained
the residual functional capacity to perform medium work as defined in
20 CFR 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c) with the following limitations:
never climb ladders/ropes/scaffolds; avoid concentrated exposure to
heat, cold and noise; and avoid all exposure to hazardous conditions
including unprotected heights and dangerous machinery. In addition the
claimant would have the following mental limitations: simple, routine
tasks involving no more than simple, short instructions and simple
work-related decision[s] with few work place changes (unskilled work);
only simple, work-related decisions with few work place changes
(stress); and only casual interaction with the general public, co-workers
See doc. no. 7 (briefing letter).
Tr. 18-19 (alteration supplied).
The ALJ then relied upon vocational expert testimony to determine that a
person of claimant’s age, education, work experience, and residual functional
capacity would be able to perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the
national economy.4 Accordingly, the ALJ found that claimant had not been under a
disability, as defined by the Social Security Act, from May 31, 2007, through the date
of the administrative decision.5
Upon review of the entire record, the court concludes that the ALJ’s findings
were supported by substantial evidence and in accordance with applicable law.
First, the record supports the ALJ’s determination that claimant did not have
an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of
the listed impairments. Indeed, it appears that claimant did not even make such a
claim during the administrative proceedings.
Further, the court concludes that the ALJ properly determined claimant’s
residual functional capacity.
He properly considered claimant’s subjective
complaints of limitations due to lack of energy, headaches, nausea, anxiety, and
inability to get along with people. To demonstrate that a subjective symptom renders
her disabled, claimant must “produce ‘evidence of an underlying medical condition
and (1) objective medical evidence that confirms the severity of the alleged
[symptoms] arising from that condition or (2) that the objectively determined medical
condition is of such severity that it can be reasonably expected to give rise to the
alleged [symptoms].’” Edwards v. Sullivan, 937 F. 2d 580, 584 (11th Cir. 1991)
(quoting Landry v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1551, 1553 (11th Cir. 1986)) (alteration
supplied). “After considering a claimant’s complaints of [subjective symptoms], the
ALJ may reject them as not creditable, and that determination will be reviewed for
substantial evidence.” Marbury v. Sullivan, 957 F.2d 837, 839 (11th Cir. 1992) (citing
Wilson v. Heckler, 734 F.2d 513, 517 (11th Cir. 1984)) (alteration supplied). If an
ALJ discredits a claimant’s testimony regarding subjective limitations, “he must
articulate explicit and adequate reasons.” Hale v. Bowen, 831 F.2d 1007, 1011 (11th
Cir. 1987) (citing Jones v. Bowen, 810 F.2d 1001, 1004 (11th Cir. 1986); MacGregor
v. Bowen, 786 F.2d 1050, 1054 (11th Cir. 1986)).6
The ALJ properly applied these standards. He found that claimant’s medically
determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the symptoms she
alleged, but that claimant’s statements concerning the intensity, persistence and
limiting effects of her symptoms were not credible to the extent they were
Most of the cases cited in the textual paragraph accompanying this footnote address a
claimant’s subjective complaints of pain. Pain is not as much of an issue in this case as claimant’s
other subjective symptoms, including fatigue and anxiety. But the standard is the same for
evaluating pain as it is for other subjective limitations, so the cases cited above are equally applicable
to claimant’s allegations in this case.
inconsistent with the ALJ’s residual functional capacity finding.7 The ALJ also
adequately articulated reasons for not crediting claimant’s testimony on pain.
Specifically, he reasoned that claimant’s allegations were not supported by the
medical evidence of record, claimant’s reported daily activities, claimant’s history of
conservative treatment, or claimant’s unpersuasive appearance and demeanor during
the administrative hearing. To the extent any of claimant’s pain allegations were
credible, they were incorporated into the residual functional capacity finding.
Substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s conclusions. The medical records
generally reflect that claimant has had some health problems, including trouble
controlling her diabetes and blood pressure, but that the problems were no more than
mild to moderate in nature. The medical reports in the record also are consistent with
the ALJ’s findings. Dr. Robert G. Summerlin, a consultative psychological examiner,
reported that claimant was well-oriented and able to communicate and concentrate
adequately. She possessed normal thought processes and low average intelligence.
“Her affect was reflective of mild anxiety.”8 Dr. Summerlin assessed claimant with
a GAF score of 60-70, indicating mild to moderate emotional symptoms, and
recommended that she follow up with outpatient mental health counseling.9 Dr.
Tr. 366 (emphasis supplied).
Michael Kline, claimant’s treating urologist, wrote in a letter to the Disability
Determination Service that, while claimant had been hospitalized for an inflammatory
mass on her kidney, her condition had resolved and she had “no disability related to
her urological status.”10 Dr. Robert Estock, the stage agency psychological examiner,
assessed claimant with an anxiety disorder, dependent and borderline personality
disorder, and periodic alcohol abuse.
With regard to claimant’s functional
limitations, Dr. Estock indicated that claimant had mild restriction of activities of
daily living; moderate difficulties in maintaining social functioning; moderate
difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, and pace; and no episodes of
decompensation. He stated that the medical evidence did not support the level of
functional restrictions alleged by claimant, and that claimant’s statements were only
partially credible.11 On a Mental Residual Functional Capacity Assessment form, Dr.
Estock indicated that claimant suffered moderate limitations in her ability to:
understand and remember detailed instructions; carry out detailed instructions;
maintain attention and concentration for extended periods; work in coordination with
or proximity to others without being distracted by them; interact appropriately with
the general public; and get along with coworkers or peers without distracting them
or exhibiting behavioral extremes. She was not significantly limited in her ability to:
remember locations and work-like procedures; understand and remember very short
and simple instructions; carry out very short and simple instructions; perform
activities within a schedule, maintain regular attendance, and be punctual within
customary tolerances; sustain an ordinary routine without special supervision; make
simple work-related decisions; complete a normal workday and workweek without
interruptions from psychologically based symptoms and to perform at a consistent
pace without an unreasonable number and length of rest periods; ask simple questions
or request assistance; accept instructions and respond appropriately to criticism from
supervisors; maintain socially appropriate behavior and adhere to basic standards of
neatness and cleanliness; respond appropriately to changes in the work setting; be
aware of normal hazards and take appropriate precautions; travel in unfamiliar places
or use public transportation; and set realistic goals or make plans independently of
others. In his concluding narrative, Dr. Estock stated:
Claimant is able to remember locations and work like procedures.
She is able to understand, remember and carry out short simple
She may have moderate difficulty handling more detailed
instructions but likely can handle even these if they are broken down
into simple 1-2 step tasks and she is given adequate rehearsal.
Claimant is able to maintain attention sufficiently to complete
simple 1-2 step tasks for periods of up to 2 hours without special
supervision or extra rest periods.12
Dr. C.K. Jin, a consultative physical examiner, noted all of claimant’s medical
hypothyroidism, depression, allergic rhinitis, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and
allergic dermatitis. Despite these conditions, claimant’s prognosis was “fair,” and Dr.
Jin’s conclusion was that claimant “has multiple problems, mainly sugar trouble.
Otherwise, nothing really remarkable. The blood pressure is fairly well controlled.
The heart is well controlled. Otherwise, nothing really serious except for allergic
rhinitis.”13 None of these statements from treating and examining physicians support
a finding of greater limitations than those reflected in the ALJ’s residual functional
The ALJ’s conclusions about claimant’s daily activities, treatment history, and
demeanor also are supported by substantial evidence. Claimant’s daily activities are
limited, but not as severely as might be expected of a person with claimant’s alleged
symptoms. Moreover, claimant has received only conservative treatment for her
conditions, including her alleged mental impairments. She did not even choose to act
upon the suggestion of her physician and the consultative examiner that she follow
up with outpatient counseling at the mental health clinic. Finally, the ALJ was
entitled to make a judgment about claimant’s credibility based upon her demeanor
during the administrative hearing, especially considering that the ALJ was careful to
note that his observation about claimant’s demeanor was “only one among many
being relied on in reaching a conclusion regarding the credibility of the claimant’s
allegations and the claimant’s residual functional capacity.”14 See Macia v. Bowen,
829 F.2d 1009, 1011 (11th Cir. 1987) (“The ALJ is not prohibited ‘from considering
the claimant’s appearance and demeanor during the hearing.’”) (quoting Norris v.
Heckler, 760 F.2d 1154, 1158 (11th Cir.1985)).
After determining claimant’s residual functional capacity, the ALJ properly
used vocational expert testimony to ascertain whether there were jobs existing in
significant numbers in the national economy that claimant could perform. The ALJ’s
hypothetical question to the vocational expert included all of the functional
limitations that are supported by the record, and there is no reason to question the
vocational expert’s findings.
In conclusion, the ALJ’s decision was based upon substantial evidence and in
accordance with applicable legal standards.
Accordingly, the decision of the
Commissioner is AFFIRMED. Costs are taxed against claimant. The Clerk is
directed to close this file.
DONE this 25th day of January, 2013.
United States District Judge
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