Morris v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Abdul K Kallon on 7/21/2014. (PSM)
2014 Jul-21 AM 10:48
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,
Acting Commissioner of Social Security, )
CIVIL ACTION NO.
Plaintiff Gary Morris (“Morris”) brings this action pursuant to Section 205(g) of
the Social Security Act (“the Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the final
adverse decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”).
This court finds that the Administrative Law Judge’s (“ALJ”) decision - which has
become the decision of the Commissioner - is supported by substantial evidence.
Therefore, for the reasons elaborated herein, the court will affirm the decision denying
I. Procedural History
Morris, whose past relevant experience includes work as a truck driver, filed an
application for Title II disability insurance benefits and Title XVI Supplemental Security
Income on August 19, 2010, alleging a disability onset date of June 6, 2010, due to
depression, anxiety, fatigue, fainting, memory loss, and thyroid problems. (R. 11, 178).
After the SSA denied Morris’s claim, he requested a hearing before an ALJ. (R. 123).
The ALJ subsequently denied Morris’s claim, (R. 8-23), which became the final decision
of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council refused to grant review. (R. 1-6). Morris
then filed this action for judicial review pursuant to § 205(g) of the Act, 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). Doc. 1.
II. Standard of Review
The only issues before this court are whether the record contains substantial
evidence to sustain the ALJ’s decision, See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Walden v. Schweiker, 672
F.2d 835, 838 (11th Cir. 1982), and whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards,
see Lamb v. Bowen, 847 F.2d 698, 701 (11th Cir. 1988); Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129,
131 (11th Cir. 1986). Title 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) mandates that the Commissioner’s
“factual findings are conclusive if supported by ‘substantial evidence.’” Martin v.
Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990). The district court may not reconsider the
facts, reevaluate the evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner;
instead, it must review the final decision as a whole and determine if the decision is
“reasonable and supported by substantial evidence.” See id. (citing Bloodsworth v.
Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983)). Substantial evidence falls somewhere
between a scintilla and a preponderance of evidence; “[i]t is such relevant evidence as a
reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Martin, 849 F.2d
at 1529 (quoting Bloodsworth, 703 F.2d at 1239) (other citations omitted). If supported
by substantial evidence, the court must affirm the Commissioner’s factual findings even if
the preponderance of the evidence is against the Commissioner’s findings. See Martin,
894 F.2d at 1529. While the court acknowledges that judicial review of the ALJ’s
findings is limited in scope, it notes that the review “does not yield automatic
affirmance.” Lamb, 847 F.2d at 701.
III. Statutory and Regulatory Framework
To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must show “the inability to engage in
any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or
mental impairments 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 twelve months.” 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(d)(1)(A); 42 U.S.C. § 416(i). A physical or mental impairment is “an impairment
that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are
demonstrated by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(3).
Determination of disability under the Act requires a five step analysis. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)-(f). Specifically, the Commissioner must determine in sequence:
whether the claimant is currently unemployed;
whether the claimant has a severe impairment;
whether the impairment meets or equals one listed by the Commissioner;
whether the claimant is unable to perform his or her past work; and
whether the claimant is unable to perform any work in the national
McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir. 1986). “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 disabled.’” Id. at 1030 (citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)-(f)). “Once a
finding is made that a claimant cannot return to prior work the burden shifts to the
Secretary to show other work the claimant can do.” Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1559
(11th Cir. 1995) (citation omitted).
IV. The ALJ’s Decision
In performing the five step analysis, the ALJ found that Morris had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since June 6, 2010, and, therefore, met Step One. (R. 13).
Next, the ALJ found that Morris satisfied Step Two because he suffered from the severe
a history of gastroesophageal reflux disease and peptic ulcer disease under
medical management; a history of anxiety disorder under medical
management and responsive to medical management; major depressive
disorder under medical management and responsive to medical
management; mild degenerative disc disease of cervical spine without acute
pathology; and hypogonadism or low testosterone, on supplemental therapy.
Id. The ALJ then proceeded to the next step and found that Morris failed to satisfy Step
Three because he “does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that
meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments.” (R. 14). Although the ALJ
answered Step Three in the negative, consistent with the law, see McDaniel, 800 F.2d at
1030, the ALJ proceeded to Step Four where he determined that Morris has the residual
functional capacity (RFC) to perform
light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) which would
not involve any work with hazardous machinery or unprotected heights;
would involve frequent to occasional stooping, kneeling, crouching,
crawling and climbing of stairs and ramps; occasional to frequent but not
constant overhead reaching. He is prohibited from climbing ladders, ropes,
and scaffolding; and limited to work which would allow the claimant to sit
or stand at his option.
The claimant can understand, remember and carry out instructions sufficient
to perform simple, routine, repetitive tasks. He can maintain concentration,
persistence and pace for periods up to 2 hours sufficient to perform a
regular workday with routine breaks. He is limited to a low stress job
defined as occasional changes in the work setting, goal oriented work rather
than production rate pace work; dealing with things rather that people; and
preferably a well spaced work environment
(R. 15). In light of his RFC, the ALJ held that Morris “is unable to perform any past
relevant work.” (R. 21). Lastly, in Step Five, the ALJ considered Morris’s age,
education, work experience,1 and RFC and determined “there are jobs that exist in
significant numbers in the national economy [Morris] can perform.” (R. 22). Therefore,
the ALJ found that Morris “has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social
Security Act, from June 6, 2010, through the date of this decision.” Id.
The court now turns to Morris’s contentions that the ALJ erred in (1) finding his
possible diagnosis of attention deficit disorder and presyncope episodes with dizziness
As of the date of the ALJ’s decision, Morris was 49 years old, had a high school
education, and past relevant medium semiskilled work as a truck driver. (R. 21).
were not severe impairments; (2) finding he did not meet listing 12.04; and (3) assessing
his RFC. See doc. 11 at 2-5. The court addresses each contention in turn.
The ALJ’s Consideration of Morris’s Possible Diagnosis of Attention
Deficit Disorder and Presyncope Episodes with Dizziness
Morris contends the ALJ erred in finding at Step Two that his possible diagnosis
of attention deficit disorder and presyncope episodes with dizziness were not severe
impairments. A review of the medical evidence reveals that substantial evidence supports
the ALJ’s finding that Morris’s “possible attention-deficit disorder is managed with
medication,” and that there was “no evidence the claimant’s attention deficit disorder . . .
cause[d] any more than minimal functional limitations or restrictions.” (R. 14). For
example, after Morris began taking medications, treatment notes in October and
November 2010 from Dr. Terry Bentley, Morris’s treating psychiatrist, state that Morris’s
“focus and concentration are good,” and that his “attention span and concentration are
good.” (R. 394-95). In fact, Dr. Bentley noted on December 17, 2010, that Morris
reported “[t]his was a miracle medication for me.” (R. 396). In addition to the effective
medication therapy, the ALJ also noted that “an evaluation of [Morris’s] pre-syncope
episodes yielded negative cardiology and brain imaging,” (R. 14), and that Morris’s
“allegations of continued pre-syncope events and dizziness are not supported by the
objective medical evidence, which note improvement, and [Morris] acknowledges that his
physician indicated the events are psychogenic in nature.” (R. 19). Although, on August
2, 2010, Dr. Thomas Bryant noted that Morris was “doing fairly well, but still having a lot
of dizziness,” (R. 249), Dr. Bryant’s later treatment notes make no further mention of
presyncope and dizziness. (R. 348, 355, 357). Therefore, based on this record, the court
finds that substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s finding that these conditions were not
Ultimately, because the ALJ found in Morris’s favor at Step Two, the specific
impairments listed are irrelevant. After all, “[n]othing requires that the ALJ must
identify, at step two, all of the impairments that should be considered severe,” provided
the ALJ considered the claimant’s impairments in combination. Heatly v. Comm’r of Soc.
Sec., 382 F. App’x 823, 825 (11th Cir. 2010); see also Delia v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 433
F. App’x 885, 887 (11th Cir. 2011) (noting that a failure to find that claimant’s mental
impairment was severe was harmless because the ALJ found other severe impairments
and considered the impairment in the rest of the decision). There is no error here because
the ALJ specifically stated that Morris’s nonsevere impairments “have been considered
for purposes of the claimant’s assigned residual functional capacity.” (R. 14). In fact, he
discussed Morris’s presyncope events and dizziness, in giving him “the great benefit of
the doubt, [by prohibiting] working from unprotected heights or with hazardous
machinery.” (R. 19). Therefore, any error in failing to find these conditions as severe
impairments was harmless.
Morris next contends the ALJ erred in finding his impairments did not meet listing
12.04, which addresses affective disorders that are “[c]haracterized by a disturbance of
mood, accompanied by a full or partial manic or depressive syndrome.” See 20 C.F.R. Pt.
404, Subpt. P, App. 1 § 12.04 (hereinafter “listing 12.04"). Morris bears the burden of
showing that his impairments meet or equal a listed impairment. Barron v. Sullivan, 924
F.2d 227, 229 (11th Cir. 1991). The regulations also provide that Morris “must furnish
medical and other evidence that [the Commissioner] can use to reach conclusions about
[his] medical impairment(s).” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1512(a). Moreover, Morris’s impairments
must “meet all of the specified medical criteria. An impairment that manifests only some
of those criteria, no matter how severely, does not qualify.” Sullivan v. Zebley, 493 U.S.
521, 530 (1990) (emphasis in original).
To determine whether Morris met listing 12.042, the ALJ first considered whether
Morris satisfied the paragraph B criteria of the listing.3 The ALJ found Morris had only
mild restrictions in activities of daily living, and observed that Morris “noted no problems
performing personal care or preparing simple meals, but stated he had to sit when
shopping.” (R. 14). In the area of social functioning, the ALJ found Morris had
Morris can meet listing 12.04 by showing that he satisfies the criteria in
paragraphs A and B of that listing. Alternately, Morris may satisfying the criteria of
paragraph C. The A criteria of the listings set forth clinical findings that medically
substantiate a mental disorder. Listing 12.00A. The criteria in paragraphs B and C
describe functional limitations that would prevent any gainful activity. Id.
To satisfy the paragraph B criteria of listing 12.04, Morris must establish he has
at least two of the following limitations: (1) marked restriction of activities of daily
living; (2) marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning; (3) marked difficulties in
maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace; or (4) repeated episodes of
decompensation, each of extended duration. Id. For the purposes of the mental disorder
listings, “marked” means “more than moderate but less than extreme.” Listing 12.00(C).
moderate difficulties, and noted that Morris’s “wife reported that the claimant spoke with
family and friends on the telephone 3 or 4 times a week, and denied problems getting
along with family, friends, or neighbors,” but that his mother “reported that [Morris]
isolated himself.” Id. Regarding concentration, persistence or pace, the ALJ found
Morris “has moderate difficulties,” and explained that Morris “reported he watched
television often and was able to follow instructions well at times,” but that “he alleged
that he had trouble with his memory at times, did not complete tasks, and that his
conditions affected his concentration.” As for episodes of decompensation, the ALJ
found Morris “has experienced no episodes of decompensation which have been of
extended duration,” and noted that Morris “has not alleged a history of any episodes of
decompensation of extended duration, and the medical evidence of record contains no
evidence of any such episodes.” Id.
Next, the ALJ considered the paragraph C criteria.4 The ALJ found Morris did not
meet the paragraph C criteria of listing 12.04 because of the absence of any evidence
showing Morris had repeated episodes of decompensation, a residual disease process that
had resulted in such marginal adjustment that even a minimal increase in mental demands
To satisfy the paragraph C criteria of listing 12.04, Morris must show that he has
one of the following: (1) repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended
duration; (2) a residual disease that has resulted in such marginal adjustment that even
minimal increase in mental demands or change in the environment would be predicted to
cause the him to decompensate; or (3) a current history of one or more years’ inability to
function outside a highly supportive living arrangement with a need for such an
arrangement to continue. 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1 § 12.04.
or change in the environment would be predicted to cause him to decompensate, or a
current history of one or more years’ inability to function outside a highly supportive
living arrangement, with an indication of the continued need for such an arrangement.
The court’s review of the record reveals that substantial evidence supports the
ALJ’s findings. For example, as the ALJ observed, treatment records from Morris’s
generally note the claimant to report that he is doing well, sleeping well,
and feeling good (Exhibit 15F). Notably, on February 16, 2011, the
claimant informed his psychiatrist that he had gone without his Vyvance for
a few days, but that his mood and anxiety remained under control. On June
13, 2011, he informed his psychiatrist that his medications were the best
they have been in 35 years, that his mood was improving, and that he was
better able to handle things. He further reported he was sleeping well and
that his energy level was satisfactory.
(R. 20-21). The ALJ added that Morris’s “treatment notes reveal a good response to
psychotropic medication . . . and support non-disability at this time.” (R. 20). Indeed, as
Dr. Bentley’s noted on December 17, 2010:
[Morris] reports his mood is good. He feels good overall. This was a
miracle medication for me. Sleeping good. Appetite is under control.
Everything is like it is supposed to be. [He] states he is doing pretty good.
He has felt much better overall. He has been doing fairly well. He is
starting to get benefit.
(R. 396). In addition, Dr. Bentley’s notes from the December 17, 2010, visit show that
his mental status examination found Morris’s affect was euthymic, and his mood was
good, that Morris’s insight and judgment were good, and that he had no memory deficits.
Id. Moreover, numerous other treatment notes from Dr. Bentley show similar
examination findings, which further supports the ALJ’s findings. (R. 394-95, 397, 399402). In fact, even the consultative psychological examiner, Dr. Ruth Lyman, Ph.D.,
opined that Morris was “moderately impaired by mental conditions,” which also supports
the ALJ’s findings.
Put simply, there is no evidence that Morris has suffered any episodes of
decompensation or has otherwise satisfied the paragraph C criteria. Moreover, substantial
evidence supports the ALJ’s findings that Morris’s mental impairments did not cause
"marked" limitations in two of the paragraph B criteria of listing 12.04. Accordingly,
because this court does not reweigh the evidence, there is no reversible error.
The ALJ’s RFC Finding
Morris’s final contention of alleged error is related to the ALJ’s RFC finding.
Doc. 11 at 4-5. Unfortunately, Morris’s entire argument on this issue consists of
statements that Morris “disagrees with” various aspects of the ALJ’s RFC findings. Doc.
4-5. Moreover, Morris provides no citation to specific evidence showing that the ALJ’s
RFC finding was not supported by substantial evidence. See Id. Therefore, Morris has
failed to meet his burden of properly presenting this issue for review. See Singh v. U.S.
Att’y Gen., 561 F.3d 1275, 1278 (11th Cir.2009) (“[S]imply stating that an issue exists,
without further argument or discussion, constitutes abandonment of that issue and
precludes our considering the issue on appeal.”). Alternatively, Morris’s contention fails
because the ALJ’s RFC is supported by substantial evidence. According to the ALJ,
“there is no contraindication in the medical evidence of record for the ability to perform
at least light, unskilled work with the assigned limitations.” (R. 21). In making this
finding, the ALJ afforded “greater weight . . . to the clinical, objective, and radiological
findings of [Morris’s] treating physicians.” Id. Among other things, the ALJ noted that
Morris’s “alleged sensory and motor loss, with an inability to pick up anything due to
arthritis in both hands . . . is inconsistent with the findings of [his] treating physician, Dr.
Thomas Roy Bryant, whose examinations . . . consistently revealed no arthralgias or
stiffness,” and that Morris’s “allegations of right leg swelling with prolonged standing”
were not supported by Morris’s “treating physicians [who] noted only slight edema, and
[that even Morris] determined that his edema was not of such a severity to merit
compliance with his physician’s instructions to use support stockings.” (R. 19). The
medical evidence supports the ALJ’s findings.
Likewise, the substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s RFC findings with respect
to Morris’s mental limitations. As the ALJ explained, he provided for Morris’s moderate
mental limitations by restricting him to “simple, routine, repetitive tasks,” and a “low
stress job defined as occasional changes in the work setting, goal oriented work rather
than production rate pace work; dealing with things rather that people; and preferably a
well spaced work environment.” (R. 15, 20). Likewise, the ALJ accommodated Morris’s
presyncope and dizziness by prohibiting “work with hazardous machinery or unprotected
heights,” and “climbing ladders, ropes, and scaffolding,” and accommodated Morris’s
mild degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, by limiting him to work that allowed
a sit/stand option and only occasional to frequent postural activities. (R. 15, 19). There is
nothing in the record to challenge the ALJ’s findings or to support Morris’s contention of
Put simply, the ALJ weighed the evidence and assessed Morris’s RFC. Based on
its review of the record, the court finds that substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s RFC
finding. While Morris is free to disagree with that finding, this court does not reweigh
the evidence, and accordingly, there is no reversible error.
Based on the foregoing, the court concludes that the ALJ’s determination that
Morris is not disabled is supported by substantial evidence, and that the ALJ applied
proper legal standards in reaching this determination. Therefore, the Commissioner’s
final decision is AFFIRMED. A separate order in accordance with the memorandum of
decision will be entered.
Done this 21st day of July, 2014.
ABDUL K. KALLON
UNITED STATES DISTRICT 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?