McClendon v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DISMISSING CASE that the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED and costs are taxed to claimant as more fully set out in order. Signed by Judge C Lynwood Smith, Jr on 8/29/2014. (AHI )
2014 Aug-29 AM 10:21
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting
Commissioner, Social Security
Civil Action No. 2:13-CV-1962-CLS
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Claimant Lonnique McClendon commenced this action on October 23, 2013,
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).
Claimant contends that the Commissioner’s decision is neither supported by
substantial evidence nor in accordance with applicable legal standards. Specifically,
claimant asserts that the ALJ improperly considered the medical records from Dr.
Ronald Moon, one of her treating physicians, and failed to incorporate all of her
impairments, including non-severe impairments, in the residual functional capacity
finding. Upon review of the record, the court concludes these contentions are without
First, claimant asserts that the ALJ failed to specify the weight she afforded to
Dr. Moon’s medical records. Dr. Moon consistently noted that claimant experienced
back pain, somatic dysfunction, general deconditioning, myofascial pain, pelvic
inflammatory disease, asthma, and headaches and numbness in her feet upon any
increase in back pain. Dr. Moon prescribed a home exercise program, weekly
physical therapy, continued pain medications, and a TENS unit for pain. He advised
claimant to remain off work until July 20, 2009, which was approximately a onemonth time period.1 The ALJ accurately summarized Dr. Moon’s medical records in
the administrative decision, and she considered those records in her evaluation of the
credibility of claimant’s subjective complaints.2 The ALJ also considered that Dr.
Moon dismissed claimant as a patient after approximately five months, because she
had missed several appointments.3 Even so, as claimant points out, the ALJ did not
state what weight she afforded Dr. Moon’s records. That was not error, however.
Instead, it can be explained by one simple observation: Dr. Moon did not offer a
medical opinion. Social Security regulations provide that “medical opinions” are
“statements from physicians and psychologists or other acceptable medical sources
that reflect judgments about the nature and severity of your impairment(s), including
your symptoms, diagnosis and prognosis, what you can still do despite impairment(s),
and your physical or mental restrictions.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(a)(2). Dr. Moon did
not complete a physical capacities evaluation, he did not specify claimant’s functional
limitations, and he did not provide any opinion about claimant’s ability to work,
except during a brief, one-month time period. Accordingly, the ALJ was not required
to specify the weight assigned to Dr. Moon’s treatment notes, in the same way she
assigned weight to, for example, the opinion of Dr. Thomas Lecroy, a treating
physician who completed a Medical Source Statement indicating the extent of
claimant’s psychological limitations.4 Instead, the ALJ properly considered Dr.
Tr. 22-23, 477-78.
Moon’s treatment records in evaluating claimant’s credibility, and her residual
functional capacity findings were supported by substantial evidence. In particular,
contrary to claimant’s assertion that the ALJ “failed to incorporate any limitations
based on pain in her [residual functional capacity finding],”5 the ALJ accommodated
many of claimant’s subjective impairments by limiting her to light work with no
climbing, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crawling, reaching overhead, working
around dangerous machinery and unprotected heights, concentrated exposure to
uneven terrain, running, or jumping.6
Claimant’ next argument is that the ALJ failed to incorporate all of her
impairments into the residual functional capacity finding, in violation of Social
Security Ruling 96-8p. That ruling states, in pertinent part:
In assessing RFC, the adjudicator must consider limitations and
restrictions imposed by all of an individual’s impairments, even those
that are not “severe.” While a “not severe” impairment(s) standing
alone may not significantly limit an individual’s ability to do basic work
activities, it may — when considered with limitations or restrictions due
to other impairments — be critical to the outcome of a claim. For
example, in combination with limitations imposed by an individual’s
other impairments, the limitations due to such a “not severe” impairment
may prevent an individual from performing past relevant work or may
narrow the range of other work that the individual may still be able to
Doc. no. 10 (claimant’s brief), at 11 (alteration supplied).
SSR 96-8p, at *5. Similarly, Social Security regulations state the following with
regard to the Commissioner’s duty in evaluating multiple impairments:
In determining whether your physical or mental impairment or
impairments are of a sufficient medical severity that such impairment or
impairments could be the basis of eligibility under the law, we will
consider the combined effect of all of your impairments without regard
to whether any such impairment, if considered separately, would be of
sufficient severity. If we do find a medically severe combination of
impairments, the combined impact of the impairments will be considered
throughout the disability determination process. If we do not find that
you have a medically severe combination of impairments, we will
determine that you are not disabled . . . .
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1523, 416.923. See also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545(e), 416.945(e)
(stating that, when the claimant has any severe impairment, the ALJ is required to
assess the limiting effects of all of the claimant’s impairments — including those that
are not severe — in determining the claimant’s residual functional capacity).
According to claimant, the ALJ failed to consider her gastroesophageal reflux
disease, hypertension, hypoglycemia, headaches, and malaise in determining her
residual functional capacity.
The ALJ explicitly acknowledged claimant’s
gastroesophegeal reflux disease, hypertension, and hypoglycemia, but she found those
conditions to be non-severe impairments because they were “only slight abnormalities
that cannot reasonably be expected to produce more than minimal, if any, work-
related limitations . . . .”7 Even so, the record reflects that the ALJ considered all of
claimant’s impairments — including those that are not severe — in evaluating
claimant’s residual functional capacity. The ALJ stated that claimant did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled any of the
listings.8 The ALJ also stated that she “considered all symptoms” and made her
credibility determination “based on a consideration of the entire case record.”9
Finally, she stated that she was assigning functional limitations based on “the totality
of the claimant’s impairments . . . .”10 The Eleventh Circuit has found statements of
that sort to indicate that the ALJ properly considered all of a claimant’s impairments.
See Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1224 (11th Cir. 2002); Jones v. Dept. of
Health and Human Services, 941 F.2d 1529, 1533 (11th Cir. 1991). Additionally, the
ALJ’s opinion as a whole reflects a thorough consideration of all of the medical
evidence. Therefore, the ALJ did not err by failing to properly consider all of
In accordance with the foregoing, the court concludes that the ALJ’s decision
was supported by 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 29th day of August, 2014.
United States District Judge
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