McHoward v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala on 6/15/2015. (AVC)
2015 Jun-15 PM 04:10
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
LORETTA JEAN McHOWARD,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,
Commissioner of the
Social Security Administration,
Case No.: 2:14-CV-01266-MHH
Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c), plaintiff Loretta Jean McHoward seeks
judicial review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner of Social Security.
After careful review, the Court affirms the Commissioner’s decision.
Ms. McHoward applied for supplemental security income on March 22,
2011.1 (Doc. 7-6, p. 2). Ms. McHoward alleges that her disability began on July 1,
2010. (Doc. 7-6, p. 2). The Commissioner denied Ms. McHoward’s claim on June
15, 2011, and Ms. McHoward requested a hearing before an administrative law
The ALJ cites March 15, 2011 as the date on which Ms. McHoward applied for supplemental
security income benefits; however, the record indicates that Ms. McHoward submitted her
application on March 22, 2011. (Doc. 7-6, p. 2). The discrepancy in dates is immaterial and
does not change the outcome of the Court’s decision.
judge (“ALJ”). (Doc. 7-3, pp. 21-29). Like the Commissioner, the ALJ denied
Ms. McHoward’s application for benefits. (Doc. 7-3, pp. 21-29). Afterwards, the
Appeals Council declined Ms. McHoward’s request for review. (Doc. 7-3, pp. 24). Consequently, the Commissioner’s decision became final. (Doc. 7-3, pp. 2-4).
That decision is a proper candidate for this Court’s judicial review. See 42 U.S.C.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The scope of review in this matter is limited. “When, as in this case, the
ALJ denies benefits and the Appeals Council denies review,” the Court “review[s]
the ALJ’s ‘factual findings with deference’ and [her] ‘legal conclusions with close
scrutiny.’” Riggs v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 522 Fed. Appx. 509, 510-11 (11th Cir.
2013) (quoting Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001)).
The Court must determine whether there is substantial evidence in the record
to support the ALJ’s findings. “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is
such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support
a conclusion.” Crawford v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir.
2004). In making this evaluation, the Court may not “decide the facts anew,
reweigh the evidence,” or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Winschel v.
Comm’r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (internal
quotation and citation omitted). If the ALJ’s decision is supported by substantial
evidence, the Court “must affirm even if the evidence preponderates against the
Commissioner’s findings.” Costigan v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., ---Fed. Appx. ---, 2015 WL 795089, at *2 (11th Cir. Feb. 26, 2015) (citing Crawford, 363 F.3d at
With respect to the ALJ’s legal conclusions, the Court must determine
whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards. If the Court finds an error in
the ALJ’s application of the law, or if the Court finds that the ALJ failed to provide
sufficient reasoning to demonstrate that the ALJ conducted a proper legal analysis,
then the Court must reverse the ALJ’s decision. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F. 2d
1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).
SUMMARY OF THE ALJ’S DECISION
To determine whether a claimant has proven that she is disabled, an ALJ
follows a five-step sequential evaluation process:
(1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful
activity; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment or
combination of impairments; (3) whether the impairment meets or
equals the severity of the specified impairments in the Listing of
Impairments; (4) based on a residual functional capacity (“RFC”)
assessment, whether the claimant can perform any of his or her past
relevant work despite the impairment; and (5) whether there are
significant numbers of jobs in the national economy that the claimant
can perform given the claimant’s RFC, age, education, and work
Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178.
In this case, the ALJ found that Ms. McHoward has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since March 15, 2011. (Doc. 7-3, p. 23). The ALJ
determined that Ms. McHoward suffers from the following severe impairments:
panic disorder without agoraphobia, fibromyalgia, hypertension, gastroesophageal
reflux disease (GERD), obesity, diabetes mellitus, major depressive disorder, and
(Doc. 7-3, p. 23).
Nevertheless, the ALJ concluded that Ms.
McHoward does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets
or medically equals the severity of any of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part
404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Doc. 7-3, p. 23).
The ALJ also determined that Ms. McHoward retains the following residual
[T]he claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light
work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except she is able to lift and/or
carry 20 pounds at a time; frequently lift and/or carry objects
weighing up to 10 pounds. She is able to sit six out of an 8-hour work
day; stand/walk six hours out of an 8-hour day. The claimant is
restricted from climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds; can occasionally
climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, crouch, kneel and crawl. She
can frequently reach, push and/or pull with her upper extremities;
should avoid all exposure to workplace hazards (e.g., dangerous
machinery and unprotected heights); and concentrated exposure to
temperature extremes. The claimant can understand, remember and
carry out simple tasks; frequently finger/handle; and perform jobs
involving non-confrontational supervision. She can maintain attention
and concentration for two-hour periods at a time, when considering
the effects of her impairments and medication; and can have
occasional interaction with coworkers, supervisors and the general
(Doc. 7-3, pp. 24-25). Based on this RFC, the ALJ concluded that Ms. McHoward
is unable to perform her past relevant work because she has no past relevant work.2
(Doc. 7-3, p. 27). Relying on testimony from a vocational expert, the ALJ found
that jobs exist in the national economy that Ms. McHoward can perform, including
information clerk, cashier, and mail clerk. (Doc. 7-3, p. 28). Accordingly, the ALJ
determined that Ms. McHoward is not disabled as defined in the Social Security
Act. (Doc. 7-3, p. 29).
Ms. McHoward argues that she is entitled to relief from the ALJ’s decision
because the ALJ did not give proper weight to the opinion of Ms. McHoward’s
treating physician, Dr. Jeremy Allen. The Court disagrees.
A treating physician’s medical opinion is entitled to considerable weight if
supported by the evidence and consistent with the doctor’s own records. See
Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1179. An ALJ may refuse to give the opinion of a treating
physician “substantial or considerable weight . . . [if] ‘good cause’ is shown to the
contrary.” Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1240-41 (11th Cir. 2004). Good
cause exists when “(1) [the] treating physician’s opinion was not bolstered by the
Under 20 C.F.R. 416.965(a), “past relevant work” consists of work that the claimant performed
in the 15 years preceding the date when the claimant’s alleged disability began. The ALJ found
that Ms. McHoward has no past relevant work because she has not held a full-time job since
1995. (Doc. 7-3, p. 45). Ms. McHoward alleges that her disability began on July 1, 2010. (Doc.
7-6, p. 2). The determination that Ms. McHoward has no past relevant work, if erroneous, did
not prejudice Ms. McHoward because the ALJ proceeded to the fifth and final step of the
disability evaluation. (Doc. 7-3, p. 22).
evidence; (2) [the] evidence supported a contrary finding; or (3) [the] treating
physician’s opinion was conclusory or inconsistent with the doctor’s own medical
records.” Id. at 1240-41; see also Crawford, 363 F.3d at 1159. The ALJ “must
state with particularity the weight given to different medical opinions and the
reasons therefor.” Gaskin v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 533 Fed. Appx. 929, 931 (11th
Cir. 2013) (internal quotation and citation omitted).
In this case, the ALJ articulated specific reasons for affording Dr. Allen’s
opinion little weight. (Doc. 7-3, pp. 26-27). The ALJ gave Dr. Allen’s opinion
little weight because:
[the opinion is] inconsistent with the type and level of treatment
received. Moreover, on November 1, 2010, six months prior to his
MSS, [Dr. Allen] noted that the claimant’s osteoarthritis was
controlled by [Naprosyn]. On that same occasion, he recommended
the claimant increase her activity. [Dr. Allen’s] notes also reflect that
the claimant was routinely noncompliant with medication, health
maintenance and visits. His treatment notes contradict the opinion
reflected in his medical source statement.
(Doc. 7-3, p. 27; Doc. 7-8, p. 20) (internal citation omitted).
Dr. Allen completed a physical capacity evaluation of Ms. McHoward on
June 29, 2011. (Doc. 7-8, p. 81). Dr. Allen concluded that Ms. McHoward can lift
10 pounds occasionally or less frequently, sit four hours out of an 8-hour day, and
stand one hour out of an 8-hour day. (Doc. 7-8, p. 81). Dr. Allen noted that Ms.
McHoward can occasionally make pushing and pulling movements, exercise fine
manipulation (finger dexterity), bend, stoop and reach; but never climb stairs,
ladders, or balance. (Doc. 7-8, p. 81). Dr. Allen determined that Ms. McHoward
can operate motor vehicles and work around dust, allergens, fumes, etc., but not
work around hazardous machinery. (Doc. 7-8, p. 81). Dr. Allen noted that Ms.
McHoward’s pain is substantial enough to prevent her from adequately performing
daily work and to cause distraction from tasks or total abandonment of tasks.
(Doc. 7-8, p. 82).
Dr. Allen’s opinion regarding Ms. McHoward’s physical condition is
inconsistent with Ms. McHoward’s treatment and medical records. (Doc. 7-8, pp.
16-24, 27-31, 81-83; Doc. 7-9, pp. 4, 7, 20). Since Ms. McHoward applied for
supplemental security income, she saw Dr. Allen on three occasions: May 18,
2011; October 5, 2011; and January 24, 2012. (Doc. 7-8, pp. 16-24, 27-31, 81-83;
Doc. 7-9, pp. 4, 7, 20). During Ms. McHoward’s May 2011 examination, Dr.
Allen removed Ms. McHoward from her medication for pain, Naprosyn (NSAID),
and noted that Ms. McHoward’s pain level was a 3 out of 10. (Doc. 7-9, p. 20). In
October 2011, Ms. McHoward reported her pain level was a 5 out of 10, and Dr.
Allen prescribed Tramadol; however, Dr. Allen noted that Ms. McHoward had
taken no medication that day and suggested that Ms. McHoward increase her
activity and lose weight. (Doc. 7-9, p. 7). During Ms. McHoward’s January 2012
examination, she told Dr. Allen that she “fe[lt] much better” and that her pain level
was a 3 out of 10. (Doc. 7-9, p. 4).
During all of her visits with Dr. Allen, Ms. McHoward’s pain levels never
rose above a 6 out of 10. (Doc. 7-8, pp. 16, 18, 20, 22, 24, 27, 29; Doc. 7-9, pp. 4,
7, 20). With the exceptions of Tramadol (a narcotic-like pain reliever) prescribed
in October 2011 and Lortab (a narcotic pain reliever) prescribed in April of 2011,
Ms. McHoward has kept her pain under control since 2007 with nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAID). (Doc. 7-7, pp. 36-37, 54-58; Doc. 7-8, pp. 3, 13,
15-20, 22, 24, 27, 29, 31, 43-44; Doc. 7-9, pp. 4, 7, 10, 20, 29).3
Because Dr. Allen did not explain the discrepancies between his opinion and
his treatment and medical records for Ms. McHoward (Doc. 7-8, pp. 16-24, 27-31,
81-83; Doc. 7-9, pp. 4, 7, 10), the Court finds good cause to give the treating
physician’s opinion less weight. Consequently, the ALJ’s decision is supported by
substantial evidence. Crawford, 363 F.3d at 1159–61 (finding that substantial
evidence supported the ALJ’s decision to discredit the opinions of the claimant’s
treating physicians where those physicians’ opinions regarding the claimant’s
The ALJ also relied upon Dr. Allen’s November 1, 2010 consultation with Ms. McHoward as a
basis for discrediting Dr. Allen’s records of opinion because Dr. Allen’s opinion is inconsistent
with Ms. McHoward’s treatment records. (Doc. 7-3, p. 27). Ms. McHoward argues that the ALJ
erred by relying on Dr. Allen’s November 1, 2010 findings because this visit occurred more than
four months before her alleged onset of disability. (Doc. 9, p. 10). Ms. McHoward argues that
she was not disabled at the November 1, 2010 consultation and that her disability instead began
on March 15, 2011. (Doc. 9, p. 10). Ms. McHoward’s argument is inconsistent with her
application for benefits, in which she identified her onset of disability as July 1, 2010. (Doc. 7-6,
p. 2). The ALJ considered Ms. McHoward’s claim only from March 15, 2011 because she did
not file her application until that date; however, this does not preclude the ALJ from considering
Dr. Allen’s treatment notes before the date of Ms. McHoward’s application. See 20 C.F.R. §§
416.330, 416.335. Because Dr. Allen’s November 1, 2010 consultation with Ms. McHoward
occurred after the date of Ms. McHoward’s reported onset of disability, July 1, 2010, the ALJ did
not err by considering Dr. Allen’s November 1, 2010 consultation.
disability were inconsistent with the physicians’ treatment notes and unsupported
by the medical evidence); see also Reynolds-Buckley v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 457
Fed. Appx. 862 (11th Cir. 2012) (substantial evidence supported the ALJ’s
decision to give less weight to a treating physician’s opinion when the doctor’s
opinion was “inconsistent with the medical evidence on record and was not
supported by any treatment notes or by an analysis of any test results”).
For the reasons discussed above, the Court finds that the ALJ’s decision is
supported by substantial evidence, and the ALJ applied proper legal standards.
The Court will not reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the
Commissioner. Accordingly, the Court affirms the Commissioner’s decision in
denying Ms. McHoward’s claim for supplemental security income benefits. The
Court will enter a separate final judgment consistent with this memorandum
DONE and ORDERED this June 15, 2015.
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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