Wilson v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF REMAND that the decision of the Commissioner is REVERSED, and this action is REMANDED to the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration for further proceedings consistent with this memorandum opinion and order as more fully set out in order. Signed by Judge C Lynwood Smith, Jr on 8/19/2015. (AHI )
2015 Aug-19 PM 02:36
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
JOSEPH FRANCIS WILSON,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting
Commissioner, Social Security
Civil Action No. 2:14-cv-2088-CLS
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF REMAND
Claimant, Joseph Francis Wilson, commenced this action on October 28, 2014,
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 his claim for a period of disability and disability insurance
benefits. For the reasons stated herein, the court finds that the Commissioner’s ruling
is due to be reversed, and this case remanded to the Commissioner for further
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: erred in rejecting the consultative examiner’s opinion;
failed to obtain the opinion of a medical expert; failed to seek clarification of the
consultative examiner’s opinion; and improperly considered claimant’s obesity.
Upon review of the record, the court find merit in claimant’s last argument.
The ALJ stated in the administrative opinion that claimant is five feet, eleven
inches tall and weighs 511 pounds.1 There is no dispute that claimant is morbidly
obese. Thus, the ALJ was required to evaluate the effect of claimant’s obesity on his
residual functional capacity in accordance with Social Security Ruling 02-1p, which
states the following:
Obesity can cause limitation of function. The functions likely to
be limited depend on many factors, including where the excess weight
is carried. An individual may have limitations in any of the exertional
functions such as sitting, standing, walking, lifting, carrying, pushing,
and pulling. It may also affect ability to do postural functions, such as
climbing, balancing, stooping, and crouching. The ability to manipulate
may be affected by the presence of adipose (fatty) tissue in the hands
and fingers. The ability to tolerate extreme heat, humidity, or hazards
may also be affected.
The effects of obesity may not be obvious. For example, some
people with obesity also have sleep apnea. This can lead to drowsiness
and lack of mental clarity during the day. Obesity may also affect an
individual’s social functioning.
An assessment should also be made of the effect obesity has upon
the individual’s ability to perform routine movement and necessary
physical activity within the work environment. Individuals with obesity
may have problems with the ability to sustain a function over time. As
explained in SSR 96-8p (“Titles II and XVI: Assessing Residual
Functional Capacity in Initial Claims”), our RFC assessments must
consider an individual’s maximum remaining ability to do sustained
work activities in an ordinary work setting on a regular and continuing
basis. A “regular and continuing basis” means 8 hours a day, for 5 days
a week, or an equivalent work schedule. In cases involving obesity,
fatigue may affect the individual’s physical and mental ability to sustain
work activity. This may be particularly true in cases involving sleep
The combined effects of obesity with other impairments may be
greater than might be expected without obesity. For example, someone
with obesity and arthritis affecting a weight-bearing joint may have
more pain and limitation than might be expected from the arthritis alone.
As with any other impairment, we will explain how we reached
our conclusions on whether obesity caused any physical or mental
SSR 02-1P, 2000 WL 628049, at *6-7.
The ALJ listed obesity as one of claimant’s severe impairments.2 He also
I have given consideration to Social Security Ruling 02-1p, which
instructs adjudicators to consider the effects of obesity not only under
the listings, but also when assessing a claim at other steps of the
sequential evaluation process, including when assessing an individual’s
residual functional capacity. When obesity is identified as a medically
determinable impairment, consideration will be given to any functional
limitation resulting from the obesity in the residual functional capacity
assessment in addition to any limitation resulting from any other
physical or mental impairment identified.3
Those are the only mentions of claimant’s obesity in the administrative opinion. The
ALJ stated summarily that he had “considered all symptoms,”4 and he noted that he
had limited the “postural activities and environmental situations” in claimant’s
residual functional capacity finding because they “could aggravate his underlying
lumbar degenerative disc disease with stenosis.”5 However, he did not provide any
meaningful discussion of claimant’s obesity or its effect on claimant’s ability to
perform work-related activities. As such, the court lacks sufficient information to
determine whether the ALJ’s residual functional capacity finding was in accordance
with applicable law and supported by substantial evidence. Remand is warranted for
a full evaluation of the effect of claimant’s morbid obesity on his functional abilities.
Based on the foregoing, the decision of the Commissioner is REVERSED, and
this action is REMANDED to the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration for further proceedings consistent with this memorandum opinion and
The Clerk of Court is directed to close this file.
DONE this 19th day of August, 2015.
United States District Judge
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