Liles v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Magistrate Judge John E Ott on 7/11/2016. (AVC)
2016 Jul-11 AM 09:35
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,
Commissioner of the
Social Security Administration,
Case No.: 2:15-cv-00376-JEO
Plaintiff Julie Liles (“Liles”) brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and
1383(c) seeking review of the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying her application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental
security income. (Doc. 1). This case has been assigned to the undersigned United States
Magistrate Judge pursuant to this court’s general order of reference. The parties have consented
to the jurisdiction of this court for the disposition of the matter. (Doc. 9). See 28 U.S.C. §
636(c), FED. R. CIV. P. 73(a). Upon review of the record and the relevant law, the undersigned
finds that the Commissioner’s decision is due to be affirmed.
On December 30, 2011, Liles filed an application for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income with the Social Security Administration. (R. 10). The Regional
Commissioner denied her claims on June 24, 2012. ( R. 10). Liles filed a Request for Hearing
with an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on July 17, 2012. (R. 101). On October 1, 2013,
Administrative Law Judge Ronald Reeves conducted a hearing which Liles, her attorney, and a
vocational expert (“VE”) attended. (R. 25). The ALJ issued a decision denying Liles’s disability
insurance benefits and supplemental security claims on October 29, 2014. (R. 7).
On November 21, 2013, Liles requested the Appeals Council review the ALJ’s decision.
(R. 6). The Appeals Council denied her request for review on December 29, 2014. (R. 1). On
that date, the ALJ’s decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. Liles then filed this
action for judicial review under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The court’s review of the Commissioner’s decision is narrowly tailored. The court must
determine whether the Commissioner’s decision is supported by substantial evidence and
whether the Commissioner applied the proper legal standards. Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d
1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002). The court must “scrutinize the record as a whole to determine if the
decision reached is reasonable and supported by substantial evidence.” Bloodsworth v. Heckler,
703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983). “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, but less
than a preponderance.” Id. It means the decision is supported by “relevant evidence a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402
U.S. 389, 401 (1971).
Applying the foregoing standard, the court must defer to the ALJ’s factual findings. See
Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145 (11th Cir. 1991). The court may not “decide the facts
anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the Commissioner.” Mitchell
v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 771 F.3d 780, 782 (11th Cir. 2014) (citing Winchel v. Comm’r of Soc.
Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011)). In contrast, the court reviews questions of law de
novo. See Cornelius, 936 F.2d at 1145. Accordingly, no presumption of validity attaches to the
ALJ’s conclusions of law. Wiggins v. Schweiker, 679 F.2d 1387, 1389 (11th Cir. 1982). If the
court finds the ALJ improperly applied the law, or failed to provide the court with sufficient
reasoning for determining that the proper legal analysis has been conducted, the court must
reverse the ALJ’s decision. See Cornelius, 936 F.2d at 1145-46.
To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must show she is disabled. Being disabled is
“the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically
determinable physical or mental impairment 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 12 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
demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(d)(3). The plaintiff bears the burden of proving that she is disabled and is responsible for
producing evidence in support of such a claim. Ellison v. Barnhart, 355 F.3d 1272, 1276 (11th
Determination of disability under the Social Security Act requires a five step analysis. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). Specifically, the Commissioner must determine in sequence whether the
claimant: “(1) is unable to engage in substantial gainful activity; (2) has a severe medically
determinable physical or mental impairment; (3) has such an impairment that meets or equals a
Listing and meets the duration requirements; (4) can perform his past relevant work, in light of
his residual functional capacity; and (5) can make an adjustment to other work, in light of his
residual functional capacity, age, education, and work experience.” Evans v. Comm’r of Soc.
Sec., 551 F. App’x 521, 524 (11th Cir. 2014) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)). “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.’ ” McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1030
(11th Cir. 1986). “Once a finding is made that a claimant cannot return to prior work the burden
shifts to the [Commissioner] to show other work the claimant can do.” Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d
1553, 1559 (11th Cir. 1995) (citation omitted). The Commissioner must further show that such
work exists in the national economy in significant numbers. Id.; Evans, 551 F. App’x at 524.
FINDINGS OF THE ALJ
Liles was 43 years old at the time of the ALJ’s decision, defining her as a younger
individual age 18-49. (R. 231). She has a high school education and is able to communicate in
English. (R. 18). The ALJ found that she had not engaged in significant gainful activity
(“SGA”) at any time relevant to the decision. (R. 12). Liles alleges an onset date of disability
beginning January 1, 2008. (R. 200). The ALJ determined her date of last insured to be
December 31, 2012. (Id.) Following a hearing, the ALJ determined Liles had the following
medically determinable “severe” impairments: major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety
disorder, bulimia, right hip bursitis, and obesity. (R. 13). She also suffers from a number of
additional ailments, including hypertension, gastroesophageal reflux disease, foot paresthesia,
ankle arthralgia, and a remote history of substance abuse. (Id.) The ALJ found these additional
impairments, however, did not impose a significant limitation on Liles’s ability to perform basic
work activities when considered in combination, and therefore were “non-severe impairments.”
Moving to the next step, the ALJ found neither of Liles’s severe impairments met or
medically equaled the severity of the impairments included in the Listings. (R. 13). The ALJ
found that she had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform
light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except the
claimant is limited to occasional operation of foot controls with her right leg. She
can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, but she can occasionally stoop, kneel,
crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs. She can perform simple, routine, and
repetitive tasks in a low stress environment, which is defined as requiring
occasional decision making and having occasional changes in the work setting.
The claimant further is restricted to occasional interaction with coworkers, but no
interaction with the public.
(R. 15). The ALJ also found Liles incapable of performing her past relevant work as an accounts
receivable clerk or a telephone order clerk, both of which are at the sedentary exertional level.
(R. 18). Relying on the VE’s testimony, the ALJ further found that jobs exist in the national
economy that Liles could perform, including cleaner, merchandise marker, and garment sorter.
(R. 19). The ALJ concluded Liles was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security
Act from January 1, 2008 through the date of the decision. (R. 20).
Liles argues that the decision of the ALJ is due to be reversed and benefits awarded to her
or the decision is due to be remanded for further review because the ALJ “did not properly assess
[her] credibility consistent with the Regulations.” (Doc. 11 at 4). The Commissioner responds
that “the ALJ properly applied the pain standard and substantial evidence supports his finding
that [Liles’s] subjective complaints were not entirely credible.” (Doc. 14 at 4).
A. The Standard
It is well-settled that Liles bears the burden of proving that she is disabled. See 42 U.S.C
§ 423(D)(5)(A); 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(H)(i); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1512(a), (c); 20 C.F.R. §
416.912(a) (“In general you have to prove to us that you are blind or disabled. This means that
you must furnish medical and other evidence that we can use to reach conclusions about your
medical impairment(s).”); 20 C.F.R. § 416.912(c) (“Your responsibility. You must provide
medical evidence showing that you have an impairment(s) and how severe it is during the time
you say that you are disabled. You must provide evidence, without redaction, showing how your
impairment(s) affects your functioning during the time you say that you are disabled, and any
other information that we need to decide your claim.”); Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211
(11th Cir. 2005) (“An individual claiming Social Security disability benefits must prove that she
is disabled.”); Ellison v. Barnhart, 355 F.3d 1272, 1276 (11th Cir. 2003) (stating that “the
claimant bears the burden of proving that he is disabled, and, consequently, he is responsible for
producing evidence in support of his claim”).
In evaluating a disability claim involving subjective complaints such as pain, United
States District Judge L. Scott Coogler has stated:
In order to establish a disability on the basis of subjective testimony of pain and
other symptoms, the claimant must present evidence to support the Eleventh
Circuit’s pain standard. Under this standard, a plaintiff must present (1) evidence
of an underlying medical condition; and (2) either a) objective medical evidence
confirming the severity of the alleged symptoms or b) that the objectively
determined medical condition is of such a severity that it can reasonably [be]
expected to give rise to the alleged pain. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1529(a) (2011);
Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1991) (citing Holt v. Sullivan, 921
F.2d 1221, 1225 (11th Cir. 1991)). If the claimant establishes an impairment that
could reasonably be expected to cause his alleged symptoms, the ALJ is obligated
to evaluate the claimant’s subjective complaints, including intensity and
persistence of the alleged symptoms and their effect on the claimant’s ability to
work. Hogard v. Sullivan, 733 F. Supp. 1465, 1469 (M.D. Fla. 1990). The ALJ
may discredit this type of pain testimony only by articulating “explicit and
adequate reasoning” based on substantial evidence from the record. Foote, 67
F.3d at 1561; Wilson, 284 F.3d at 1225.
Parker ex rel. Parker v. Colvin, 2013 WL 2635696, *3 (N.D. Ala. June 10, 2013). A reversal is
warranted if the decision of the ALJ contains no indication of proper application of the three-part
standard. Holt, 921 F.2d at 1223.
1. Liles’s View
Liles initially contends that the ALJ did not properly apply Eleventh Circuit precedent, he
failed to properly consider her longitudinal medical history, and he mischaracterized the
evidence. (Doc. 11 at 5). In support of her contention that she is disabled, she points to medical
records evidencing “debilitating symptoms from depression and anxiety.” (Id.) This evidence
includes (1) records from 2005, citing depression and bulimia with a Global Assessment of
Functioning of 35 (R. 307); (2) treatment notes from November 2008 by Dr. Jimmy M. Sparks,
assessing her with depressive disorder and anxiety (R. 296-98); (3) records from the Jefferson
County Department of Health from November 2009 to February 2011 for treatment of
depression and anxiety disorder (R. 339, 345, 349, 352, 356, 368); and (4) treatment notes from
Cooper Green Hospital for depression and anxiety through 2013 (R. 420, 422, 429). Liles
concludes that she should have been found disabled based on her pain pursuant to SSR 96-7p1
and the Eleventh Circuit’s three-part pain standard. (Doc. 11 at 2-3).
Although this ruling has since been superseded by SSR 16-3p, at the time of the ALJ’s opinion SSR 967p was still in use.
SSR 96-7p provides:
PURPOSE: The purpose of this Ruling is to clarify when the evaluations of symptoms, including pain,
under 20 CFR 404.1529 and 416.929 requires a finding about the credibility of an individual’s
2. The Record
On March 9, 2011, Dr. Jack L. Zaremba, a consultative examiner, found Liles had full
range of motion in her arms and legs, and reported ankle pain. (R. 376). Liles sought additional
treatment for lower extremity pain in November 2012 when she saw Dr. Paul Mendoza and
complained of right foot and hip pain. (R. 422). Dr. Mendoza performed X-rays which found
statements about pain or other symptom(s) and its functional effects; to explain the factors to be
considered in assessing the credibility of the individual’s statements about symptoms; and to state
the importance of explaining the reasons for the finding about the credibility of the individual’s
statements in the disability determination of decision.  In particular, this Ruling emphasizes
No symptom or combination of symptoms can be the basis for a finding of disability, no matter
how genuine the individual’s complaints may appear to be, unless there are medical signs and
laboratory findings demonstrating the existence of a medically determinable physical or mental
impairment(s) that could reasonably be expected to produce the symptoms.
When the existence of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) that could
reasonably be expected to produce the symptoms has been established, the intensity, persistence,
and functionally limiting effects of the symptoms must be evaluated to determine the extent to
which the symptoms affect the individual’s ability to do basic work activities. This requires the
adjudicator to make a finding about the credibility of the individual’s statements about the
symptom(s) and its functional effects.
Because symptoms, such as pain, sometimes suggest a greater severity of impairment than can be
shown by objective medical evidence alone, the adjudicator must carefully consider the
individual’s statements about symptoms with the rest of the relevant evidence in the case record
in reaching a conclusion about the credibility of the individual’s statements if a disability
determination or decision that is fully favorable to the individual cannot be made solely on the
basis of objective medical evidence.
In determining the credibility of the individual’s statements, the adjudicator must consider the
entire case record, including the objective medical evidence, the individual’s own statement about
symptoms, statements and other information provided by treating or examining physicians or
psychologists and other persons about the symptoms and how they affect the individual, and any
other relevant evidence in the case record. An individual’s statements about the intensity and
persistence of pain or other symptoms or about the effect the symptoms have on his or her ability
to work may not be disregarded solely because they are not substantiated by objective medical
It is not sufficient for the adjudicator to make a single, conclusory statement that “the individual’s
allegations have been considered” or that “the allegations are (or are not) credible.” It is also not
enough for the adjudicator simply to recite the factors that are described in the regulations for
evaluating symptoms. The determination or decision must contain specific reasons for the finding
on credibility, supported by the evidence in the case record, and must be sufficiently specific to
make clear to the individual and to any subsequent reviewers the weight the adjudicator gave to
the individual’s statements and the reasons for that weight.
SSR 96-7p, 1996 WL 374186 (July 2, 1996) (footnote omitted).
her hips and knees to be normal on the right side. Additionally, Dr. Mendoza found the “left hip
shows a deformity of the greater trochanter which appear[s] to be secondary to old trauma.” (R.
427). Liles received two injections for her right hip pain, one upon her initial visit to Dr.
Mendoza on November 19, 2012, followed by an injection on January 14, 2013. (R. 421, 423).
She sought no further treatment for her hip bursitis after the second injection, suggesting that the
injections were successful in relieving her pain.
As to her mental state, Liles’s medical records chronicle her treatment for depression and
an eating disorder in 2005. (R. 300). In 2007, she reported her symptoms began to improve. (R.
312). In November 2008, her treating physician, Dr. Sparks, reported Liles was “doing well”
after being on medication since October 2006. (Id.) However, she wanted to change
medications due to joint pain. Dr. Sparks instructed Liles to see an internist or psychiatrist to
manage her depression and transfer her to a different medication. 2 (R. 298) . He stated in his
notes that he did not “feel comfortable providing care for her depression given her poor response
to so many medications.” (Id.)
In January 2010, Dr. Xuan-Dao Thi Pham reported that Liles’s medications were
“relieving” her depression and anxiety symptoms. 3 At this time, Liles sought a psychiatric
referral for her bulimia. (R. 352). In October 2010, Liles reported increased depression; Dr.
Pham adjusted her medication from one 40 mg dose of Celexa each morning to one and a half 40
mg each morning. (R. 344). Visiting Dr. Pham in November 2010, Liles did not report any
complaints or symptoms and stated she was “doing well.” (R. 338).
Dr. Jimmy M. Sparks specializes in Obstetrics and Gynecology. See http://doctor.webmd.com
/doctor/jimmy-sparks-md-a3ef8bb3-8ddb-4b58-993c-e762ff5bab13-overview (last visited July 9,
Dr. Xuan-Dao Thi Pham specializes in Family Practice medicine.
http://doctor.webmd.com/doctor/xuan-dao-thi-pham-md-2c05478d-3a05-45ac-afcc3c8b7d9e490a-overview (last visited July 9, 2016).
In March 2011, consultative examiner Dr. Jack L. Zaremba reported that Liles
“become[s] very tearful in talking about her issues.” 4 (R. 375). Dr. Zaremba also noted that
Liles has difficulty self-motivating but is able to attend to her daily activities and care for her
daughters. (R. 376). He also noted that Liles mentioned experiencing anxiety regarding stressful
situations, as well as her difficulty functioning in groups. (Id.) Dr. Zaremba stated that Liles
“would benefit from a psychiatric evaluation and ongoing care in order to manage her symptoms
and perhaps allow her to become more productive, particularly in certain work style situations.”
Consultative examiner and clinical psychologist Dr. Chebon A. Porter diagnosed Liles in
May 2011 with major depressive disorder, moderate bulimia nervosa, and panic disorder without
agoraphobia. (R. 395). Dr. Porter stated:
Ms. Liles presents as an individual who is reportedly applying for disability
benefits per her psychiatric distress. Her self-report appears to be reliable and
she clearly endorses a remote history of sufficiently severe distress as to warrant
psychiatric hospitalization. Moreover, she does endorse ongoing psychiatric
distress; which also appears to be valid. However, based on the reported
severity of her emotional distress and disordered eating, there is insufficient
evidence (e.g., per bulimia, has binged/purged one day in the past 7-9 days;
averages one panic attack per month; depression described as currently
moderate) that the conditions are disabling, per se. Her prognosis is guarded,
but may improve to good with pertinent treatment. She appears to be capable of
managing her own finances.
(Id. at 394-95).
In March 2012, Dr. William B. Biedlemen, another consultative examiner and licensed
psychologist, diagnosed Liles with major depressive disorder, bulimia nervosa, generalized
anxiety disorder, and polysubstance abuse in current remission. (R. 417). Dr. Biedlemen stated:
Dr. Zaremba specializes in internal medicine. See http://doctor.webmd.com/doctor/jackzaremba-md-78c3a869-20ea-45d5-82fe-7fbfaddc4534-overview (last visited July 9, 2016).
[Liles] has no difficulty driving and is able to take her children to the park and
attend church. She emphasized chronic pain as being one of her principle work
impediments. She appears able to function independently and remember simple
instructions. She may have difficulty responding appropriately to fellow
employees and supervisors, as well as difficulties coping with significant work
Liles did not seek further treatment until April 2012 when she requested additional
medication for her depression and anxiety from Cooper Green Hospital. (R. 429). She was
experiencing pain, and “hurting all over,” and cried during the interview. (Id.) She reported in
November 2012 that her medication was controlling her symptoms but she was still experiencing
anxiety. (R. 16, 422). She did not seek additional mental health treatment.
As noted, Liles asserts that the ALJ did not properly assess her credibility in accordance
with the Regulations, and therefore did not properly apply the Eleventh Circuit pain standard.
(Doc. 11 at 4, 5). The court disagrees.
An ALJ is required to examine the evidence of any underlying medical condition and if
the plaintiff establishes an impairment that could reasonably be expected to cause her alleged
symptoms, the ALJ is obligated to evaluate the plaintiff’s subjective complaints, including the
intensity and persistence of the alleged symptoms and their effect on the plaintiff’s ability to
work. Parker ex rel. Parker, 2013 WL 2635696 at *3. Thereafter, the ALJ may discredit pain
testimony only by articulating “explicit and adequate reasoning” based on substantial evidence
from the record. Id. (citing Foote, 67 F.3d at 1561; Wilson, 284 F.3d at 1225).
Liles claims the ALJ “failed to properly consider [her] longitudinal medical history and
mischaracterized the evidence.” (Doc. 11 at 5). To the extent she argues the medical records
“support [her] testimony of debilitating symptoms from depression and anxiety,” the court finds
that the determination of the ALJ is supported by substantial evidence. The ALJ observed:
Prior to the alleged onset date, the claimant was noted to have depression and an
eating disorder. She began taking Cymbalta and her symptoms were noted to be
improving with medication compliance in 2007 (Exhibits 2F, 3F, 2-3). By
November 2008, the claimant was noted to be “doing well” regardless of her
depression and anxiety (Exhibits 1F; 3F, 1). She did not follow up regarding her
depression and anxiety again until January 2010, when she admitted that she was
getting relief from Celexa (Exhibit 6F, 15-18). Similarly, she reported doing well
as of March 31, 2010 (Exhibit 6F, 12-14).
(R. 16). He then noted:
Subsequently, the claimant reported experiencing some depression and a lack of
energy as of October 6, 2010 (Exhibit 6F, 8-11). She did not complain of any
depressive or anxiety symptoms again until March 2011, when she told J.L.
Zaremba, M.D., that she has difficulty with stressful events and crying spells
(Exhibit 7F). Later, on May 26, 2011, Chebon Porter, Ph.D., a consultative
examiner, noted that the claimant’s depression causing [sic] moderate symptoms
and limitations. She retained normal concentration, persistence, or pace and
normal knowledge along with significant depressive and anxiety symptoms
(Id.) The ALJ then cited Dr. Beidleman’s assessment that Liles had only mild to
moderate depressive symptoms. (Id.) The ALJ further considered Liles’s request for
depression medication on April 4, 2012, and her November 2012 report of wellcontrolled depression symptoms with remaining anxiety. (Id.) Finally, the ALJ notes
that Liles sought no further treatment. (Id.) The ALJ accounted for Liles’s limitations,
specifically those found by Dr. Zaremba, in the RFC by restricting her to “performing
simple, routine tasks in a low stress environment with occasional interaction with
coworkers, but no interaction with the public.” (Id.) Thus, the ALJ considered Liles’s
entire medical record and the totality of the evidence in reaching his decision.
Liles further argues that the ALJ improperly referenced “isolated notations in the record”
to support his credibility findings. (Doc. 11 at 5). The court finds the ALJ’s decision to give less
credit to Liles is supported by substantial evidence. The ALJ determined Liles’s medically
determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause her alleged symptoms, but
found her statements concerning the “alleged intensity, persistence, duration, and impact on
functioning are not credible or consistent with the totality of the evidence.” (R. 16). Turning to
the medical evidence, the ALJ noted that “the objective findings in this case fail to provide
strong support for the claimant’s allegations of disabling symptoms and limitations and they do
not support the existence of limitations greater than those reported” in the RFC. (Id.)
The ALJ gave adequate reasoning for discrediting Liles’s statements, citing discrepancies
between her complaints and her treatment records as well as her testimony concerning her daily
activities. (R. 16-17). The ALJ stated: “In evaluating the persuasiveness of the claimant’s
allegations and testimony, I note that the scope of the claimant’s daily activities weakens the
credibility of the allegations.” (R. 17). Liles’s testimony detailed her ability to carry out her
daily activities, care for her daughters as well as herself, and participate in church activities. (Id.)
The ALJ further noted that “the claimant admitted that she stopped working for reasons unrelated
to her medically determinable impairments, which suggests that the claimant could have
continued working.” (Id.) Moreover, “the claimant received minimal inconsistent treatment for
her alleged disability impairments.” (Id.)
In reaching these credibility determinations, the ALJ found that Dr. Mendoza treated
Liles’s physical severe impairment of right hip bursitis with injections. Liles did not seek further
treatment for her hip pain, suggesting that the pain had subsided. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1529; see
also Stout v. Shalala, 988 F.2d 853, 855 (8th Cir. 1993) (if an impairment can be controlled by
treatment or medication, it cannot be considered disabling for purposes of application for social
security disability benefits). Regarding Liles’s right foot pain, the ALJ appropriately adjusted
her RFC, limiting her to “occasional operation of foot controls with her right leg.” (R. 15).
Concerning Liles’s mental impairments, the ALJ’s consideration is clear and thorough.
Under Eleventh Circuit precedent and SSR 96-7p, the ALJ must conclusively determine the
credibility of the plaintiff in accordance with the entirety of the evidence presented. Here, the
ALJ considered Liles’s medical history, and found that overall she was stable while taking her
medication. He appropriately considered that her symptoms have remained relatively controlled
since she started taking medication in 2005. The ALJ discussed the assessments of each of her
treating physicians and consultative examiners when determining the consistency of her medical
records with her testimony, and adjusted the RFC appropriately. (R. 16-18).
To the extent Liles argues that the ALJ mischaracterized the evidence concerning her
“everyday activities,” the court disagrees. First, Liles is correct that mere “participation in
everyday activities of short duration, such as housework…, does not disqualify a claimant from
disability.” (Doc. 11 at 9 (citing Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1441 (11th Cir. 1997)).
However, such activities may be considered as undermining a claimant’s allegations of disabling
limitations. See 20 C.F.R. 404.1529(c)(3)(i); SSR 96-7p, 1996 WL 374186 at *3, 6 & 7; see
also Macia v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 1009, 1012 (11th Cir. 1987) (“The regulations do not prevent
the ALJ from considering daily activities at the fourth step of the sequential evaluation
process.”); Harwell v. Heckler, 735 F.2d 1292, 1293 (11th Cir. 1984) (“the ALJ properly
considered a variety of factors, including the claimant’s use of pain-killers and his daily
activities, in making the finding about pain.”). In this instance, the ALJ did not rely solely on
Liles’s daily activities. Nor did he find her activities to be dispositive of her ability to work. He
only noted “that the scope of [her] daily activities weakens the credibility of the allegations.” (R.
17). He viewed this evidence along with the other relevant medical evidence, as he was required
To the extent that Liles argues that the ALJ reached an improper factual conclusion
regarding her move to Mobile, the court does not find that significant under the circumstances.
Liles argues, “The ALJ did not take into account the high likelihood [she] had no other choice
but to move to Mobile. His insinuation that because she moved she is not mentally disabled is
simply irrational.” (Doc. 11 at 10). What the ALJ stated was that Liles “testified that she
recently moved her family to Mobile, Alabama, in order to look for better housing.” (R. 17). He
then concluded that this “suggest[s] that she felt physically and mentally able to move her
family.” (Id.) Liles testified that she was forced to move after her Leeds home was found to be
infested with mold. She and her family stayed with a friend until she determined that renting a
home in Mobile was too expensive. They then moved back to Leeds. (R. 30). What the ALJ did
here is evaluate the facts and reach a conclusion. Even if Liles is correct that the ALJ did not
fully consider that she may have had no other choice, that does not justify any relief at this
juncture. She was able to move her family twice and effectively evaluate their situation. At
worst, the ALJ’s finding was harmless. See Diorio v. Heckler, 721 F.2d 726, 728 (11th
Cir.1983) (holding that the complained-of error was harmless because it did not impact the step
being challenged). Liles is entitled to no relief.
Because the ALJ gave specific reasoning for discrediting Liles’s claims and reviewed the
totality of the record, the court disagrees with Liles’s argument that the ALJ did not follow
Eleventh Circuit precedent. Liles has failed to show how the ALJ legally or factually misapplied
applicable Eleventh Circuit precedent.
For the foregoing reasons, the court finds the Commissioner’s decision is due to be
DATED, this 11th day of July, 2016.
JOHN E. OTT
Chief United States Magistrate 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?