Seale v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION and ORDER DISMISSING CASE the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED, costs are taxed against claimant as more fully set out in order. Signed by Judge C Lynwood Smith, Jr on 2/14/2017. (AHI)
2017 Feb-14 PM 02:04
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting
Commissioner, Social Security
Case No. 2:16-cv-1016-CLS
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Claimant, Debra Seale, commenced this action on June 22, 2016, 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.
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 evaluated her credibility and complaints of
subjective symptoms, and improperly considered the opinion of her treating
physician. Upon review of the record, the court concludes that these contentions lack
merit, and the Commissioner’s ruling is due to be affirmed.
To demonstrate that pain or another subjective symptom renders her disabled,
a claimant must “produce ‘evidence of an underlying medical condition and (1)
objective medical evidence that confirms the severity of the alleged pain arising from
that condition or (2) that the objectively determined medical condition is of such
severity that it can be reasonably expected to give rise to the alleged pain.’” Edwards
v. Sullivan, 937 F.2d 580, 584 (11th Cir. 1991) (quoting Landry v. Heckler, 782 F.2d
1551, 1553 (11th Cir. 1986)). If an ALJ discredits subjective testimony of pain, “he
must articulate explicit and adequate reasons.” Hale v. Bowen, 831 F.2d 1007, 1011
(11th Cir. 1987) (citing Jones v. Bowen, 810 F.2d 1001, 1004 (11th Cir. 1986);
MacGregor v. Bowen, 786 F.2d 1050, 1054 (11th Cir. 1986)).
The ALJ in the present case properly applied these legal principles. He found
that claimant’s medically determinable impairments could reasonably have been
expected to produce the symptoms claimant alleged, but that claimant’s statements
concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of her symptoms were not
entirely credible.1 This conclusion was in accordance with applicable law. See
Marbury v. Sullivan, 957 F.2d 837, 839 (11th Cir. 1992) (“After considering a
claimant’s complaints of pain, the ALJ may reject them as not creditable, and that
determination will be reviewed for substantial evidence.”) (citing Wilson v. Heckler,
734 F.2d 513, 517 (11th Cir. 1984)) (emphasis supplied).
The ALJ also adequately articulated reasons to support his findings. The ALJ
acknowledged claimant’s diabetes, peripheral neuropathy, and hypertension, but he
nonetheless concluded that those conditions had improved with medication.2 He also
noted that medical examinations had revealed normal gait and station, no tenderness
of muscles or joints, and intact range of motion.3 The ALJ acknowledged that
claimant was treated for syncope and weakness in September of 2013 and January of
2014, but he noted those episodes were connected to claimant standing in her
hairdressing shop all day and changes in her medication.4 The ALJ also found that
claimant’s credibility is undermined by her testimony during the hearing
and report in the record about activities. She first flatly denied doing
physical work at her hair salon. She seemed to try to diminish the
physical level of work she did by stating that she only did the books for
the business and managed one employee. She then admitted the
“employee” was actually a contractor who only rented a booth.
Furthermore, the claimant told the consultative psychologist that she
worked at the salon three days a week . . . . Although she indicated in
the Function Report that her ability to handle money had diminished due
to illness, she testified that instead of physical work at her salon, she
was doing necessary record keeping. The claimant said her business had
been shrinking due to her impairments, but she also stated that she had
always had a small salon. The claimant has been on insulin for over
thirty years and it is plausible that she experiences some highs and lows
of mood, fatigue, or dizziness; however, the exertional limits stated at
the hearing are not plausible given the consistent exam evidence of good
gait and station and otherwise normal results. Moreover, the evidence
of work after the alleged onset of disability belies such exertional limits
described in the hearing.5
The record supports those conclusions. Even though, as claimant points out, she has
a long history of diabetes and peripheral neuropathy, there is no evidence of any
functional impairments resulting from those conditions that are more restrictive than
the limitations imposed by the ALJ. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a) (defining a
disability as “the inability to do 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”). See also Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 (1987)
(“The [Social Security] Act ‘defines “disability” in terms of the effect a physical or
mental impairment has on a person’s ability to function in the workplace.’”) (quoting
Heckler v. Campbell, 461 U.S. 458, 459-60 (1983)) (alteration supplied).
Id. (citation to the record omitted).
Next, claimant asserts that the ALJ improperly considered the opinion of Dr.
D. Christopher Black, her treating physician. The opinion of a treating physician
“must be given substantial or considerable weight unless ‘good cause’ is shown to the
contrary.” Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1240-41 (11th Cir. 2004) (internal
citations omitted). Good cause exists when “(1) [the] treating physician’s opinion
was not bolstered by the 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. (alterations supplied). Additionally, the ALJ is
not required to accept a conclusory statement from a medical source, even a treating
source, that a claimant is unable to work, because the decision whether a claimant is
disabled is not a medical opinion, but is a decision “reserved to the Commissioner.”
20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d).
Social Security regulations also provide that, in considering what weight to
give any medical opinion (regardless of whether it is from a treating or non-treating
physician), the Commissioner should evaluate: the extent of the examining or
treating relationship between the doctor and patient; whether the doctor’s opinion can
be supported by medical signs and laboratory findings; whether the opinion is
consistent with the record as a whole; the doctor’s specialization; and other factors.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c). See also Wheeler v. Heckler, 784 F.2d 1073, 1075
(11th Cir. 1986) (“The weight afforded a physician’s conclusory statements depends
upon the extent to which they are supported by clinical or laboratory findings and are
consistent with other evidence as to claimant’s impairments.”).
Dr. Black submitted a “To Whom It May Concern” statement on October 3,
I serve as the primary care physician for Mrs. Debbie Seale. Mrs.
Seale has multiple medical problems including depression, insulin
dependent diabetes mellitus on an insulin pump, osteoporosis,
hypothyroidism and hyperlipidemia. She reports that recently she has
started having seizures which are felt to possibly be related to her
diabetes. Because of her multiple medical problems and overall poor
health, she is unable to work at this time. If I can provide more
information, please let me know.6
The ALJ afforded that assessment only little weight because it was “based on
subject[ive] report of seizures, of which the claimant reported a single episode,” and
because “the record does not show the other conditions mentioned in the opinion
Tr. 438. Dr. Black also submitted a “To Whom It May Concern” letter dated August 7,
2014, and stating:
I serve as the primary care physician for Mrs. Debbie Seale and treat her for
diabetes mellitus, hyperlipidemia, hypothyroidism, anxiety and depression. My
office received a phone call from her husband today stating that she has been very
stressed about her upcoming video interview with the judge regarding her disability
determination and subsequently has had an increase in her anxiety and has been
unable to sleep. In addition, her blood sugar has been out of control with readings
in the 500 range. Because of this, I think it will be in her best interest medically if
she can forgo the upcoming video interview. If I can provide more information,
please let me know.
Tr. 439. The ALJ afforded only little weight to that letter as it was “based on subjective report, not
objective evidence.” Tr. 18. Claimant has not challenged that determination on appeal.
result in functional limitations, which prevent all work.”7 Those reasons are adequate
to support the ALJ’s decision, and they are supported by substantial evidence. As
discussed above, there is no evidence to support a disabling level of functional
In summary, the court concludes the ALJ’s decision was based upon 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 14th day of February, 2017.
United States District Judge
Tr. 18 (alteration supplied).
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