Dejarnette v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DISMISSING CASE that the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED and costs are taxed against claimant as more fully set out in order. Signed by Judge C Lynwood Smith, Jr on 4/6/2017. (AHI)
2017 Apr-06 PM 12:02
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
ROSE MARY DEJARNETT,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting
Commissioner, Social Security
Case No. 2:16-cv-1154-CLS
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Claimant, Rose Mary DeJarnett, commenced this action 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
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’s finding that claimant had the residual functional
capacity to perform a limited range of light work was not supported by substantial
evidence. Upon review of the record, the court concludes that claimant’s contention
lacks merit, and that the Commissioner’s ruling is due to be affirmed.
The ALJ found that, despite suffering from the severe impairments of cervical
and lumbar degenerative disc disease, right knee osteoarthritis, and hypertension,
claimant retained the residual functional capacity to perform light work, with the
following additional limitations:
claimant can frequently climb ramps or stairs and can occasionally
balance, stoop, kneel, or crouch. She is not able to climb ladders, ropes,
or scaffolds and she is not able to crawl. She is not able to perform
around work hazards or in concentrated exposure to extreme hot or cold
temperatures, wetness, vibrations, or in environments of fumes, odors,
dust, gases, poor ventilation, etc.1
Claimant asserts that finding was not supported by substantial evidence, and that the
ALJ should instead have found her capable of performing only sedentary work.
Social Security regulations define sedentary work as follows:
Sedentary work involves lifting no more than 10 pounds at a time
and occasionally lifting or carrying articles like docket files, ledgers, and
small tools. Although a sedentary job is defined as one which involves
sitting, a certain amount of walking and standing is often necessary in
carrying out job duties. Jobs are sedentary if walking and standing are
required occasionally and other sedentary criteria are met.
20 C.F.R. §404.1567(a). Light work is defined as follows:
Light work involves lifting no more than 20 pounds at a time with
frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 10 pounds. Even
though the weight lifted may be very little, a job is in this category when
it requires a good deal of walking or standing, or when it involves sitting
most of the time with some pushing and pulling of arm or leg controls.
To be considered capable of performing a full or wide range of light
work, you must have the ability to do substantially all of these activities.
If someone can do light work, we determine that he or she can also do
sedentary work, unless there are additional limiting factors such as loss
of fine dexterity or inability to sit for long periods of time.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b).
The distinction between light work and sedentary work is important here
because claimant, who was fifty years old on her alleged onset date, is classified as
an individual “closely approaching advanced age” for purposes of the Social Security
Administration’s Medical-Vocational Guidelines (“Grids”). Medical-Vocational Rule
201.10 mandates a finding of “not disabled” for an individual closely approaching
advanced age who, like claimant, has a limited or less education and no transferable
vocational skills, and who is limited to sedentary work. 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P,
App. 2, Rule 201.10. In other words, if claimant is limited to sedentary work, she is
disabled under the Grids. If she is only limited to light work, she is not disabled.
Claimant asserts that she should have been limited to performing, at most,
sedentary work, due to her lower back, neck, and knee pain. There is no dispute that
claimant did, indeed, suffer from and receive treatment for pain in those areas. Even
so, it is not the mere existence of a medical condition like pain that determines
disability. Instead, the relevant consideration is the effect of claimant’s impairment,
or combination of impairments, on her ability to perform substantial gainful work
activities. 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,
The record does not support any functional limitations greater than those
imposed by the ALJ.
X-rays taken on January 6, 2011 revealed only mild
degenerative changes in claimant’s lumbar spine, minimal degenerative disc disease
in her cervical spine, and mild osteoarthritic changes in her right knee.2
The opinions of the consultative examiners also do not undercut the ALJ’s
residual functional capacity finding. Social Security regulations provide that, in
considering what weight to give any medical opinion, 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(d). 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. George A. Nelson examined claimant on March 1, 2013.3 Claimant
presented to Dr. Nelson for an evaluation regarding her low back, neck, and knee
pain. She reported sharp, constant back pain at a level 9 out of 10 that increased with
bending over, sitting, and general physical activity. Her neck pain was intermittent,
recurring every few weeks, but when it was present it was at a level 8 out of 10. Her
knee “gave out” on her occasionally, and she experienced numbness with prolonged
sitting.4 Claimant told Dr. Nelson that she stopped working as a medical record
supply clerk in 2009 because of her back pain. Upon examination, Dr. Nelson noted
that claimant appeared to be in “mild distress” from back pain when she walked into
the room.5 Claimant walked very slowly, but without ataxia. The curvature of her
spine was normal. She demonstrated tenderness at the C5 and L5-S1 vertebrae, but
she had a negative straight leg raising test. She had full grip strength and motor
strength in all muscles. She experienced slightly decreased lateral flexion in her neck
and moderate restriction of lumbar range of motion due to pain. Dr. Nelson assessed
claimant with chronic low back pain due to degenerative disc disease of the lumbar
spine, chronic neck pain due to degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, and
right knee osteoarthritis. He noted that claimant experienced “low back pain without
complications, cervical pain without sign of radiculopathy (symptoms only), and knee
pain consistent with [osteoarthritis].”6 He stated the following with regard to
claimant’s functional limitations: “Reportedly, patient could walk or stand for 2
hours during an 8 hour day with frequent breaks. She could sit for 2 hours with
frequent breaks. Her [range of motion] is limited with no bending or heavy lifting.”7
The ALJ assigned “significant weight” to Dr. Nelson’s findings because Dr.
had the opportunity to review the claimant’s available medical record,
examine her in person, and his findings and opinion that the claimant’s
low back pain was without complications, that her cervical pain was
without signs of radiculopathy, and that her knee pain was consistent
Tr. 395 (alteration supplied).
Tr. 396 (alteration and emphasis supplied).
with osteoarthritis, is supported by detailed reports and is consistent
with the record when considered in its entirety and consistent with the
aforementioned residual functional capacity.8
Even so, the ALJ afforded “no weight” to Dr. Nelson’s assessments about claimant’s
“reported” range of motion and ability to sit, stand, and walk, because those
assessments were “based on the claimant’s own reports and [were] inconsistent with
Dr. Nelson’s findings and subsequent medical records.”9
The other consultative examination was conducted by Dr. Rex Harris on
August 21, 2014. Dr. Harris stated:
This is a 50 year old female who is complaining of neck pain,
back pain, and right knee pain. She states that she takes Naprosyn and
Neurontin for her joint symptoms. She did not bring a list of her other
medications, which are for hypertension. She is followed at Cooper
Green. She has had an arthroscopy on the right knee. She has had no
other procedures. She last worked in a nursing home doing multiple
Physical exam reveals that she is 5’7 and weighs 189 pounds. She
was identified by photo from driver’s license. There is full range of
motion of the neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, and fingers. Grip is
normal. Pinch is normal. She can open and close doors, pick up small
objects off the table, and can lace and unlace shoes. Reflexes are 1+
equal in the upper extremities. Sensation is normal in the upper
extremities. Negative Tinel’s bilaterally.
Lumbar flexion is 90 degrees. Extension and lateral motion is 25
degrees. There is full range of motion of the hips, knees and ankles.
There is no effusion of either knee. There is no instability of either
Id. (alteration supplied).
knee. There is no heat or redness. Neuro circulation intact. There is
full range of motion of the ankles. Toe extensors are normal. The
claimant can toe and heel walk and can squat and arise.
By medical records, she has mild degenerative arthritis of the
cervical and lumbar spine and mild arthritis of the right knee.
It is my medical opinion that this claimant is capable of at least
sedentary work in the work place.10
Dr. Harris also completed a “Medical Source Statement of Ability to Do WorkRelated Activities (Physical)” form. He indicated that claimant could occasionally
lift and carry up to ten pounds, but could never lift or carry more than ten pounds.
She could sit for thirty minutes at a time and four hours total, stand for thirty minutes
at a time and three hours total, and walk for ten to fifteen minutes at a time and one
hour total during a work day. She could occasionally reach, handle, finger, feel, push,
and pull with both hands, and could occasionally operate foot controls with both feet.
She could occasionally climb stairs and ramps, but could never climb ladders or
scaffolds, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl. She could never work around
unprotected heights or moving mechanical parts, but she could occasionally operate
a motor vehicle and be exposed to humidity, wetness, pulmonary irritants, extreme
cold and heat, and vibrations. She could not perform activities like shopping or travel
without a companion for assistance, but she could ambulate without an assistive
device, walk a block at a reasonable pace on rough or uneven surfaces, use standard
Tr. 568 (emphasis supplied).
public transportation, climb a few steps at a reasonable pace with the use of a single
hand rail, prepare a simple meal and feed herself, care for her personal hygiene, and
sort, handle, and use paper and files. The limitations imposed were due to claimant’s
back and neck pain, and they had lasted or could be expected to last for twelve
The ALJ afforded Dr. Harris’s assessment “partial weight,” stating:
Dr. Harris also had the opportunity to review the claimant’s available
medical record, examine her in person, and his physical findings, that
she had full range of motion in her neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists,
lumbar spine, hips, knees, and ankles[,] is consistent with the record as
a whole and given great weight. While his narrative supports that the
claimant was able to work, in that she could at least perform sedentary
work, the Administrative Law Judge finds that this opinion is given
lesser weight as it is inconsistent with his own findings and the record
as a whole, which indicates that she is less limited than opined by Dr.
Harris[,] and that she could perform light exertional work with
The ALJ properly considered the opinions of the two consultative examiners,
and his decision to reject any finding that claimant experienced disabling functional
limitations was supported by substantial evidence. There is ample evidence in the
record to support the conclusion that claimant is capable of performing a limited
range of light work. Claimant asserts that the ALJ impermissibly “played doctor” by
making a residual functional capacity finding that differed from the findings of the
Tr. 21-22 (alterations supplied).
consultative examiners. But it is the ALJ’s responsibility, not that of a physician, to
determine a claimant’s residual functional capacity. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1546(c) (“If
your case is at the administrative law judge hearing level or at the Appeals Council
review level, the administrative law judge or the administrative appeals judge at the
Appeals Council (when the Appeals Council makes a decision) is responsible for
assessing your residual functional capacity.”). See also Robinson v. Astrue, 365 F.
App’x 993, 999 (11th Cir. 2010) (“We note that the task of determining a claimant’s
residual functional capacity and ability to work is within the province of the ALJ, not
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 6th day of April, 2017.
United States District Judge
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