Miles v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Magistrate Judge Staci G Cornelius on 3/7/18. (MRR, )
2018 Mar-07 PM 03:30
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
WYSTERIA W. MILES,
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION,
Case No. 2:16-cv-01602-SGC
MEMORANDUM OPINION 1
Plaintiff Wysteria W. Miles appeals from the decision of the Commissioner of the Social
Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying her application for Supplemental Security
Income (“SSI"”) and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). (Doc. 1). Plaintiff timely pursued
and exhausted her administrative remedies, and the decision of the Commissioner is ripe for
review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).
For the reasons stated below, the
Commissioner’s decision is due to be affirmed.
FACTS, FRAMEWORK, AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff was fifty-one years old at the time of the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ's”)
decision. (R. 163). She attended one year of college and speaks English. (R. 244). Her past
relevant work includes fast food worker, nursery school attendant, and hand packager. (R. 20,
71-72). These jobs are classified at the medium or heavy exertional level. (Id.). Plaintiff
claimed an amended onset date of September 14, 2013, and stated she had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity (“SGA”) since that time. (R. 13, 15, 211).
The parties have consented to magistrate judge jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).
When evaluating the disability of individuals over the age of eighteen, the regulations
prescribe a five-step sequential evaluation process.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920;
Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001). The first step requires a determination
whether the claimant is performing SGA. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). If the claimant is
engaged in SGA, he or she is not disabled and the evaluation stops. Id. If the claimant is not
engaged in SGA, the Commissioner proceeds to consider the combined effects of all the
claimant’s physical and mental impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii).
These impairments must be severe and must meet durational requirements before a claimant will
be found disabled. Id. The decision depends on the medical evidence in the record. See Hart v.
Finch, 440 F.2d 1340, 1341 (5th Cir. 1971). If the claimant's impairments are not severe, the
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii).
Otherwise, the analysis
continues to step three, at which the Commissioner determines whether the claimant's
impairments meet the severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the impairments fall within
this category, the claimant will be found disabled without further consideration. Id. If the
impairments do not fall within the listings, the Commissioner determines the claimant's residual
functional capacity (“RFC”). 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e).
At step four the Commissioner determines whether the impairments prevent the claimant
from returning to past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the
claimant is capable of performing past relevant work, he or she is not disabled and the evaluation
stops. Id. If the claimant cannot perform past relevant work, the analysis proceeds to the fifth
step, at which the Commissioner considers the claimant’s RFC, as well as the claimant's age,
education, and past work experience, to determine whether he or she can perform other work.
Id.; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v). If the claimant can do other work, he or
she is not disabled. Id.
Applying the sequential evaluation process, ALJ Bruce W. MacKenzie found Plaintiff
had not engaged in SGA since the alleged onset of her disability. (R. 15). At step two, the ALJ
found Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: diabetes mellitus (DM), type II;
cervical pain syndrome; and degenerative disc disease (DDD) of the cervical spine, worse at C5C6, moderate. (R. 15-16).
At step three, the ALJ found Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments meeting or medically equaling any of the listed impairments. (R. 16-17). Before
proceeding to step four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the RFC to perform light work as
defined in 20 CFR §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) with the following limitations:
[T]he claimant is able to frequently use hand controls bilaterally. She can
frequently reach overhead bilaterally. She can frequently climb ramps and stairs
but should never climb ladders or scaffolds. She is able to frequently balance,
stoop, kneel and crouch and occasionally crawl. The claimant should never be
exposed to unprotected heights or operate commercial motor vehicles. She can
tolerate occasional workplace vibration. She would be limited to routine and
repetitive tasks and simple work related decisions. In addition to normal workday
breaks, she would be off-task 5% of an 8-hour workday (non-consecutive
At step four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff was unable to perform any of her past relevant
work. (R. 19-20). Because the Plaintiff’s RFC did not allow for the full range of light work, the
ALJ relied on the testimony of a vocational expert (“VE”) in finding a significant number of jobs
in the national economy Plaintiff can perform. (R. 21). The ALJ concluded by finding Plaintiff
was not disabled at the fifth step. (Id.).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
A court's role in reviewing claims brought under the Social Security Act is a narrow one.
The scope of its review is limited to determining (1) whether there is substantial evidence in the
record as a whole to support the findings of the Commissioner, and (2) whether the correct legal
standards were applied. See Stone v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 544 F. App'x 839, 841 (11th Cir.
2013) (citing Crawford v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004)). A court
gives deference to the factual findings of the Commissioner, provided those findings are
supported by substantial evidence, but applies close scrutiny to the legal conclusions. See Miles
v. Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996).
Nonetheless, a court may not decide facts, weigh evidence, or substitute its judgment for
that of the Commissioner. Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005) (quoting
Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1240 n.8 (11th Cir. 2004)). “The substantial evidence
standard permits administrative decision makers to act with considerable latitude, and ‘the
possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does not prevent an
administrative agency’s finding from being supported by substantial evidence.’” Parker v.
Bowen, 793 F.2d 1177, 1181 (11th Cir. 1986) (Gibson, J., dissenting) (quoting Consolo v. Fed.
Mar. Comm'n, 383 U.S. 607, 620 (1966)).
Indeed, even if a court finds that the proof
preponderates against the Commissioner’s decision, it must affirm if the decision is supported by
substantial evidence. Miles, 84 F.3d at 1400 (citing Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529
(11th Cir. 1990)).
No decision is automatic, for “despite th[e] deferential standard [for review of claims], it
is imperative that th[is] Court scrutinize the record in its entirety to determine the reasonableness
of the decision reached.” Bridges v. Bowen, 815 F.2d 622, 624 (11th Cir. 1987) (citing Arnold v.
Heckler, 732 F.2d 881, 883 (11th Cir. 1984)). Moreover, failure to apply the correct legal
standards is grounds for reversal. See Bowen v. Heckler, 748 F.2d 629, 635 (11th Cir. 1984).
Plaintiff argues the ALJ’s decision should be reversed and remanded because the ALJ’s
stated reasons for rejecting Plaintiff’s pain testimony are not supported by substantial evidence.
(Doc. 10 at 3-7). Plaintiff argues “the ALJ ignored the longitudinal medical records which
support the Plaintiff’s testimony regarding her disabling pain and limitations.”
(Id. at 5).
Regarding her “debilitating neck pain,” Plaintiff points to medical records from May 2012,
results of an MRI of her cervical spine on July 18, 2013, and epidural blocks received in May
2012, November 2012, and August 2013.
(Id. at 5-6).
Regarding her diabetes, Plaintiff
highlights medical records from July 2013, and February and March 2014, and her
hospitalizations in September 2013, November 2013, January 2014, August 2014, and October
2014. (Id. at 6).
Plaintiff contends her symptoms, if credited, would limit her to work at the
sedentary level of exertion at best and the Medical Vocational Guidelines would direct a finding
of disabled. (Id. at 7).
Subjective testimony of pain and other symptoms may establish the presence of a
disabling impairment if it is supported by medical evidence. See Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553,
1561 (11th Cir. 1995). To establish disability based upon pain and other subjective symptoms,
the pain standard requires:
(1) evidence of an underlying medical condition and either (2) objective medical
evidence that confirms the severity of the alleged pain arising from that condition
or (3) that the objectively determined medical condition is of such a severity that
it can be reasonably expected to give rise to the alleged pain.
Dyer, 395 F.3d at 1210 (citing Holt v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d 1221, 1223 (11th Cir. 1991)); see also
Landry v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1551, 1553 (11th Cir. 1986). The ALJ is permitted to discredit the
claimant’s subjective testimony of pain and other symptoms if he or she articulates explicit and
adequate reasons for doing so. Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1225 (11th Cir. 2002).
Here, the ALJ analyzed Plaintiff's subjective pain testimony under the proper regulations
and rulings, including 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527, 404.1529, 416.927, and 416.929 and SSRs 96-2p,
96-4p, 96-5p, 96-6p, 96-7p, and 06-3p. (R. 17). The ALJ credited Plaintiff’s allegation of her
underlying conditions, stating: “the undersigned finds that the claimant’s medically determinable
impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged symptoms; however, the
claimant’s statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these
symptoms are not entirely credible for the reasons explained in this decision.” (R. 17-18). The
ALJ then detailed the evidence in the record supporting this conclusion. (R. 18-19).
Specifically, the ALJ examined the medical records regarding her neck and cervical spine
and noted normal findings with no atrophy, erythema, swelling, or ecchymosis, as well as normal
range of motion, normal sensation, and normal heart rate and rhythm. (R. 18, 330, 332, 402,
411, 424, 452, 456, 478, 499, 514, 519, 523, 529, 534, 543). The ALJ also noted Plaintiff’s
successful treatment with medications and epidural blocks. (R. 19). Further, regarding her
diabetes, the ALJ stated Plaintiff had a “vast history of medical noncompliance,” including not
taking her medications and not following a diabetic diet.
(Id.). Medical records showed,
however, when she was compliant or administered medication in the hospital, her glucose levels
improved and stabilized.
(R. 18, 305-24, 347-62, 369-494, 495-26).
controlled with medication are not disabling. Dawkins v. Bowen, 848 F.2d 1211, 1213 (11th Cir.
The ALJ’s findings represent specific, legally acceptable reasons to support his
conclusion that the objective medical record undermined Plaintiff’s subjective testimony of the
intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of her pain. (R. 18-19). As such, Plaintiff failed to
meet her burden of providing sufficient evidence to support her allegations of disabling pain and
other symptoms. Substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s conclusions.
Upon review of the administrative record and considering all of Plaintiff's arguments, the
undersigned finds the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence and is in
accord with applicable law. Accordingly, the Commissioner's decision is due to be affirmed. A
separate order will be entered.
DONE this 7th day of March, 2018.
STACI G. CORNELIUS
U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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