Summerford v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION Signed by Judge Virginia Emerson Hopkins on 11/9/17. (SAC )
2017 Nov-09 PM 03:31
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
) Case No.: 2:16-CV-1607-VEH
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING )
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL
Plaintiff Corey Benjamin Summerford (“Summerford”) brings this action under
42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Summerford seeks a review of a final adverse decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”), who denied
his application for supplemental security income (“SSI”). Summerford filed his
application on August 6, 2013. After that, Summerford exhausted the administrative
Nancy A. Berryhill was named the Acting Commissioner on January 23, 2017. See
https://www.ssa.gov/agency/commissioner.html. Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), “[a]ny action
instituted in accordance with this subsection shall survive notwithstanding any change in the
person occupying the office of Commissioner of Social Security or any vacancy in such office.”
Accordingly, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and Rule 25(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure, the Court has substituted Nancy A. Berryhill for Carolyn W. Colvin in the case
caption above and HEREBY DIRECTS the clerk to do the same party substitution on CM/ECF.
remedies available before the Commissioner. This case is now ripe for judicial review
under section 205(g) of the Social Security Act (the “Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
After reviewing the entire record, this Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner’s
Summerford was 23 years old at the time of his hearing with the ALJ. (Tr. 27).
At that time, he was living with his parents. (Id.). His highest level of education is
part of the 10th grade, and he does not have a GED. (Id. at 25). The vocational expert
“didn’t identify any work experience.” (Id. at 43). Summerford claims disability based
on his mental health. (Id. at 27, 29, 31, 33).
The amended alleged onset date is June 21, 2009. (Id. at 10). On August 6,
2013, Summerford filed an application for supplemental security income. (Id.). The
Social Security Administration denied that application on October 10, 2013. (Id.). On
April 16, 2015, Administrative Law Judge Ronald Reeves held a hearing. (Id.). The
ALJ issued his decision on May 8, 2015, which was unfavorable to Summerford. (Id.
at 10-17). The ALJ determined that Summerford suffers from “panic disorder, anxiety
disorder, an obsessive-compulsive disorder.” (Id. at 12) (emphasis omitted).
Summerford also alleged that he suffers from paranoia. (Id.). In his opinion, the ALJ
found that Summerford’s impairments did not meet the severity of the ones included
in the Code of Federal Regulations. (Id.) (emphasis omitted). Summerford requested
the Appeals Council review his claim. (Id. at 1-3). They refused. (Id.).
Summerford filed his Complaint in the Northern District of Alabama on
September 30, 2016. (Doc. 1). Summerford filed his brief in support of his position
on May 22, 2017. (Doc. 12). The Commissioner responded on May 30, 2017. (Doc.
The court’s review of the Commissioner’s decision is narrowly circumscribed.
The function of this court is to determine whether the decision of the Commissioner
is supported by substantial evidence and whether proper legal standards were applied.
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971); Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219,
1221 (11th Cir. 2002). This 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). This court will
determine that the ALJ’s opinion is supported by substantial evidence if it finds “such
relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Id. Substantial evidence is “more than a scintilla, but less than a
preponderance.” Id. Factual findings that are supported by substantial evidence must
be upheld by the court.
The ALJ’s legal conclusions, however, are reviewed de novo, because no
presumption of validity attaches to the ALJ’s determination of the proper legal
standards to be applied. Davis v. Shalala, 985 F.2d 528, 531 (11th Cir. 1993). If the
court finds an error in the ALJ’s application of the law, or if the ALJ fails to provide
the court with sufficient reasoning for determining that the proper legal analysis has
been conducted, the ALJ’s decision must be reversed. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.
2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).
STATUTORY AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK
To qualify for disability benefits and establish his or her entitlement for a
period of disability, a claimant must be disabled as defined by the Social Security Act
and the Regulations promulgated thereunder.2 The Regulations define “disabled” 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
twelve (12) months.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a). To establish an entitlement to
disability benefits, a claimant must provide evidence about a “physical or mental
impairment” that “must result from anatomical, physiological, or psychological
The “Regulations” promulgated under the Social Security Act are listed in 20 C.F.R.
Parts 400 to 499.
abnormalities which can be shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory
diagnostic techniques.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1508.
The Regulations provide a five-step process for determining whether a claimant
is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i-v). The Commissioner must determine in
whether the claimant is currently employed;
whether the claimant has a severe impairment;
whether the claimant’s impairment meets or equals an impairment
listed by the [Commissioner];
whether the claimant can perform his or her past work; and
whether the claimant is capable of performing any work in the
Pope v. Shalala, 998 F.2d 473, 477 (7th Cir. 1993) (citing to formerly applicable
C.F.R. section), overruled on other grounds by Johnson v. Apfel, 189 F.3d 561, 56263 (7th Cir. 1999); accord McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir. 1986).
The sequential analysis goes as follows:
Once the claimant has satisfied steps One and Two, she will
automatically be found disabled if she suffers from a listed impairment.
If the claimant does not have a listed impairment but cannot perform her
work, the burden shifts to the [Commissioner] to show that the claimant
can perform some other job.
Pope, 998 F.2d at 477; accord Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1559 (11th Cir. 1995).
The Commissioner must further show that such work exists in the national economy
in significant numbers. Id.
FINDINGS OF THE ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE
After considering the record, the ALJ made the following findings:
The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since
August 6, 2013, the application date (20 C.F.R. § 416.971 et
The claimant has the following severe impairments: panic disorder,
anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (20 C.F.R. §
The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the
impairments included in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20
C.F.R. §§ 416.920(d), 416.925, and 416.926).
After careful consideration of the entire record, the Administrative Law
Judge finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to
perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the
following non-exertional limitations. He is limited to unskilled, simple,
and repetitive work with no production quota. He will benefit from a
separate workstation and would perform better around a few familiar coworkers or in a job that could be performed at home. Contact with the
public should be on no more than an occasional basis.
The claimant has no past relevant work (20 C.F.R. § 416.965).
The claimant was born on June 21, 1991, and was 22 years old, which
is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the date the application
was filed (20 C.F.R. § 416.963).
The claimant has a limited education and is able to communicate in
English (20 C.F.R. § 416.964).
Transferability of job skills is not an issue because the claimant does not
have past relevant work (20 C.F.R. § 416.968).
Considering the claimant’s age, education, work experience, and
residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20
C.F.R. §§ 416.969 and 416.969(a)).
The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social
Security Act, since August 6, 2013, the date the application was filed
(20 C.F.R. § 416.920(g)).
Discounting Treating Psychiatrist Dr. McClure
In his opinion, the ALJ gave “little weight to Dr. McClure’s opinions regarding
the claimant’s mental functional limitations.” (Tr. 15). Instead, the ALJ gave greater
weight to Dr. Williams, an agency medical consultant. (Tr. 15). Summerford argues
this was error. (Doc. 12 at 4) (arguing that “the ALJ failed to properly articulate good
cause for according less weight”); (Doc. 12 at 7-8) (arguing that little weight should
be given to Dr. Williams because he did not review all the medical evidence). In
response, the Commissioner argues that discounting Dr. McClure’s opinion was
proper because “his own treatment records showed that Plaintiff required only
sporadic treatment, had normal mental status examinations, and responded well to
psychotropic medications.” (Doc. 13 at 8). Further, the Commissioner argues that the
ALJ compared Dr. Williams’s opinion with the entire record, and found it consistent
with that record. (Id. at 10) (noting that “the ALJ reviewed the entire record and
reasonably found Dr. Williams’ opinion continued to be consistent with the evidence
of record when considered in its entirety”).
“The law of this circuit is clear that the testimony of a treating physician must
be given substantial or considerable weight unless ‘good cause’ is shown to the
contrary.” Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1440 (11th Cir. 1997) (citing
MacGregor, 786 F.2d at 1053; Broughton v. Heckler, 776 F.2d 960, 961–62 (11th
Cir.1985). “‘[G]ood cause’ exists when the: (1) treating physician's opinion was not
bolstered by the evidence; (2) evidence supported a contrary finding; or (3) treating
physician's opinion was conclusory or inconsistent with the doctor's own medical
records.” Phillips v. Barnhart 357 F.3d 1232, 1240-41 (11th Cir. 2007) (citing Lewis
v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1440 (11th Cir. 1997)). “When electing to disregard the
opinion of a treating physician, the ALJ must clearly articulate its reasons.” Id. at
1241 (citing Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1440 (11th Cir. 1997)).
In this case, Dr. McClure wrote a letter stating that Summerford was “being
treated for major depression, panic disorder with agoraphobia, and obsessive
compulsive disorder. (Tr. 305). Dr. McClure opined that “[Summerford] would not
be able to work an 8 hour day related to his diagnoses. He is very focused on germs,
has panic attacks, and has difficulty leaving his house on a daily basis.” (Id.). Dr.
McClure then completed a Residual Mental Functional Capacity form in which he
indicated that Summerford suffered from numerous “marked” and “extreme”
impairments. (Id. at 306-308).3
However, during the hearing, Summerford denied having severe panic attacks
anymore. (Id. at 40) (Summerford stated: “I used to have very severe panic attacks .
. . I don’t have those.”). Further, Summerford has not been hospitalized overnight
since he filed his application for SSI. (Id. at 42). He visits the doctor about twice a
year. (Id.). He denies ever wanting to see the doctor beyond his scheduled
appointments. (Id.). As the Commissioner points out, there are numerous instances
where Dr. McClure’s own records do not paint the picture of a severely impaired
individual. (See Doc. 13 at 9). Summerford admits the less favorable medical records
but argues that “[his] condition was quite variable.” (See Doc. 12 at 7).
Somewhat surprisingly, no party calls attention to Dr. McClure’s record from
May 1, 2014, where he comments on Summerford’s social history. (Tr. 303). Dr.
McClure’s handwriting is difficult to read, but it appears that he stated: “Need to look
Summerford notes that the Vocational Expert testified, in a hypothetical, that someone
with many of these same “marked” and “extreme” impairments could perform no job. (See Doc.
12 at 5); (Tr. 47-48).
for work.” (Id.). Then, less than eight months later, Dr. McClure states that
Summerford “would not be able to work an 8 hour work day.” (Id. at 305). The Court
finds that the ALJ’s decision to discount Dr. McClure’s contradictory opinions is
supported by substantial evidence.
Finally, while Dr. Williams did not evaluate the entire record,4 the ALJ
determined that Dr. Williams’s opinions are consistent with the record. (Id. 15).
Summerford suggests that Dr. Williams’s opinion is devoid of “specific reasons for
his opinions.” (See Doc. 12 at 7). However, this is not a fair interpretation. As an
example, Dr. Williams provides some explanation regarding credibility in the medical
portion. (Tr. 56-57). Alternatively, even if Dr. Williams were to consider evidence
from after 2013, it is not clear that it would change his opinion. (See Doc. 13 at 10).
Summerford does not cite to any specific evidence that indicates that Dr. Williams’s
opinion would have changed. (See Doc. 12 at 7-8). As the Court described above,
much of this medical evidence is not that helpful to Summerford. (See e.g., Tr. 302,
303). In sum, the ALJ’s decision to credit Dr. Williams’s opinion is supported by
Dr. Williams only considered some medical evidence from 2010 and 2013 and an adult
function report. (Tr. 53-55); (See Doc. 12 at 7). It appears he considered just one report from Dr.
McClure. (Tr. 53); (See Doc. 12 at 7).
ALJ’s Credibility Determination
The Eleventh Circuit in Hale stated:
It is established in this circuit that if the Secretary fails to articulate
reasons for refusing to credit a claimant's subjective pain testimony, then
the Secretary, as a matter of law, has accepted that testimony as true.
MacGregor, 786 F.2d at 1054. Implicit in this rule is the requirement
that such articulation of reasons by the Secretary be supported by
Hale v. Bowen, 831 F.2d 1007, 1012 (11th Cir. 1987). Further, “[i]t is not enough to
discover a piece of evidence which supports that decision, but to disregard other
contrary evidence. The review must take into account and evaluate the record as a
whole.” McCruter v. Bowen, 791 F.2d 1544, 1548 (11th Cir. 1986) (citing Martin v.
Heckler, 748 F.2d 1027, 1031 (5th Cir. 1984); Universal Camera Corp. v. NLRB, 340
U.S. 474, 487-488 (1951)).
In his opinion, the ALJ determined that “[Summerford’s] statements
concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of [his impairments’
symptoms] are not entirely credible.” (Tr. 14). Summerford argues this was in error
and that “[t]he ALJ’s rationale is based upon a mischaracterization of both the
medical and opinion evidence.” (Doc. 12 at 8). In response, the Commissioner argues
that “the ALJ reasonably found that Plaintiff was not credible because the medical
evidence revealed sporadic treatment, no hospital admissions after filing for SSI,
normal mental status examinations, and effective use of psychotropic medications to
control his symptoms.” (Doc. 13 at 12) (citing Tr. 15-16).
Contrary to Summerford’s contentions, the ALJ did not disregard the
longitudinal medical treatment. (Tr. 14-16). Summerford quotes Chambers v. Astrue
for support. (See Doc. 12 at 9) (quoting Chambers v. Astrue, 671 F. Supp. 2d 1253,
1258 (N.D. Ala. 2009). The court in Chambers stated that “[t]he ALJ cannot pick and
choose among a doctor's records to support his own conclusion.” Chambers, 671 F.
Supp. 2d at 1258. However, that is not what the ALJ did in this case.
Upon reviewing the longitudinal medical record, the Court determines that it
supports the ALJ’s decision. Summerford specifically points to his emergency room
visits in 2010. (See Doc. 12 at 9). However, the ALJ considered those visits. (Tr. 1415). Summerford also points to his treatment with Dr. McClure. (See Doc. 12 at 9-10).
The ALJ properly considered that treatment as well. (Tr. 15-16). The ALJ came to
different conclusions than Summerford, but that does not mean that he
“mischaracterized the evidence” or that his “interpretations of the records is
irrational.” (See Doc. 12 at 9-10). In conclusion, the ALJ’s credibility determination
is supported by substantial evidence.
Based upon the Court’s evaluation of the evidence and the parties’
submissions, the Court finds that the decision of the Commissioner is supported by
substantial evidence. Accordingly, the Commissioner’s decision is AFFIRMED.
DONE and ORDERED this 9th day of November, 2017.
VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS
United States District Judge
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