Dawson 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 2/14/2018. (AHI)
2018 Feb-14 AM 09:54
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. 2:17-cv-948-CLS
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Claimant, Lavon Dawson, 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 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 should have found her to be limited to sedentary work
instead of light work, and that the ALJ improperly evaluated her subjective
complaints of pain. Upon review of the record, the court concludes that claimant’s
contentions lack merit, and the Commissioner’s ruling is due to be affirmed.
The ALJ found that, despite suffering from the severe impairments of chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease, monocular vision, lupus, osteoarthritis, degenerative
lumbar disc disease, and question of congestive heart failure, claimant retained the
residual functional capacity to perform light work, with the following additional
She cannot perform commercial driving or perform around work
hazards; concentrated exposure to extreme hot or cold temperatures; or
in environments containing fumes, odors, dust, gases, poor ventilation,
etc. She cannot perform repetitive bending at the waist. She should be
able to change from a seated to an upright (standing or walking) posture
as frequently as every 30 minutes and should be able to perform work
in either posture. She is limited to jobs that can be performed with
Tr. 23. Claimant asserts that finding was not supported by substantial evidence, and
that the ALJ should instead have found her capable of performing only sedentary
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. §416.967(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. § 416.967(b).
The distinction between light work and sedentary work is important here
because claimant, whose birthdate is June 6, 1964, was forty-nine years old when she
filed her application for benefits on March 18, 2014, but turned fifty years old shortly
thereafter. At age fifty, claimant became classified as an individual “closely
approaching advanced age” for purposes of the Social Security Administration’s
Medical-Vocational Guidelines (“Grids”). Medical-Vocational Rule 201.12 mandates
a finding of “disabled” for an individual closely approaching advanced age who, like
claimant, has at least a high school education that does not provide for direct entry
into skilled work, has a past history of unskilled work, and is limited to sedentary
work. 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 2, Rule 201.12. Medical-Vocational Rule
202.13, on the other hand, mandates a finding of “not disabled” for an individual
closely approaching advanced age who, like claimant, has at least a high school
education and a history of unskilled work, and who is limited to light work. 20
C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 2, Rule 202.13. Stated differently, if claimant is limited
to sedentary work, she is disabled under the Grids. If she is only limited to light
work, she is not necessarily disabled, and vocational expert testimony must be used
to determine her ability to perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the
Claimant asserts that she cannot perform the lifting requirements of light work
because of her hearing testimony that her dominant right wrist has eight screws and
a plate, that she wears a prescribed splint on her right hand, that she sometimes drops
things she picks up with her right hand, and that lifting things with her right hand is
To the extent claimant argues that the ALJ incorrectly failed to apply the Grids after
determining that she was capable of performing less than a full range of light work, that argument
is not persuasive. See doc. no. 11 (Claimant’s Brief), at 12 (“The ALJ’s decision also does not
indicate that she [sic] has even considered the effect of the claimant’s age and education on her
ability to learn and perform a sedentary job. . . . The plaintiff does not have to show her pain
precludes her from performing light and sedentary work. She is only required to show that her pain
precludes her from performing light work to win her case. By erroneously suggesting that the
claimant’s ability to perform light or sedentary jobs is ‘all the same,’ the ALJ may have also erred
by treating the pain standard as being ‘all the same’ for light and sedentary jobs as well.”) (ellipsis
supplied, all emphasis in original). When a claimant is incapable of performing a full range of work
at a particular exertional level as a result of non-exertional impairments, vocational testimony is
necessary to determine the claimant’s ability to perform gainful work activity. See Phillips v.
Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1242 (11th Cir. 2004); 20 C.F.R. § 416.969a(d).
painful.2 She also asserts that she cannot perform the other exertional requirements
of light work because she limps and drags her right leg; spends a good deal of time
resting in bed; experiences joint swelling, shortness of breath, and right leg and back
pain; and, can stand in one place only ten or fifteen minutes.3 The ALJ considered
claimant’s testimony regarding her subjective complaints. He found that claimant’s
medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause some
symptoms and functional limitations, but he nonetheless concluded that “claimant’s
statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these
symptoms are not supported by the objective medical evidence, treatment regimen,
and response to treatment, and her daily activities,” except as set forth in the residual
functional capacity finding.4
The ALJ’s finding is in accordance with applicable law. To demonstrate that
pain renders her disabled, 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
Doc. no. 11 (Claimant’s Brief), at 10.
Landry v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1551, 1553 (11th Cir. 1986)). “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.” Marbury v. Sullivan, 957
F.2d 837, 839 (11th Cir. 1992) (citing Wilson v. Heckler, 734 F.2d 513, 517 (11th Cir.
1984)). If an ALJ discredits subjective testimony on 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 court also concludes that the ALJ adequately articulated his reasons for
rejecting claimant’s subjective complaints, and the ALJ’s findings were supported by
substantial evidence. The ALJ noted that claimant’s left eye vision was within
normal limits,5 her lupus was well controlled with treatment, her medical records did
not contain evidence of any functional limitations from COPD or congestive heart
failure, and her musculoskeletal examinations revealed normal motor functioning
despite the presence of some degenerative disc disease.6 The ALJ also noted that
claimant continued to smoke cigarettes despite her complaints of pulmonary and
cardiovascular impairments, that her treatment history had been sporadic and
conservative, and that her daily activities — including maintaining personal care,
It should be remembered that the ALJ accounted for claimant’s monocular vision in his
residual functional capacity finding. See Tr. 23.
caring for the household pet, preparing daily meals, and performing some household
chores — were not as limited as should be expected from a person with the level of
impairments alleged by claimant.7
Claimant makes only two arguments that the evidence supports a finding
contrary to the ALJ’s: i.e., that x-rays of her lumbar spine in July of 2014 showed
degenerative disc disease at the L5 level, and that x-rays of her wrist documented the
surgical fixation of a previous fracture.8 The ALJ acknowledged those x-ray results,
but rightly focused on whether the disc disease resulted in any functional limitations
like impaired gait, and whether claimant continued to seek treatment for those
conditions.9 After all, it is not the mere existence of a medical condition like
degenerative disc disease or a fractured wrist 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. § 416.905(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
Tr. 386, 388.
See Tr. 25.
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)). Here, the record does not support any functional limitations greater than
those imposed by the ALJ.
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, 2018.
United States District Judge
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