Gladney v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Magistrate Judge Staci G Cornelius on 3/31/21. (MRR, )
2021 Mar-31 PM 04:58
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
NELL M. GLADNEY,
Case No. 2:20-cv-00049-SGC
MEMORANDUM OPINION 1
The plaintiff, Nell Gladney, appeals from the decision of the Commissioner
of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying her applications
for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”).
(Doc. 1). Gladney timely pursued and exhausted her administrative remedies, and
the decision of the Commissioner is ripe for review. For the reasons stated below,
the Commissioner’s decision is due to be affirmed.
FACTS, FRAMEWORK, AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Gladney was fifty years old at the time of her alleged disability onset and fifty-
two years old at the time of the unfavorable decision issued by the Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. at 17, 24, 34). Gladney speaks English, has a high school
The parties consented to magistrate judge jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Doc. 10).
education, and completed two years of college. (Tr. at 69). Her past employment
includes working as a grocery store cashier at Winn-Dixie and Walmart. (Tr. at 4041). Gladney filed the instant application on October 19, 2016, alleging a disability
onset date of June 20, 2014. (Tr. at 15). However, at her hearing before the ALJ,
she amended the alleged onset date of disability to March 16, 2016. (Id). Gladney
alleged disability due to a pinched nerve in her neck; bulging, degenerative, and
herniated discs in her neck; arthritis; excruciating lower back pain; and pain in her
neck, arms, and legs. (Tr. at 64-65). Gladney testified she could no longer work due
to pain and the pinched nerve in her neck. (Tr. at 37).
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 substantial
gainful activity (“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 analysis stops. 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
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, 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 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, she is not
Applying the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found Gladney met the
date last insured (“DLI”) requirement of the Social Security Act on March 31,
2019. (Tr. at 64). The ALJ then determined Gladney had not engaged in SGA from
her amended alleged onset date of March 16, 2016 through her DLI. (Id).
The ALJ determined Gladney has the following severe impairments: obesity,
osteoarthritis, cervical degenerative disc disease (“DDD”), and degenerative joint
disease (“DJD”) in her knees, hips, and left shoulder. (Tr. at 17). 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(c), 416.920 (c). However, the ALJ found Gladney did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that meet or medically equal any of the
listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 ( 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925, and 416.926). (Tr. at 18).
The ALJ found the record did not establish the medical signs, symptoms, laboratory
findings, or degree of functional limitation required to equal the criteria of any listed
impairment, and no acceptable medical source concluded Gladney’s impairments
medically equal a listed impairment. (Tr. at 19). Gladney’s statements about the
intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of her symptoms were not entirely
consistent with the medical evidence and other evidence in the record. (Tr. at 20).
The ALJ determined Gladney has the following RFC:
To perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b)
except cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; limited to frequent stooping,
kneeling, crouching, and crawling; limited to frequent reaching and handling
bilaterally; and cannot be exposed to workplace hazards such as moving
mechanical parts and high, exposed places.
(Tr. at 19).
The ALJ found Gladney remained capable of performing her past work as a
cashier through her DLI. (Tr. at 22). She was considered an “individual closely
approaching advanced age,” being fifty years old on the alleged onset date. (Tr. at
23). Although the ALJ found Gladney was capable of performing her past work, he
also determined Gladney could perform other work as well. (Id). At the hearing
before the ALJ, the vocational expert (“VE”) testified that considering Gladney’s
age, education, work experience, and RFC there are jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy she can perform such as garment sorter, laundry
sorter, and marker. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1569, 404.1569(a). (Id). The ALJ concluded
by finding Gladney has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security
Act, from March 16, 2016, the amended alleged onset date, through the date of his
decision, December 31, 2018. (Tr. at 24). The Appeals Council denied Gladney’s
request for review, and she timely filed this appeal. (Tr. at 1-6; Doc. 14).
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).
On appeal, Gladney contends the ALJ’s decision should be reversed and
remanded for reasons that fall into two categories: (1) the ALJ failed to provide a
reasoned evaluation of all the evidence when rendering the RFC assessment; and (2)
the ALJ erred in discounting her subjective complaints of disabling pain.
A claimant bears the burden of proving she was disabled within the meaning
of the Social Security Act. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(5)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(H)(i); 20
C.F.R. § 416.912(a), (c); Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211 (11th Cir. 2005).
The ALJ considered Gladney’s disability claim using the five-step sequential
evaluation process as discussed supra. To determine if she could perform her past
relevant work at step four or other work at step five, the ALJ assessed Gladney’s
An individual’s RFC represents the most she can still do, despite her
limitations, in a work setting. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1). In order to determine an
individual’s RFC, the ALJ assesses all of the relevant evidence in the record,
including medical reports prepared by a physician or other healthcare provider, as
well as more subjective descriptions and observations of an individual’s limitations.
Id. § 404.1545(a)(3). Moreover, the evaluator considers not only the impairments
classified as “severe” but the “limiting effects” of all conditions when making a
judgment about an individual’s RFC. Id. § 404.1545(e). A reviewing court will
affirm the ALJ’s RFC assessment if it is supported by the objective medical
evidence. See Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1440 (11th Cir. 1997).
Gladney argues the ALJ’s RFC assessment failed to evaluate all of the
objective medical findings and opinion evidence. Specifically, she contends the
ALJ: (1) incorrectly gave partial weight to the reports from two consultative physical
examinations performed by Dr. Danielle Powell and Dr. Abiodun Philip Badewa;
(2) incorrectly gave full weight to the opinion of the non-examining state agency
physician, Dr. Marcus Whitman; (3) failed to explain his RFC findings pursuant to
Social Security Ruling (“SSR”) 96-8p; and (4) failed to adequately consider her
The ALJ must articulate the weight given to each of the medical opinions in
the record and his supporting reasons. See Winschel v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 631
F.3d 1176, 1179 (11th Cir. 2011). The weight afforded to a medical opinion
regarding the nature and severity of a claimant’s impairments depends, among other
things, upon the examining and treating relationship the medical source shared with
the claimant, the relevance of the evidence the medical source gives to support the
opinion, the consistency of the opinion with the record as a whole, and the
specialization of the medical source. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(d), 416.927(d).
The classification of acceptable medical sources encompasses several types
of sources that are entitled to varying weights of opinion: 1) a treating source, or a
primary physician, which is defined in the regulations as “your physician,
psychologist, or other acceptable medical source who provides you, or has provided
you, with medical treatment or evaluation and who has, or has had, an ongoing
treatment relationship with you;” 2) a non-treating source, or a consulting physician,
which is defined as “a physician, psychologist, or other acceptable medical source
who has examined you but does not have, or did not have, an ongoing treatment
relationship with you;” and 3) a non-examining source, which is “a physician,
psychologist, or other acceptable medical source who has not examined you but
provides a medical or other opinion in your case... includ[ing] State agency medical
and psychological consultants . . .” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1502.
The regulations and case law set forth a general preference for treating
medical sources’ opinions over those of non-treating medical sources and nontreating medical sources over non-examining medical sources. See 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(d)(2); Ryan v. Heckler, 762 F.2d 939, 942 (11th Cir. 1985). Thus, a
treating physician’s opinion is entitled to “substantial or considerable weight unless
‘good cause’ is shown to the contrary.” Crawford, 363 F.3d at 1159 (quoting Lewis,
125 F.3d at 1440 (internal quotations omitted)). However, the opinion of a one-time
consultative examiner is not entitled to any special deference. McSwain v. Bowen,
814 F.2d 617, 619 (11th Cir. 1987); see also Denome v. Comm’r Soc. Sec. Admin.,
518 F. App’x 875, 877 (11th Cir. 2013) (holding the ALJ does not have to defer to
the opinion of a doctor who conducted a single examination and who was not the
treating source). In short, an ALJ “may reject the opinion of any physician when the
evidence supports a contrary conclusion.” McCloud v. Barnhart, 166 F. App’x 410,
418–19 (11th Cir. 2006) (citing Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1240 (11th
Also, opinions such as determinations of a claimant’s disability, the
claimant’s RFC, and the application of vocational factors “are not medical opinions
. . . but are, instead, opinions on issues reserved to the Commissioner because they
are administrative findings that are dispositive of a case; i.e., that would direct the
determination or decision of disability.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(e), 416.927(d). The
court is interested in the doctors’ evaluations of the claimant’s “condition and the
medical consequences thereof, not their opinions of the legal consequences of his
[or her] condition.” Lewis, 125 F.3d at 1440. Such statements by a physician are
relevant to the ALJ’s findings, but they are not determinative, as it is the ALJ who
bears the responsibility for assessing a claimant’s RFC. See, e.g., 20 C.F.R. §
The Physical Consultative Examinations
The record contains opinions from Drs. Powell and Badewa, two physical
(Tr. at 371-75, 468-79).
Dr. Powell conducted a
consultative examination on April 26, 2014, in which she addressed Gladney’s
physical impairments and how these limitations affected her ability to perform
certain job functions. (Tr. at 371-75). Gladney’s chief complaints were left arm,
neck, and back pain. (Tr. at 371). She reported to Dr. Powell that her current
medications were Aleve and Motrin. (Tr. at 372).
During the examination, Dr. Powell observed Gladney was able to walk to the
exam room without difficulty, sit comfortably, and get on and off the exam table, as
well as take off and put on her shoes. (Tr. at 372). Dr. Powell found Gladney had a
normal gait and stride, did not use or need an assistive device, and was able to toe
and heel walk. (Tr. at 373). However, during the toe and heel walk, she complained
of pain. (Id.). In her general findings, Dr. Powell noted Gladney did have tenderness
of the cervical paraspinal muscles, along with several paravertebral muscle spasms.
(Tr. at 374). Dr. Powell’s examination also revealed lumbar tenderness and lumbar
paraspinal muscle spasms. (Id.). Dr. Powell documented Gladney’s bilateral upper
and lower extremity strength as 5/5 and noted her muscle bulk and tone were normal.
(Id.). Dr. Powell opined Gladney: (1) suffered from mechanical low back pain, as
well as neck pain with cervical radiculopathy; (2) could stand and walk for less than
two hours; (3) had no limitation on the amount of time she could sit; (4) could
occasionally lift, carry, push, and pull 10-20 pounds and could frequently lift, carry,
push, and pull 5-10 pounds; (5) could occasionally climb steps/stairs, ladders,
scaffolds, and ropes, as well as occasionally stoop, crouch, kneel, and crawl; and (6)
could occasionally reach overhead and forward but could frequently handle, finger,
and feel. (Tr. at 375).
Substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s decision to give partial weight to Dr.
Powell’s opinion. Because Dr. Powell only examined Gladney once, her opinion is
not entitled to any special deference.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(c)(2),
416.927(c)(2) (providing more weight is generally given to opinions from treating
sources); Crawford, 363 F.3d at 1160 (holding the ALJ correctly found that because
the doctor only examined the claimant once, the doctor’s opinion was not entitled to
great weight). The ALJ also gave Dr. Powell’s opinion little weight because it
occurred nearly two years before Gladney’s amended alleged onset date of disability.
(Tr. at 22). Thus, Dr. Powell’s consultative examination was of little relevance. See
Santos v. Soc. Sec. Admin., Comm’r., 731 F. App’x 848, 856 (11th Cir. 2018).
Dr. Badewa examined Gladney on January 5, 2017, and reviewed x-rays
completed on February 21, 2017, nearly three years after Dr. Powell’s examination.
(Tr. at 468, 476). Dr. Badewa found Gladney had reduced range of motion in her
back, hips, and knees and noted she had a normal gait and full range of motion in
her left shoulder, right ankle, and hands. (Tr. at 472). Gladney’s x-rays showed
moderate sclerotic changes in her right knee, and Dr. Badewa diagnosed her with
moderate osteoarthritis of the right knee joint. (Tr. at 478). X-rays of Gladney’s
right hip indicated significant arthritic changes and advanced degenerative
Dr. Badewa opined Gladney had severe degenerative
osteoarthritis of the lumbosacral spine and diagnosed dorsalgia (back pain),
cervicalgia (neck pain), and polyarthritis (chronic arthritis of several joints). (Tr. at
Substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s decision to give partial weight to Dr.
Badewa’s opinion regarding Gladney’s physical limitations. Dr. Badewa offered no
opinions as to how any impairments he found affected Gladney’s ability to work.
(Tr. at 468-79). See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(c)(3), 416.927(c)(3) (providing more
weight is generally given to opinions with better explanations); see also Moore, 405
F.3d at 1213 n.6 (noting the mere existence of impairments does not reveal the extent
to which they limit a claimant’s ability to work). The ALJ also noted Dr. Badewa’s
opinions were “only generally consistent with the objective medical evidence,
[Gladney]’s symptoms, and her daily activities.” (Tr. at 22).
For example, Gladney visited Princeton Baptist Medical Center on August 30,
2015, and reported she did not have any back pain. (Tr. at 450). During this visit,
the mid-level practitioner (“MLP”), Shana Moton, PA, noted Gladney’s neck and
back range of motion were normal. (Id.). On October 17, 2016, Gladney visited her
treating physician, Dr. Max Michael, at Cooper Green Mercy Hospital. (Tr. at 465).
Dr. Michael noted Gladney’s pain was controlled with Motrin. (Id.). Gladney saw
Dr. Michael again on June 19, 2018, when she reported occasional right heel pain
but was otherwise negative for pain and seemed to respond well to taking Motrin.
(Tr. at 481). The reports by the MLP and Dr. Michael contradict Dr. Badewa’s
opinion that Gladney suffered from back and neck pain.
Second, the ALJ gave Dr. Badewa’s opinion partial weight because it was not
entirely consistent with Gladney’s own reports of her daily activities. Gladney
reported she could prepare meals, do light chores around the house, leave the house
alone, shop in stores, dress herself most of the time, take showers, and clean her
house in moderation. (Tr. at 35, 37, 225-26). Dr. Badewa’s findings of a restricted
range of motion, arthritis, and neck and back pain conflicted with Gladney’s own
reports of her daily activities. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(c)(4), 416.927(c)(4)
(providing more weight is afforded to opinions that are consistent with the record as
a whole). Accordingly, the ALJ’s decision to give Dr. Badewa’s opinion partial
weight is supported by substantial evidence.
Non-Examining State Agency Medical Consultant Opinion
Dr. Whitman, a state agency medical consultant, reviewed the medical
evidence on March 03, 2017. (Tr. at 69). Dr. Whitman found Gladney’s statements
were partially consistent with the medical evidence. (Tr. at 71). Gladney reported
she experienced “excruciating lower back pain,” although her treating physician, Dr.
Michael, only prescribed Motrin to alleviate her lower back and neck pain. (Tr. at
69, 70, 465, 481). While Gladney reportedly suffers from disabling pain, she only
sees Dr. Michael twice a year. (Tr. at 36, 51-54). Due to the inconsistencies of
Gladney’s statements and the medical evidence, Dr. Whitman opined she could
perform a reduced range of light work. (Tr. at 22, 72-75).
Gladney’s brief only mentions Dr. Whitman’s opinion once. (Doc. 14 at 10).
She states the ALJ “gave full weight to the opinion of the non-examining state
agency physician, who assessed the claimant’s RFC as light.” (Id.). However,
Gladney does not present any arguments as to why the ALJ erred in giving Dr.
Whitman’s opinion significant weight. As such, she has waived that argument. See
e.g. Outlaw v. Barnhart, 197 F. App’x 825, 828 n.3 (11th Cir. 2006) (holding
claimant waived issue because he did not elaborate on claim or provide citation to
authority regarding claim).
Nonetheless, substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s decision to give
significant weight to Dr. Whitman’s opinion. State agency medical consultants are
highly qualified physicians who are experts in Social Security disability programs.
Their opinions may be entitled to great weight if the evidence supports their
opinions. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(e)(2)(i), 416.927(e)(i); SSR 96-6p, 1996 WL
374180 (S.S.A.). The ALJ determined Dr. Whitman’s opinion was consistent with
the objective medical evidence, Gladney’s symptoms, and her daily activities. (Tr.
RFC Finding Pursuant to SSR 96-8p
SSR 96-8p states the Commissioner’s policies regarding the assessment of a
claimant’s RFC and calls for the ALJ to provide “a narrative discussion describing
how the evidence supports each conclusion, citing specific medical facts (e.g.,
laboratory findings) and nonmedical evidence (e.g., daily activities, observations).”
SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184 (July 12, 1996). Additionally, the ruling calls for the
ALJ to describe how the evidence supports his conclusion and why “reported
symptom-related functional limitations and restrictions can or cannot reasonably be
accepted as consistent with the medical and other evidence.” Id.
Here, as the ALJ discussed, the record evidence as a whole supports an RFC
to perform a range of light work with additional limitations including: no climbing
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; frequent stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling,
reaching and handling bilaterally; and no exposure to workplace hazards. (Tr. at 1922). Again, the ALJ noted that although Gladney alleged disabling functional
In her reply brief, Gladney contends the Commissioner’s brief applied the wrong version of the
regulations to the opinion evidence in this case. (Doc. 16 at 3). Her two-sentence argument states
the previous version of the regulations, applicable to claims filed prior to March 27, 2017, should
apply. (Id.). However, Gladney does not explain how the analysis she proposes would yield a
limitations arising from her impairments, the treatment records, diagnostic imaging,
and her reports of her daily activities do not show such severe limitations. (Tr. at
20). The ALJ specifically mentioned Gladney’s 2015 visit to Princeton Baptist
Medical Center when she reported she did not have any back pain and the MLP
found her to have normal range of motion in her neck and back. (Tr. at 21, 450).
The ALJ also discussed the June 2018 medical visit to Dr. Michael where Gladney
reported she occasionally had pain in her right heel but was otherwise negative for
pain. (Tr. at 21, 481). The ALJ noted Gladney only sees her treating physician, Dr.
Michael, twice a year even though she reportedly suffers from disabling pain. (Tr.
at 21. 51-54). 3 The ALJ complied with SSR 96-8p by providing a narrative
discussion that cited specific evidence and described how the evidence supported
the conclusion. See Castel v. Astrue, 355 F. App’x 260, 263 (11th Cir. 2009)
(holding the ALJ complied with SSR 96-8p by discussing the relevant evidence and
making a finding of the plaintiff’s exertional limitations).
In her reply brief, Gladney argues for the first time that the infrequency of her visits with Dr.
Michael was due to her lack of insurance. (Doc. 16 at 7). The court declines to consider this new
argument, to which the Commissioner did not have an opportunity to respond. See, e.g., Newsome
ex rel. Bell v. Barnhart, 444 F. Supp. 2d 1195, 1203 (M.D. Ala. 2006); McCulley v. Allstates Tech.
Servs., 2005 WL 1475314, *6, n.15 (S.D. Ala. 2005) (issues raised in a reply brief are not properly
before the court where they could and should have been presented previously and the movant has
offered no explanation for the delay.); Lewis v. Mercedes–Benz USA, LLC, 2004 WL 3756384, *2
(N.D. Ga. 2004); Reliance Ins. Co. of Ill., Inc. v. Richfield Hospitality Servs., Inc., 92 F. Supp. 2d
1329, *1332 (N.D. Ga. 2000). Moreover, the record includes evidence that Gladney’s conservative
pain treatment was effective.
The ALJ’s Consideration of Gladney’s Obesity
Substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s RFC findings because he adequately
considered Gladney’s obesity. The Eleventh Circuit has made clear that statements
and findings by an ALJ can show that a plaintiff’s impairments have been considered
in combination. See Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1224 (11th Cir. 2002) (the
ALJ specifically stated that “the medical evidence establishes that [Wilson] had
[several injuries] which constitute a severe impairment, but that he did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments listed in, or medically equal to one listed
in Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulations No. 4.”); see Jones v. Dept. of Health and
Human Services, 941 F.2d 1529, 1533 (11th Cir. 1991).
Obesity can combine with other impairments to make an individual disabled
even if the other impairments are not severe enough on their own to do so. See SSR
Obesity can exacerbate both mental and physical conditions.
“Nevertheless, the claimant bears the burden of proving that he is disabled, and,
consequently, he is responsible for producing evidence to support his claim.”
Ellison v. Barnhart, 355 F.3d 1272, 1276 (11th Cir. 2003); see also Doughty, 245
F.3d at 1278 (11th Cir. 2001); 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(5) (“[a]n individual shall not be
considered to be under a disability unless he furnishes such medical and other
evidence of the existence thereof as the Commissioner of Social Security may
require”). Moreover, it is the plaintiff’s burden to provide a medical record that is
complete, and if she fails to do so, the ALJ will make a decision based on the
evidence of record. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1513(e); 404.1516.
The ALJ found Gladney’s obesity was a severe impairment. (Tr. at 17).
However, it was not severe enough to meet or medically equal the severity of one of
the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR §§
404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925, 416.626). (Tr. at 18). The
ALJ discussed Gladney’s obesity and considered it in terms of its possible effects on
her ability to work and her ability to perform activities of daily living. (Tr. at 19).
The ALJ accounted for Gladney’s obesity by limiting her to a reduced range of light
work. (Id.). See Borges v. Comm’r Soc. Sec., 771 F. App’x 878 (11th Cir. 2019)
(holding the ALJ properly accounted for claimant’s obesity by limiting her to “light
work”). Furthermore, the ALJ reduced the range of “light work” by incorporating
limitations as to climbing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling, and reaching into
his findings of Gladney’s RFC. (Tr. at 19). The ALJ explained her obesity did not:
prevent ambulation, reaching, and orthopedic and postural maneuvers,
or…prevent her from working or being able to complete a fairly full
range of activities of daily living. It does, however, in combination
with claimant’s other impairments potentially affect her exertional
limitations. A reduction to light work with further appropriate work
restrictions is therefore warranted, and these limitations are accounted
for in the [RFC] as determined herein.
(Tr. at 21-22). Thus, the ALJ accounted for Gladney’s obesity in limiting her RFC
to a reduced range of light work.
Furthermore, Gladney has made no showing her obesity would prohibit her
from performing the exertional demands of light work. Gladney did not allege
obesity in her disability report nor has she alleged limitations due to her obesity. (Tr.
at 19, 194). Additionally, no treating or examining physician placed any restrictions
on Gladney due to her obesity. (Tr. at 19). The plaintiff has the burden of showing
how an impairment prevents her from engaging in SGA. See Moore, 405 F.3d at
1213 n.6 (11th Cir. 2005). The severity of an impairment must be measured in terms
of how it limits a claimant’s ability to work. See McCruter v. Bowen, 791 F.3d 1544,
1547 (11th Cir. 1986). Here, Gladney did not properly demonstrate how the obesity
affected her ability to work.
The ALJ’s determination of Gladney’s RFC is supported by substantial
A claimant’s subjective complaints alone are insufficient to establish
disability. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1529(a), 416.929(a); Edwards v. Sullivan, 937 F.2d
580, 584 (11th Cir. 1991). A claimant has the burden of providing sufficient
evidence to support her allegations of disabling pain or other symptoms. See 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(5)(A); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1512(a)-(c), 404.1529(a), 416.912(a)-(c),
416.929(a). When a claimant attempts to prove disability based on her subjective
complaints, she must provide evidence of an underlying medical condition and either
objective medical evidence confirming the severity of her alleged symptoms or
evidence establishing that her medical condition could be reasonably expected to
give rise to her alleged symptoms. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1529(a), (b); 416.929(a),
(b); SSR 16-3p; Wilson, 284 F.3d at 1225-26. If the objective medical evidence does
not confirm the severity of the claimant’s alleged symptoms but the claimant
establishes she has an impairment that could reasonably be expected to produce her
alleged symptoms, the ALJ must evaluate the intensity and persistence of the
claimant’s alleged symptoms and their effect on the claimant’s ability to work. See
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1529(c), (d); 416.929 (c), (d); SSR 16-3p; Wilson, 284 F.3d at
1225-26. In determining whether substantial evidence supports an ALJ’s credibility
determination, “[t]he question is not . . . whether the ALJ could have reasonably
credited [claimant’s] testimony, but whether the ALJ was clearly wrong to discredit
it.” Werner v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 421 F. App’x 935, 939 (11th Cir. 2011).
Gladney testified on November 13, 2018, that she could not work because she
had “been in a lot of pain.” (Tr. at 36). She also testified she could only walk for
one or two blocks, stand for fifteen minutes without needing to lean on something,
and sit for fifteen to twenty minutes before needing to change positions. (Tr. at 20,
39, 43-47). Gladney also testified her granddaughter had to help her put her shoes
on because she could barely bend. (Tr. at 37).
Substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s determination that Gladney’s
statements regarding the intensity, persistence, and functionally limiting effects of
her alleged pain were not entirely consistent with the medical evidence and other
evidence in the record. (Tr. at 20). The ALJ noted that despite Gladney’s claims of
disabling and severe pain, Dr. Michael did not recommend or prescribe any
medications besides Motrin. (Tr. 21, 465, 481).4 See Harwell v. Heckler, 735 F.2d
1292, 1293 (11th Cir. 1984) (indicating a claimant’s lack of use of potent pain
medication can undermine allegations of constant, severe pain); see also 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1529(c)(3)(iv), 416.929(c)(3)(iv). Additionally, the ALJ emphasized that
despite Gladney’s allegations of disabling pain, she only visited Dr. Michael twice
a year.5 See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1529(c)(3)(v), (vi), 416.929(c)(3)(v), (vi) (noting that
a claimant’s treatment and measures used to relieve pain can be considered); see also
Wolfe v. Chater, 86 F.3d 1072, 1078 (11th Cir. 1996) (noting a history of
conservative treatment can be a factor in evaluating a claimant’s testimony). Dr.
Michael’s treatment notes also contradict Gladney’s allegations of pain. At her most
In her reply brief, Gladney argues for the first time that she previously tried a stronger pain
medication—Norco—but that she had a severe allergic reaction. (Doc. 16 at 7). The court declines
to consider this new argument, to which the Commissioner did not have an opportunity to respond.
See, e.g., Bell, 444 F. Supp. 2d at 1203; McCulley, 2005 WL 1475314, *6, n. 15; Lewis, 2004 WL
3756384, *2; Richfield Hospitality Servs., 92 F. Supp. 2d at 1332. Moreover, the record includes
evidence that Gladney’s conservative pain treatment with Motrin was effective. Further, the record
does not indicate that other, more aggressive pain treatment was recommended.
See note 3, supra.
recent visit with Dr. Michael on June 19, 2018, he indicated that, other than some
pain in her right heel, a review of her symptoms was negative. (Tr. at 21, 481).
In sum, the ALJ articulated in detail his findings that Gladney’s subjective
complaints were inconsistent with the medical evidence of record, and substantial
evidence supports the ALJ’s determination that Gladney’s pain was not as severe as
Upon review of the administrative record and considering all of Gladney’s
arguments, the undersigned finds the Commissioner’s decision is supported by
substantial evidence and is in accord with applicable law.
Commissioner’s decision is due to be affirmed. A separate order will be entered.
DONE this 31st day of March, 2021.
STACI G. CORNELIUS
U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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