Edwards v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Abdul K Kallon on 9/26/2014. (PSM)
2014 Sep-26 PM 03:14
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
DAVID MARK EDWARDS,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,
Acting Commissioner of Social Security, )
CIVIL ACTION NO.
Plaintiff David Mark Edwards (“Edwards”) brings this action pursuant to
Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking
review of the final adverse decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (“SSA”). This court finds that the Administrative Law Judge’s (“ALJ”)
decision - which has become the decision of the Commissioner - is supported by
substantial evidence. Therefore, for the reasons elaborated herein, the court will affirm
the decision denying benefits and deny Edwards’ motion to remand.
I. Procedural History
Edwards, who has no past relevant work experience, filed an application for
Supplemental Security Income on December 21, 2009, alleging an amended disability
onset date of December 21, 2009, due to bad nerves, bipolar disorder, a heart murmur,
emphysema, and blindness in his right eye. (R. 35, 45, 129). After the SSA denied
Edwards’ claim, he requested a hearing before an ALJ. (R. 109-10). The ALJ
subsequently denied Edwards’ claim, (R. 32-46), which became the final decision of the
Commissioner when the Appeals Council refused to grant review. (R. 1-6). Edwards
then filed this action for judicial review pursuant to § 205(g) of the Act, 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). Doc. 1.
II. Standard of Review
The only issues before this court are whether the record contains substantial
evidence to sustain the ALJ’s decision, see 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Walden v. Schweiker,
672 F.2d 835, 838 (11th Cir. 1982), and whether the ALJ applied the correct legal
standards. See Lamb v. Bowen, 847 F.2d 698, 701 (11th Cir. 1988); Chester v. Bowen,
792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986). Title 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) mandates that the
Commissioner’s “factual findings are conclusive if supported by ‘substantial
evidence.’” Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990). The district
court may not reconsider the facts, reevaluate the evidence, or substitute its judgment
for that of the Commissioner; instead, it must review the final decision as a whole and
determine if the decision is “reasonable and supported by substantial evidence.” See id.
(citing Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983)). Substantial
evidence falls somewhere between a scintilla and a preponderance of evidence; “[i]t is
such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Martin, 849 F.2d at 1529 (quoting Bloodsworth, 703 F.2d at 1239) (other
citations omitted). If supported by substantial evidence, the court must affirm the
Commissioner’s factual findings even if the preponderance of the evidence is against
the Commissioner’s findings. See Martin, 894 F.2d at 1529. While the court
acknowledges that judicial review of the ALJ’s findings is limited in scope, it notes that
the review “does not yield automatic affirmance.” Lamb, 847 F.2d at 701.
III. Statutory and Regulatory Framework
To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must show “the inability to engage
in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or
mental impairments 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 months.” 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(d)(1)(A); 42 U.S.C. § 416(i). A physical or mental impairment is “an impairment
that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are
demonstrated by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.”
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(3).
Determination of disability under the Act requires a five step analysis. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)-(g), 416.920(a)-(g). Specifically, the Commissioner must determine in
whether the claimant is currently unemployed;
whether the claimant has a severe impairment;
whether the impairment meets or equals one listed by the Secretary;
whether the claimant is unable to perform his or her past work; and
whether the claimant is unable to perform any work in the national
McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir. 1986). “An affirmative answer to
any of the above questions leads either to the next question, or, on steps three and five,
to a finding of disability. A negative answer to any question, other than step three,
leads to a determination of ‘not disabled.’” Id. at 1030 (citing 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)-(f)). “Once a finding is made that a claimant cannot return to prior work the
burden shifts to the Secretary to show other work the claimant can do.” Foote v.
Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1559 (11th Cir. 1995) (citation omitted).
Lastly, where, as here, a plaintiff alleges disability because of pain, he must meet
additional criteria. In this circuit, “a three part ‘pain standard’ [is applied] when a
claimant seeks to establish disability through his or her own testimony of pain or other
subjective symptoms.” Holt v. Barnhart, 921 F.2d 1221, 1223 (11th Cir. 1991).
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.1
Id. However, medical evidence of pain itself, or of its intensity, is not required:
This standard is referred to as the Hand standard, named after Hand v.
Heckler, 761 F.2d 1545, 1548 (11th Cir. 1985).
While both the regulations and the Hand standard require objective
medical evidence of a condition that could reasonably be expected to
cause the pain alleged, neither requires objective proof of the pain itself.
Thus under both the regulations and the first (objectively identifiable
condition) and third (reasonably expected to cause pain alleged) parts of
the Hand standard a claimant who can show that his condition could
reasonably be expected to give rise to the pain he alleges has established
a claim of disability and is not required to produce additional, objective
proof of the pain itself. See 20 CFR §§ 404.1529 and 416.929; Hale [v.
Bowen, 831 F.2d 1007, 1011 (11th Cir. 1987)].
Elam v. R.R. Ret. Bd., 921 F.2d 1210, 1215 (11th Cir. 1991) (parenthetical information
omitted) (emphasis added). Moreover, “[a] claimant’s subjective testimony supported
by medical evidence that satisfies the pain standard is itself sufficient to support a
finding of disability.” Holt, 921 F.2d at 1223. Therefore, if a claimant testifies to
disabling pain and satisfies the three part pain standard, the ALJ must find a disability
unless the ALJ properly discredits the claimant’s testimony.
Furthermore, when the ALJ fails to credit a claimant’s pain testimony, the ALJ
must articulate reasons for that decision:
It is established in this circuit that if the [ALJ] fails to articulate reasons
for refusing to credit a claimant’s subjective pain testimony, then the
[ALJ], as a matter of law, has accepted that testimony as true. Implicit in
this rule is the requirement that such articulation of reasons by the [ALJ]
be supported by substantial evidence.
Hale, 831 F.2d at 1012. Therefore, if the ALJ either fails to articulate reasons for
refusing to credit the plaintiff’s pain testimony, or if the ALJ’s reasons are not
supported by substantial evidence, the court must accept as true the pain testimony of
the plaintiff and render a finding of disability. Id.
IV. The ALJ’s Decision
In performing the five step analysis, the ALJ found that Edwards had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 21, 2009, and, therefore, met
Step One. (R. 37). Next, the ALJ found that Edwards satisfied Step Two because he
suffered from the severe impairments of “chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,
emphysema, depression, hypertension, anxiety disorder, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and
impaired vision in the right eye.” Id. The ALJ then proceeded to the next step and
found that Edwards failed to satisfy Step Three because he “does not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the
listed impairments.” Id. Although the ALJ answered Step Three in the negative,
consistent with the law, see McDaniel, 800 F.2d at 1030, the ALJ proceeded to Step
Four where he determined that Edwards has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to
light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b), but is limited to work which
can be performed with blindness in the right eye and with resultant limited
peripheral vision, and which would not include a work environment with
a large number of employees or supervisors, or involve work with large
(R. 38-39). The ALJ held that Edwards “has no past relevant work.” (R. 45). Lastly,
in Step Five, the ALJ considered Edwards’ age, education,2 work experience, and RFC,
As of the date of the ALJ’s decision, Edwards was 54 years old and had a
marginal education. (R. 45).
and determined “there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy
[Edwards] can perform.” Id. Therefore, the ALJ found that Edwards “has not been
under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from December 21, 2009, the
date the application was filed.” (R. 46).
Edwards takes issue with the ALJ’s decision denying his claim and has moved to
remand for consideration of new evidence. More specifically, Edwards has moved to
remand under sentence six of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to allow the Commissioner to
consider an August 5, 2013, award of benefits, doc. 16, and contends that (1) the
Appeals Council erred by not remanding his claim in light of new evidence and failed
to properly explain its decision; (2) the ALJ erred in assessing his RFC; (3) ALJ erred
in finding he did not meet a listing; and (4) the ALJ erred in assessing his credibility.
The court addresses each contention in turn.
Edwards’ Motion to Remand
Edwards has moved to remand the case under sentence six of 42 U.S.C. §
405(g),3 contending that the Appeals Council’s denial of his claim is inconsistent with
the Commissioner’s approval of a new claim, which found Edwards disabled as of
Sentence six states, in relevant part, that “[t]he court . . . may at any time order
additional evidence to be taken before the Commissioner, but only upon showing that
there is new evidence which is material and that there is good cause for the failure to
incorporate such evidence into the record in a prior proceeding.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
December 1, 2012. Doc. 16 at 1. To obtain a remand under sentence six, the settled
law in this circuit requires Edwards to establish that (1) there is new, noncumulative
evidence; (2) the evidence is material; and (3) there is good cause for failure to submit
the evidence at the administrative level. Caulder v. Bowen, 791 F.2d 872, 877 (11th
Cir. 1986). The new evidence is material if it is “relevant and probative so that there is
a reasonable possibility that it would change the administrative result.” Id. Remand is
not warranted here because Edwards has not established that the evidence is relevant to
his condition at the time of the ALJ’s decision. More specifically, Edwards failed to
show that the approval of his subsequent claim is material to the ALJ’s denial of his
benefits on February 21, 2012. As should be apparent, the Commissioner’s finding that
Edwards was disabled beginning December 1, 2012, over nine months after the ALJ
denied benefits in this case, is not chronologically relevant. As such, it is unlikely to
change the administrative finding that Edwards was not disabled on or before February
21, 2012. Accordingly, Edwards’ motion for remand is without merit and will be
The Appeals Council’s Actions
Edwards next contends that the ALJ erred when it failed to review his claim in
light of the new evidence he submitted to the Appeals Council. Doc. 11 at 25-26. If a
claimant “properly presents new evidence to the [Appeals Council] and it denies
review, [a reviewing court] essentially consider[s] the claimant’s evidence anew to
determine whether ‘that new evidence renders the denial of benefits erroneous.’” Levie,
514 F. App’x. at 832 (quoting Ingram v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 496 F.3d 1253, 1262
(11th Cir.2007). Accordingly, if the ALJ’s findings are supported by substantial
evidence in light of the new evidence, the Appeals Council did not err by failing to
review Edwards’ claim. Therefore, in assessing Edwards’ specific contentions of error,
this court has considered the record as a whole, including the evidence made part of the
record by the Appeals Council, to determine whether the ALJ’s findings are supported
by substantial evidence. Ingram, 496 F.3d at 1266.
Edwards also contends that the Appeals Council inadequately reviewed the new
evidence. Doc. 11 at 26. According to Edwards, when “the [Appeals Council] denies
review, [it] must show in its written denial that it has adequately evaluated the new
evidence.” Doc. 11 at 26 (emphasis deleted). To support his contention, Edwards
relies on Epps v. Harris, in which the court found that the Appeals Council’s failure to
adequately evaluate new evidence required a remand:
Although the Appeals Council acknowledged that Epps had submitted
new evidence, it did not adequately evaluate it. Rather, it perfunctorily
adhered to the decision of the hearing examiner. This failure alone makes
us unable to hold that the Secretary’s findings are supported by substantial
evidence and requires us to remand this case for a determination of Epps’
disability eligibility reached on the total record.
624 F.2d 1267, 1273 (5th Cir. 1980) (citing Mann v. Gardner, 380 F.2d 182, 187 (5th
Cir. 1967).4 Edwards’ reliance on Epps is misplaced because, in Epps, the Appeals
Council did not deny review; rather it granted review and then affirmed the decision of
the ALJ. Id. at 1269, 1272; see also Edwards v. Colvin, No. 2:11cv883-SRW, 2013
WL 6772975 (M.D. Ala. Dec. 20, 2013) (explaining why Epps involved the Appeals
Council’s granting of review and affirmance of the ALJ’s decision, rather than a denial
of review). Significantly, the pertinent regulation in effect at the time required that
when the Appeals Council grants review, its “decision shall be made in writing and
contain findings of fact, and a statement of the reasons.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.950(c)
(1980).5 Therefore, in Epps the Appeals Council was compelled by the regulations to
explain its reasons.
In contrast, here, the Appeals Council did not enter a decision affirming the
ALJ.6 As a result, Epps writing requirement is not controlling. Moreover, contrary to
Edwards’ contention, the Appeals Council’s statement that it “considered the reasons
Decisions of the former Fifth Circuit rendered prior to October 1, 1981, are
binding precedent in the Eleventh Circuit. Bonner v. City of Prichard, 661 F. 2d 1206,
1209 (11th Cir. 1981) (en banc).
The current regulation provides that if the Appeals Council reviews a case and
issues a decision, “[a] copy of the Appeals Council’s decision will be mailed to the
parties at their last known address.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.979 (2012).
The Appeals Council’s denial of review is not a decision. See 20 C.F.R. §
404.981 (“The Appeals Council may deny a party’s request for review or it may decide
to review a case and make a decision.”) (emphasis added).
[Edwards] disagree[d] with the decision and the additional evidence listed on the
enclosed Order of Appeals Council,” and that it “found that this information does not
provide a basis for changing the Administrative Law Judge’s decision,” (R. 1-2), is
sufficient to show that it actually considered the relevant evidence. After all, “nothing
requires the [Appeals Council] to further explain its denial of review.” Levie v.
Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 514 F. App’x 829, 832 (11th Cir. 2013) (finding identical
language sufficient); see also Mansfield v. Astrue, 395 F. App’x 528, 530 (11th Cir.
2010) (“Because a reviewing court must evaluate the claimant’s evidence anew, the
Appeals Council was not required to provide a more thorough explanation than it
did.”). Accordingly, the court finds no error in the Appeals Council’s explanation of its
The ALJ’s Finding of an RFC for Light Work
Next, in two related contentions, Edwards takes issue with the ALJ’s finding that
Edwards could perform a reduced range of light work. First, based solely on his age7
(54 at the time of the ALJ’s decision), Edwards contends that the ALJ should have
found him disabled under the grids8 based on Grid Rule 201.09, which provides that an
Edwards’s observation that a claimant’s age under the grids “is to be
determined as of the time of the decision,” doc. 11 at 8, is irrelevant because Edwards’
age at his alleged onset date (51) also meets the age requirement of 201.09, which
requires the claimant to be between 50 and 54 years of age.
The Medical-Vocational Guidelines, (the “grids”) found at 20 C.F.R. Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 2, are used to make determinations of disability based upon
vocational factors and the claimant’s RFC when the claimant is unable to perform his
individual of Edwards age with a limited education and no past relevant work, is
disabled if limited to sedentary work. Doc. 11 at 8. Second, Edwards contends that the
ALJ improperly relied on the testimony of the vocational expert (VE) to find Edwards
could perform other work at Step Five because “the hypothetical question assumed
[Edwards] could work at the light level.” Doc. 11 at 21. Both contentions depend upon
Edwards’ unstated assumption that the ALJ erred in finding he could perform a reduced
range of light work.
To support his contentions, Edwards asserts that when the evidence submitted to
the Appeals Council is considered, the ALJ’s denial of benefits is not supported by
substantial evidence. Doc. 11 at 21. However, the only treatment record submitted to
the Appeals Council that relates to Edwards’ physical condition shows that he was
treated by Dr. Muhammad Tariq for diabetes, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia. (R.
425-28). Significantly, Edwards reported no muscle weakness, myalgia, or weakness,
and Dr. Tariq’s physical examination was completely normal. (R. 426-27). In short,
Edwards has not pointed the court to any medical evidence that shows he is more
restricted than the ALJ’s finding. Moreover, a review of the record shows that the ALJ
relied on substantial evidence to find Edwards could perform a reduced range of light
vocationally relevant past work. 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2,
§ 200.00(a). When the claimant’s vocational factors and RFC coincide with all the
criteria of a particular rule, the rule determines whether the claimant is disabled or not.
20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2, § 200.00(a).
work. As the ALJ observed, the SSA consultative physical examiner, Dr. James Matic,
found “a full range of motion in the cervical and lumbar spine, full range of motion in
all joints, good dexterity in both upper extremities, no swelling or skin lesions, and no
gait abnormalities.” (R. 44, 283). Dr. Matic’s findings constitute substantial evidence
to support the ALJ’s RFC decision. Therefore, the court finds that the ALJ committed
no error in assessing Edwards’ physical RFC. Consequently, Edwards failed to satisfy
the criteria of Grid Rule 201.09, and the ALJ properly relied on VE testimony to find
Edwards could perform other work.
Edwards next contends that his depression and anxiety meet listings 12.04 and
12.06 respectively. Doc. 11 at 9-20; see 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1
(hereinafter “listing(s)”). Edwards bears the burden of showing that his impairments
meet or equal a listed impairment. Barron v. Sullivan, 924 F.2d 227, 229 (11th Cir.
1991). The regulations also provide that Edwards “must furnish medical and other
evidence that [the Commissioner] can use to reach conclusions about [his] medical
impairment(s).” 20 C.F.R. § 404.912(a). Moreover, Edwards’ impairments must “meet
all of the specified medical criteria. An impairment that manifests only some of those
criteria, no matter how severely, does not qualify.” Sullivan v. Zebley, 493 U.S. 521,
530 (1990) (emphasis in original).
To determine whether Edwards met listing 12.04 or 12.06, the ALJ initially
considered whether Edwards satisfied the paragraph B criteria of the listings.9 As to the
first criteria–i.e. marked restriction of activities of daily living, see listings 12.04B(1),
12.06B(1), the ALJ found Edwards had only mild restrictions in activities of daily
living because Edwards “reported to Disability Determination Services that he resided
with friends, took care of his dog, had difficulties sleeping, some difficulties with
personal care, and no longer engaged in his past hobbies, but was able to prepare simple
meals, count change, and go outside most days.” (R. 38). Next, with respect to the
second criteria–i.e. marked difficulties in social functioning, see listings 12.04B(2),
12.06B(2), the ALJ found Edwards had moderate difficulties, and noted that “[w]hile
[Edwards] reported that he had difficulty getting along with others, he also reported that
he resided with friends.” Id. The ALJ then proceeded to the third criteria–i.e. marked
difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace, see listings 12.04B(3),
12.06B(3), and found that Edwards had mild difficulties because “[Edwards] reported
that he finished things he started sometimes, and was able to follow written
instructions.” Id. Finally, the ALJ addressed the last criteria–i.e. repeated episodes of
To satisfy the paragraph B criteria for both listings, Edwards must establish he
has at least two of four limitations: (1) marked restriction of activities of daily living; (2)
marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning; (3) marked difficulties in
maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace; or (4) repeated episodes of
decompensation, each of extended duration. See listings 12.04B, 12.06B. For the
purposes of the mental disorder listings, “marked” means “more than moderate but less
than extreme.” Listing 12.00(C).
decompensation, see listings 12.04B(4), 12.06B(4), and found Edwards “has not
alleged a history of any such episodes, and no such episodes are documented in the
medical evidence of record.” Id. Based on these findings, the ALJ determined that
Edwards did not meet the paragraph B criteria of listing 12.04 or 12.06. (R. 39).
The ALJ then addressed the paragraph C criteria10 of the listings and found that
Edwards did not satisfy them because Edwards “has had no repeated episodes of
decompensation noted in the evidence of record,” “has not been diagnosed with any
residual disease process that would cause decompensation with only minimal increases
in mental demands,” “has no history of requiring a highly supportive living
environment, and has not displayed an inability to function outside of his home.” Id. It
is these findings regarding the paragraph B and C criteria of listings 12.04 and 12.06
that Edwards challenges.
To support his contention of alleged error, Edwards quotes portions of his
testimony and summarizes portions of the medical evidence. Doc. 11-20. Although
Edwards never explains how the cited evidence demonstrates that he meets a listing, his
To satisfy the paragraph C criteria of listing 12.04, Edwards must show that he
has one of the following: (1) repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended
duration; (2) a residual disease that has resulted in such marginal adjustment that even
minimal increase in mental demands or change in the environment would be predicted to
cause the him to decompensate; or (3) a current history of one or more years’ inability to
function outside a highly supportive living arrangement with a need for such an
arrangement to continue. Listing 12.04C. To satisfy the C criteria of listing 12.06,
Edwards must show a “complete inability to function independently outside the area of
[his] home.” Listing 12.06C.
contention appears to be based on mental health source statements completed by his
counselor, Mr. David Harvey, LCSW, (R. 418-20, 442-43), and a psychiatric evaluation
performed by Dr. M. Elizabeth Lachman, M.D., (R. 437-40). In that regard, the court
notes that Mr. Harvey completed a Medical Source Statement (MSS) on January 25,
2012, indicating Edwards has extreme restrictions in his daily activities and ability to
maintain attention and concentration for extended periods, (R. 419), and also opined
that Edwards “is unable to be gainfully employed,” (R. 420). Because Mr. Harvey is
not an acceptable medical source, see 20 C.F.R. § 416.913(a) (listing acceptable medical
sources), his opinions are not medical source opinions. 20 C.F.R. § 404.927(a)(2).
Nonetheless, evidence from sources such as Mr. Harvey may be used to show the
severity of a claimant’s impairment, 20 C.F.R. § 404.913(d), and the ALJ “generally
should explain the weight given to opinions from these ‘other sources,’ or otherwise
ensure that the discussion of the evidence in the . . . decision allows a claimant or
subsequent reviewer to follow the adjudicator’s reasoning, when such opinions may
have an effect on the outcome of the case.” See SSR 06-03p at *6.
Here, consistent with SSR 06-03, the ALJ considered Mr. Harvey’s opinions,
and observed that “at no time in 2010 or 2011 did he note any such limitations,” and
that “[t]o the contrary, Mr. Harvey’s treatment notes generally reported [Edwards] was
doing well.” (R. 45). Therefore, the ALJ rejected Mr. Harvey’s opinions because “they
are inconsistent with the findings and opinions of [Edwards’] treating physicians, the
consultative examiner, and Mr. Harvey’s underlying treatment notes.” Id. After
reviewing the record, the court finds that substantial evidence supports these findings.
For example, as the ALJ correctly observed, after Edwards “began mental health
treatment, his global assessment of functioning scores were consistently in the 60 and
7011 range after his amended alleged onset date (Exhibits 1F, 8F, and 13F),” and that
Dr. June Nichols’ consultative “psychological assessment of [Edwards] revealed [his]
functioning was only mildly compromised by his mood disorder (Exhibit 4F).” (R. 45).
Therefore, the ALJ did not err in rejecting Mr. Harvey’s opinions because, even a
treating physician’s opinions, which are entitled to more deference than those of Mr.
Harvey, may be rejected if the ALJ has “good cause.” See Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d
1436, 1440 (11th Cir. 1997)(Good cause” exists when the evidence does not bolster the
treating physician’s opinion; a contrary finding is supported by the evidence; or the
opinion is conclusory or inconsistent with the treating physician’s own medical
After the ALJ’s decision, Edwards saw Dr. Lachman on April 16, 2012, on
referral by Mr. Harvey. (R. 437-40). Mr. Harvey also completed another MSS on April
The Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) Scale is used to report an
individual’s overall level of functioning. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental
Disorders 32 (4th ed., Text Revision) (“DSM-IV-TR”). A GAF of 61-70 indicates:
“Some mild symptoms (e.g., depressed mood and mild insomnia), OR some difficulty
in social, occupational, or school functioning (e.g., occasional truancy, or theft within
the household), but generally functioning pretty well, with some meaningful
interpersonal relationships.” DSM-IV-TR at 34 (emphasis in original).
17, 2012. (R. 442-43). Because the Appeals Council made both of these reports a part
of the record, this court must consider whether the reports “render the denial of
benefits erroneous.” Ingram v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 496 F.3d 1253, 1262 (11th Cir.
2007). The court finds that they do not, in part, because Mr. Harvey’s statement is
cumulative of his earlier MSS. As he did previously, Mr. Harvey once again indicates
Edwards has marked and extreme limitations, and provides no narrative explanation.
(R. 442-43). As such, Mr. Harvey’s subsequent MSS does not undermine the ALJ’s
decision to reject Mr. Harvey’s earlier opinions, or show that the ALJ erred in finding
Edwards did not meet a listing.
Similarly, although Dr. Lachman’s report indicates Edwards has “a marked,
severe and sometimes extreme degree of impairment in all areas related to occupational
functioning,” (R. 439), it does not render the ALJ’s denial of benefits erroneous
because her opinions are inconsistent with Edwards’ mental health treatment notes prior
to the date of the ALJ’s decision as discussed above. It is also significant that there are
no treatment notes in the record from Dr. Lachman prior to her April 2012 evaluation,
and that her report does not indicate she had treated Edwards previously. Moreover,
Dr. Lachman does not state that her opinions relate to Edwards’ condition prior to the
time of the ALJ’s decision. Therefore, Edwards has not shown that Dr. Lachman’s
report is chronologically relevant and accordingly, it does not render the ALJ’s finding
that Edwards does not meet a listing erroneous.
In short, based on the record before this court, the ALJ reasonably found based
on substantial evidence that Edwards does not meet a listing. Moreover, the new
evidence considered by the Appeals Council does not render that finding erroneous.
Accordingly, because this court does not reweigh the evidence, there is no reversible
error in the ALJ’s finding, and the Appeals Council did not err in failing to review his
The ALJ’s Credibility Finding
Edwards next contends that the ALJ failed to state adequate reasons for
discrediting his testimony.12 Doc. 11 at 22-25. In considering Edwards’ subjective
symptoms, the ALJ first found that Edwards’ “medically determinable impairments
could reasonably be expected to cause [his] alleged symptoms,” (R. 43), and, therefore,
that Edwards met the requirements of the pain standard in this circuit. See Section III,
supra. However, the ALJ found Edwards’ allegations of disabling symptoms were not
fully credible. Id. It is this determination that Edwards challenges, and in light of his
appeal, this court must review the ALJ’s finding to determine if it is supported by
Edwards does not contend that the evidence considered by the Appeals
Council undermines the ALJ’s credibility finding. See U.S. v. Cunningham, 161 F.3d
1343, 1344 (11th 1998) (issues not argued on appeal are abandoned).
In considering Edwards’ testimony, the ALJ systematically discussed the factors
relevant to his credibility finding. First, in accordance with the regulations,13 the ALJ
found that “[t]he conflict between [Edwards’] testimony and the medical evidence of
record undermines his credibility.” (R. 43-44). In making this determination, the ALJ
noted that while Edwards “reported to Disability Determination Services on February 1,
2010 that he did not use any drugs or alcohol on a daily basis,” and “testified that he
abstained from substance use or abuse since 2010,” the record showed that “he tested
positive for marijuana and Propoxyphene on March 8, 2010,” that he “was injured in a
fight and fall . . . while intoxicated on May 5, 2010,” and that “[o]n June 4, 2010,
urinalysis revealed the [Edwards] was positive for Benzodiazepines, cocaine, and
THC.” (R. 43). The ALJ also found that Edwards’ allegations “that he was unable to
lift, squat, bend, stand, reach, walk, kneel, climb stairs, see, or use his hands,” were
inconsistent with the notes of his treating physician, Dr. Tariq, who “consistently noted
no physical abnormalities,” and with Dr. Matic’s physical consultative examination,
which “revealed [Edwards] had a full range of motion in the cervical and lumbar spine,
full range of motion in all joints, good dexterity in both upper extremities, no swelling
or skin lesions, and no gait abnormalities,” and that Edwards “could squat and rise, and
had 20/30 vision in the left eye.” (R. 44). These inconsistencies cited by the ALJ show
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1529(c)(4) (ALJ “will consider . . . the extent to which
there are any conflicts between [a claimant’s] statements and the rest of the evidence”).
that the ALJ’s finding that “[t]he disparity between [Edwards’] allegations and the
objective medical findings further undermines his credibility,” id., is reasonable and
supported by the substantial evidence.
Next, in assessing Edwards’ alleged mental symptoms, the ALJ noted that
Edwards’ “low global assessment of functioning score in 2009 was attributable to his
opiate dependence and improved over time,” and that “[a]fter [Edwards] began mental
health treatment, his global assessment of functioning scores were consistently in the 60
and 70 range after his amended alleged onset date.” Id. The ALJ also observed that
“Dr. Nichols’ psychological assessment . . . revealed [Edwards’] functioning was only
mildly compromised by his mood disorder.” Id. Based on these inconsistencies, the
ALJ reasonably concluded that Edwards’ mental illness was exacerbated by his drug
and alcohol abuse,” and that he had “no more than mild to moderate limitations when
Ultimately, based on this record, Edwards has failed to show that the ALJ erred
in failing to credit his testimony of disabling physical and mental symptoms. To the
contrary, the ALJ articulated specific reasons for discounting Edwards’ testimony of
disabling symptoms – all of which are supported by substantial evidence. Moreover,
even though the ALJ did not credit Edwards’ testimony of disabling symptoms, he
recognized that Edwards had some limitations as reflected in his RFC for a reduced
range of light work, which also excluded a work environment with a large number of
employees or supervisors, or involving work with large crowds. (R. 38-39, 44).
Therefore, based on this record, the court finds that substantial evidence supports the
ALJ’s determination that these restrictions account for Edwards’ symptoms.
Accordingly, because this court does not reweigh the evidence, there is no reversible
error in the ALJ’s credibility finding.
Based on the foregoing, the court concludes that the ALJ’s determination that
Edwards is not disabled is supported by substantial evidence, and that the ALJ applied
proper legal standards in reaching this determination. Therefore, the Commissioner’s
final decision is AFFIRMED. A separate order in accordance with the memorandum
of decision will be entered.
DONE this 26th day of September 2014.
ABDUL K. KALLON
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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