Hanvey v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION and ORDER; the decision of the Commissioner is affirmed and costs are taxed against claimant. Signed by Judge C Lynwood Smith, Jr on 06/25/14. (SPT )
2014 Jun-25 AM 10:18
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting
Commissioner, Social Security
Case No. CV-13-S-1635-M
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Claimant, David Hanvey, commenced this action on August 30, 2013, 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 his claim for a period of disability, disability insurance, and
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’s hypothetical question to the vocational expert failed
to include all of his limitations, and that the ALJ improperly substituted his opinion
for that of the consultative medical examiner. Upon review of the record, the court
concludes that these contentions are without merit, and the Commissioner’s decision
should be affirmed.
“‘In order for a vocational expert’s testimony to constitute substantial evidence,
the ALJ must pose a hypothetical question which comprises all of the claimant’s
impairments.’” Winschel v. Commissioner of Social Security, 631 F.3d 1176, 1180
(11th Cir. 2011) (quoting Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1227 (11th Cir. 2002)
(per curiam)). Claimant contends that the ALJ’s hypothetical question in this case
did not constitute substantial evidence because the ALJ “did not consider claimant’s
high blood pressure, back pain, gout, left shoulder, [sic] pain obesity, or constrictions
of hands and feet.”1 The court does not agree with claimant’s argument. During the
administrative hearing, the ALJ asked the vocational expert to assume
a younger individual with a GED, let’s say, who can perform, I’m going
to say let’s say light work with the following limitations.
First of all, he should be restricted to occasional bending and
stooping; I’ll say no driving; no operating hazardous machinery; no
Tr. 11 (alteration supplied).
climbing; no lower extremity pushing or pulling. Those are the initial
limitations that I want you to consider. And tell me whether or not, in
your opinion there would be any light work opportunities that you
believe the claimant could perform as described, sir, please.2
The vocational expert responded that there would be jobs existing in significant
numbers in the national economy for an individual with the described limitations.3
The ALJ then asked the vocational expert to consider the same limitations for an
individual capable of only sedentary work, and the vocational expert again responded
that a sufficient number of jobs would be available.4 The ALJ also inquired about the
addition of a restriction to no pushing or pulling with the left upper extremity, and the
vocational expert testified that that additional limitation would not have any effect on
the number of available jobs at either the sedentary or light exertional level.5 If,
however, claimant was required to alternate between sitting and standing every ten
minutes, that would preclude all work activity. Alternating between sitting and
standing every two hours would not be so restrictive.6
The ALJ eventually
incorporated all of those restrictions — other than the need to alternate sitting and
standing every ten minutes, for which there is no evidentiary support in the record —
into his residual functional capacity finding.7
Even though the ALJ did not explicitly mention conditions like high blood
pressure, back and shoulder pain, gout, and obesity to the vocational expert, it is
apparent that he took those restrictions into consideration when determining
claimant’s limitations. The record does not support any restrictions greater than what
were described to the vocational expert and subsequently imposed by the ALJ.
Accordingly, the ALJ’s decision will not be disturbed on the grounds that he failed
to consider all of claimant’s limitations, or to include all of those limitations in his
hypothetical question to the ALJ.
The court is equally unpersuaded by claimant’s second argument. Claimant
asserts that the ALJ improperly substituted his opinion about claimant’s limitations
for that of the consultative medical examiner. The primary basis for that argument
is that the same ALJ “has a documented record of substituting his opinion for the
opinion of medical professionals.”8 It is true that Judge Guin has, on more than one
occasion, reversed the ALJ who heard this case at the administrative level on those
grounds. See, e.g., Smith v. Astrue, 641 F. Supp. 2d 1229, 1232-33 (N.D. Ala. 2009);
Barber v. Barnhart, 459 F. Supp. 2d 1168, 1172-74 (N.D. Ala. 2006); Davis v.
See Tr. 16.
Doc. no. 10 (claimant’s brief), at 16.
Barnhart, 377 F. Supp. 2d 1160, 1164 (N.D. Ala. 2005).9
As an initial matter, the fact that this ALJ has been reversed on certain grounds
in the past — even on multiple occasions — does not, by itself, mean that he should
be reversed here.10 Additionally, Judge Guin’s reasons for reversing the ALJ in the
cited cases are not present in this case. Judge Guin relied upon Judge Frank
Johnson’s concurring opinion in Marbury v. Sullivan, 957 F.2d 837 (11th Cir. 1992).
There, Judge Johnson stated:
An ALJ sitting as a hearing officer abuses his discretion when he
substitutes his own uninformed medical evaluations for those of a
claimant’s treating physicians: “Absent a good showing of cause to the
contrary, the opinions of treating physicians must be accorded
substantial or considerable weight by the Secretary.” Lamb v. Bowen,
847 F.2d 698, 703 (11th Cir. 1988). See also MacGregor v. Bowen, 786
F.2d 1050, 1053-54 (11th Cir. 1986); Broughton v. Heckler, 776 F.2d
960, 961-62 (11th Cir. 1985). Two medical diagnoses made at different
times by different treating physicians revealed that Marbury did in fact
suffer from a psychogenically caused seizure disorder. Nevertheless, in
the case at bar, it is obvious that the ALJ accorded little or no weight to
these diagnoses. An ALJ may, of course, engage in whatever idle
speculations regarding the legitimacy of the claims that come before him
in his private or personal capacity; however, as a hearing officer he may
not arbitrarily substitute his own hunch or intuition for the diagnosis of
Claimant provides additional examples on pages 17 and 18 of his opening brief. See doc.
no. 10, at 17-18.
If the ALJ’s past reversal rate were dispositive in the present case, the court would also be
compelled to consider the cases in which the Commissioner points out that the ALJ has been
affirmed by other judges on this court, despite objections raised to the ALJ’s consideration of
medical evidence. See, e.g., Nix v. Astrue, No. 6:11–CV–04327–KOB, 2013 WL 5849899, *5-7
(N.D. Ala. October 30, 2013) (slip copy); Utley v. Astrue, No. 2:11–CV–01430–RDP, 2012 WL
4479071, *5-7 (N.D. Ala. Sept. 26, 2012).
a medical professional.
Marbury, 957 F.2d at 840-41 (emphasis in original). Here, the ALJ did not ignore the
opinion of a treating physician, because there was no such opinion in the record.
There also is no indication that he ignored any other medical opinions. To the
contrary, the ALJ thoroughly discussed the assessment of Dr. Sathyan V. Iyer, the
consultative examiner,11 and he concluded that Dr. Iyer’s assessment did not support
a finding of disability, or even of “limitations greater than those determined in this
decision.”12 The court’s review of the record confirms that Dr. Iyer’s assessment is
consistent with the ALJ’s residual functional capacity finding. Even though Dr. Iyer
opined that claimant “may have impairment of functions involving walking, standing,
climbing, working at heights, working around moving machinery, bending, lifting,
carrying, overhead activities, and sitting for too long,” he did not specify that
claimant would be completely impaired in those areas, or that his impairments would
preclude him from gainful employment activity. The impairments assessed by Dr.
Iyer were accommodated in the ALJ’s limitation of claimant to a reduced range of
sedentary work activity.
In summary, the court concludes that the ALJ’s decision was supported by
substantial evidence and in accordance with applicable legal standards. Accordingly,
Tr. 17-18, 204-08.
the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED. Costs are taxed against claimant.
The Clerk is directed to close this file.
DONE this 25th day of June, 2014.
United States District Judge
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