Recla v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Magistrate Judge T Michael Putnam on 8/22/16. (MRR, )
2016 Aug-22 PM 01:59
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting
Commissioner of Social Security,
Case No. 4:15-cv-504-TMP
The plaintiff, Wayne Recla, appeals from the partially favorable decision of
the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (ACommissioner@).
is his second application for disability benefits. 1 In this application, the plaintiff
challenges the ALJ=s finding that he was not disabled until June 12, 2012, when his
age made him eligible for benefits under the AGrid Rules.@ Mr. Recla timely
His first application was denied by an ALJ on June 11, 2011. The Appeals Council
denied his request for review on August 29, 2012. He appealed to the district court, which
affirmed on March 20, 2014. Recla v. Commissioner, Case No. 4:12-cv-3732-RDP-HGD. The
Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals on February 10, 2015, affirmed the Commissioner=s decision
that Mr. Recla was not disabled through January 11, 2011. Recla v. Commissioner, 594 Fed.
Appx. 592. Mr. Recla filed his second application, which resulted in a decision that he was
disabled as of June 12, 2012. He asserts, however, that his onset date should have been
January 12, 2011. Accordingly, the only issue before this court is whether the ALJ decision
regarding the onset date is due to be affirmed.
pursued and exhausted his administrative remedies, and the decision of the
Commissioner is ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. '' 405(g), 1383(c)(3). The
parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned magistrate judge
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ' 626(c). Accordingly, the court enters this memorandum
Mr. Recla was 49 years old at the time of the Administrative Law Judge=s
(AALJ=s@) decision, and he has a high school education. (Tr. at 48). His past work
experience is as a painter, automobile mechanic, and car detailer. (Tr. at 47). Mr.
Recla claims that he became disabled on January 12, 2011, and asserts that he is
disabled due to: severe lower back pain, severe mid-back pain, severe neck pain,
severe left shoulder pain, severe foot pain, severe hip pain, severe left ankle pain,
bursitis, lupus, bone disease, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, myofascial pain
syndrome, undifferentiated connective tissue disease, obesity, arthralgia, chronic
pain syndrome, edema, hypertension, chest pain with shortness of breath, severe
depression with generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder, low average
intelligence, and blurry vision. (Doc. 12, p. 2; tr. at 132).
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; see also Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001).
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The first step requires a determination of whether the claimant is Adoing substantial
gainful activity.@ 20 C.F.R. '' 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). If he or she is,
the claimant is not disabled and the evaluation stops. Id. If he or she is not, the
Commissioner next considers the effect of all of the physical and mental
impairments combined. 20 C.F.R. '' 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). These
impairments must be severe and must meet the durational requirements before a
claimant will be found to be disabled. Id. The decision depends upon 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, which is a determination of whether the claimant=s impairments meet or equal
the severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. 20
C.F.R. '' 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the claimant=s impairments fall
within this category, he or she will be found disabled without further consideration.
Id. If he or she does not, a determination of the claimant=s residual functional
capacity (ARFC@) will be made and the analysis proceeds to the fourth step. 20
C.F.R. '' 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). Residual functional capacity is an assessment
based on all relevant evidence of a claimant=s remaining ability to do work despite
his or her impairments. 20 C.F.R. ' 404.1545(a).
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The fourth step requires a determination of whether the claimant=s
impairments prevent him or her from returning to past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. ''
404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant can still do his or her past
relevant work, the claimant is not disabled and the evaluation stops. Id. If the
claimant cannot do past relevant work, then the analysis proceeds to the fifth step.
Id. Step five requires the court to consider the claimant=s RFC, as well as the
claimant=s age, education, and past work experience, in order to determine if he or
she can do other work. 20 C.F.R. '' 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v). If the
claimant can do other work, the claimant is not disabled. Id. The burden of
demonstrating that other jobs exist which the claimant can perform is on the
Commissioner; and, once that burden is met, the claimant must prove her inability to
perform those jobs in order to be found to be disabled. Jones v. Apfel, 190 F.3d
1224, 1228 (11th Cir. 1999).
Applying the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that Mr. Recla was
not under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act prior to June 12,
2012, but that he became disabled when his age category changed on that date.
(Tr. at 49). She determined that Mr. Recla has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since the alleged onset of his disability. (Tr. at 17). According to the ALJ,
claimant=s obesity, degenerative joint disease of the lumbar spine, degenerative joint
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disease of the cervical spine, post-surgical residual of shoulder surgery;
fibromyalgia, affective disorder, anxiety disorder, left ankle degenerative changes,
and personality disorder are considered Asevere@ based on the requirements set forth
in the regulations. (Id.) She further determined that these impairments neither
meet nor medically equal any of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. at 40).
The ALJ did not find Mr. Recla=s allegations
to be credible (Tr. at 27, 42, 46), and she determined that the claimant, since January
12, 2011, had the residual functional capacity to perform a range of sedentary work.
(Tr. at 41). The ALJ further found that the claimant should be subject to exertional
limitations of sedentary work with a sit/stand option at will; no kneeling, no
crawling, no crouching, occasional stooping, no climbing ladders, ropes or
scaffolds; no work around hazards, and the need for a cane to get to and from the
(Tr. at 44).
The ALJ also imposed the following nonexertional
limitations: that he be given simple, routine, repetitive tasks, with only occasional
interaction with others. (Tr. at 45).
According to the ALJ, Mr. Recla was unable to perform any of his past
relevant work; and, prior to June 12, 2012, he was a Ayounger individual age 45-49.@
(Tr. at 37). The ALJ further found that, prior to June 12, 2012, jobs existed in
significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant could have
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performed. (Tr. at 48). The ALJ found that there were a significant number of
jobs in the national economy that the plaintiff, as a Ayounger individual,@ was
capable of performing, but that when he became a member of the older age category,
a finding of Adisabled@ was applicable to him by direct application of
Medical-Vocational Rule 201.14.2 (Tr. at 49). It is the ALJ=s finding that, during
the 17-month period at issue, Mr. Recla was able to do sedentary work, with
restrictions, that is at issue here.
Standard of Review
This 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
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390, 401 (1971); Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d
1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002). The court approaches the factual findings of the
Commissioner with deference, but applies close scrutiny to the legal conclusions.
Under the Medical-Vocational Guidelines at Appendix 2 to Subpart P of Part 404,
Rule 201.14 prescribes a finding of disabled for an individual who is Aclosely approaching
advanced age@ and who has a high school education, if their Askilled or semi-skilled skills are not
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See Miles v. Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996). The court may not
decide facts, weigh evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the
Commissioner. Id. AThe 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 this court finds that
the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner=s decision, the court must
affirm if the decision is supported by substantial evidence. Miles, 84 F.3d at 1400.
No decision is automatic, however, for Adespite this deferential standard [for review
of claims] it is imperative that the 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). Moreover, failure to apply the correct legal standards is
grounds for reversal. See Bowen v. Heckler, 748 F.2d 629, 635 (11th Cir. 1984).
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Mr. Recla alleges that the ALJ=s adverse decision regarding the time period
from January 2011 until June 2012 should be reversed and remanded because, he
asserts, the ALJ: (1) failed to give proper weight to the opinion of a treating
physician, Dr. Odeane Connor; (2) failed to give proper weight to the examining
psychologists, Dr. David Wilson and Dr. Robert Storjohann, and examining
physicians, Dr. Daniel Prince, Dr. Jane Teschner, and Dr. Anthony Fava; and (3)
improperly gave more weight to non-examining physician Dr. Carol Porch and
non-examining psychologist Dr. Steven Dobbs.
(Doc. 12, p. 3).
Commissioner asserts that the ALJ properly evaluated the medical evidence and
gave specific reasons for the weights assigned to each. (Doc. 15, pp. 9-12).
A. Treating Physician=s Assessment
Under prevailing law, a treating physician=s testimony is entitled to
Asubstantial or considerable weight unless >good cause= is shown to the contrary.@
Crawford v. Commissioner of Social Security, 363 F.3d 1155, 1159 (11th Cir. 1997)
(internal quotations omitted).
The weight to be afforded 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 had with the
claimant, the evidence the medical source presents to support the opinion, how
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consistent the opinion is with the record as a whole, and the specialty of the medical
source. See 20 C.F.R. '' 404.1527(d), 416.927(d). AGood cause@ exists for an
ALJ not to give a treating physician=s opinion substantial weight when the A(1)
treating physician=s opinion was not bolstered by the evidence; (2) evidence
supported a contrary finding; or (3) [it]... was conclusory or inconsistent with the
doctor=s own medical records.@ Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1241 (11th Cir.
2004) citing Lewis, 125 F.3d at 1440; see also Edwards v. Sullivan, 937 F.2d 580,
583-84 (11th Cir. 1991) (holding that Agood cause@ exists where the opinion was
contradicted by other notations in the physician=s own record).
The claimant asserts that the ALJ failed to give proper weight to the opinion
of his treating physician, Dr. Connor. Dr. Connor treated the plaintiff for many
years at a pain clinic, where he went on a monthly basis to get refills for narcotic pain
medication. As discussed supra, the decision that Mr. Recla was not disabled
before January 11, 2011, is not at issue here; the issue here is whether he was
disabled after that date and before June 12, 2012. On March 15, 2011, Dr. Connor
completed a Clinical Assessment of Pain for the claimant, in which she reported that
his pain existed to such an extent that it would be “distracting to adequate
performance of daily activities or work.” (Tr. at 1201). She further opined that
side effects from claimant’s pain medication would be expected to “limit the
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effectiveness of work duties.” (Id.) The combination of pain and side effects of
medication would be “severe” and would result in “distraction, inattention, and
drowsiness.” (Tr. at 1202).
These assessments, however, are inconsistent with her treatment notes.
Almost immediately after January 11, 2011, Dr. Connor treated Mr. Recla on
January 18, 2011, when she noted that his backache was Amoderate,@ with a pain
level of 5 on a scale of 1 to 10. (Tr. at 693). She further noted that his medication
did not produce adverse effects and was Afair[ly]@ effective at managing the pain.
(Id. at 693-94).
On February 9, 2011, she recorded that his pain level was a level 8
without medication but 5 with medication; that he reported no adverse effects from
the medication, and that no changes were needed. (Tr. at 691-92). In two visits in
March 2011, the month in which she completed the Clinical Assessment of Pain, Dr.
Connor recorded that Mr. Recla reported his pain level as 9 without medication but 4
with medication. (Tr. at 687, 689). During multiple visits throughout 2011, Dr.
Connor reported the claimant’s pain to be 7 or 8 on a scale of 10, but noted that his
medication was effective, that he had “moderate” limitation of range of motion, and
that he has “4/5” strength in all four extremities. (Tr. at 1278-1299).
The ALJ noted that the report of pain in Dr. Connor=s records was inconsistent
with the report of Dr. Towles-Moore, another of plaintiff’s treating physicians.
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Claimant began seeing Dr. Towles-Moore in October 2011, who found that the
claimant had some back tenderness, but he was alert, oriented, and displayed no
unusual anxiety. Also, she reported that he had Anormal range of motion, muscle
strength and mobility@ with Ano pain on inspection@ as late as April 2013. (Tr. at
Moreover, the ALJ explained her rationale for giving Asome weight@ to Dr.
Connor=s pain assessment, finding it only Apartially consistent with the evidence of
record.@ The ALJ stated:
The record reflects that the claimant=s pain fluctuated and that he had
experienced mild, moderate, and severe pain during the year prior to
the pain assessment was prepared [sic]. Nonetheless, the level 3-5
pain reported with use of medication does show that the claimant may
not be able to do heavier tasks, but it does not in and of itself preclude
sedentary activity. The claimant continues to perform some daily
activity that shows ability to deal with pain. Additionally, the records
from the pain clinic indicate that the claimant=s treatment was effective
in treating his pain. Further, Dr. O=Connor=s [sic] opinion does not
sufficiently show that the claimant has the quality of side effects the
doctor suggested. Her assessment of side effects is not convincing.
While the claimant may well have had some side effects producing
some drowsiness, the record also shows that he was able to engage in
many daily activities such as driving and reading without undue
impact. In so concluding, I have considered later evidence to be
discussed below, where the claimant was noted to be slowed by his
medication, but not unable to function while on it.
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(Tr. at 23). The ALJ gave Dr. Connor=s assessment some weight, based upon her
determination that the physician=s statement regarding disability was inconsistent
with her treatment records, which showed that Mr. Recla=s pain was fairly well
controlled by medication, and with the claimant=s own testimony about his activities
and abilities. 3 Both claimant and his wife reported that he could lift ten pounds, did
some household chores, and “puttered” in the garage. The claimant acknowledged
that he drove on occasion and went shopping in store.
Even the opinion of a treating physician can be disregarded where Agood
cause@ is shown. Crawford v. Commissioner of Social Security, 363 F.3d 1155, 1159
(11th Cir. 1997). The ALJ=s decision demonstrates Agood cause@ to accord Dr.
Connor=s opinion less than Asubstantial weight,@ and the ALJ articulated specific
reasons for giving less than controlling weight to the opinion of the treating
physician. Accordingly, the ALJ did not commit reversible error.
B. Examining Physicians= Assessments
Different types of medical sources are entitled to differing weights. The
opinion of a treating physician, as discussed above, usually is entitled to the greatest
It should be noted that Dr. Connor was not the only treating physician whose
opinions were available to the court. The ALJ gave Agreat weight@ to the opinion of a treating
psychiatrist, Dr. Maurice Jeter and also gave some weight to the findings of Dr. Towles Moore.
(Tr. at 36).
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weight. A non-treating physician or psychologist, who has examined the patient
but does not treat the patient on a regular basis, is entitled to less weight. The least
weight is given to a non-examining medical source, who may provide an opinion
based upon a review of the written record but who has not examined the patient. 20
C.F.R. ' 404.1502. Even so, any medical source=s opinion can be rejected where
the evidence supports a contrary conclusion. See, e.g., McCloud v. Barnhart, 166
Fed. Appx. 410, 418-19 (11th Cir. 2008). The weight to be afforded any 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
had with the claimant, the evidence the medical source presents to support the
opinion, how consistent the opinion is with the record as a whole, and the specialty
of the medical source. See 20 C.F.R. '' 404.1527(d), 416.927(d).
At issue in this case are the opinions of two psychologists and three
physicians, each of whom examined the plaintiff on one occasion for purposes
related to his application for disability benefits. None of these doctors had an
ongoing relationship with Mr. Recla, and none treated him. The psychologists
based many of their conclusions on the plaintiff=s self-reported descriptions of his
condition. Their opinions are entitled to weight only to the extent that they are
bolstered by the evidence, are not contrary to other medical evidence, and do not
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contradict the opinions of treating physicians. The opinions need not be considered
to the extent that they are conclusory or internally inconsistent.
The claimant asserts that the ALJ failed to give proper weight to the opinions
of examining psychologists David Wilson and Robert Storjohann, and examining
physicians Daniel Prince, Jane Teschner, and Anthony Fava.
The court will
examine each doctor in turn.
Dr. Wilson performed a psychological evaluation on Mr. Recla on April 6,
2011. Dr. Wilson diagnosed the plaintiff with major depression, estimated low
average intelligence, and chronic pain. He assigned a GAF of 45 to Mr. Recla, and
opined that A[h]is pain and the related sedation due to his medication would also
cause serious problems in a work setting@ and that he Adoes not appear to be capable
of working because of all these problems.@ Mr. Recla told Dr. Wilson, however,
that the medications help with the pain, and that the pain level will go from an 8 or 9
without medication to a 2 or 3 with it. (Tr. at 1203-04). Mr. Recla was referred to
Dr. Wilson by his attorney. (Tr. at 1203).
He arrived at the appointment on time,
having driven himself. He spent much of the appointment kneeling on the floor,
complaining of pain, and said that he often falls asleep into his food at mealtime
because his medications cause such severe sedation. (Tr. at 1205).
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Just a month after his examination by Dr. Wilson, the plaintiff had a
psychological examination by Dr. Robert Storjohann, who was selected by the
Dr. Storjohann=s report was based solely on the patient=s
self-reported symptoms. Mr. Recla reported that he had suffered from depression
and anxiety Aas long as [he] could recall,@ that he had recurrent manic episodes since
the age of 18, had panic attacks, anger management issues, and post-traumatic stress
disorder (APTSD@) that was related to sexual abuse he suffered as a child. He
further reported that the medications he took caused him to be Asomewhat calmer,
somewhat less anxious, and somewhat less depressed,@ and that they improved his
sleep pattern. (Tr. at 763). The doctor reported a diagnostic impression of bipolar
disorder, PTSD, and anxiety disorder.
(Tr. at 765).
Dr. Storjohann also
determined that Mr. Recla Aappears to have moderate to marked deficits in his ability
to understand, carry out and remember instructions in a work setting,@ and Amarked
to extreme deficits in his ability to respond appropriately to supervision, co-workers,
and work pressures in a work setting.@ (Id.)
The ALJ stated that she considered and gave Alittle weight@ to Dr. Wilson=s
opinion because it was inconsistent with the Acredible medical and objective
evidence@ of record. (Tr. at 24).
The ALJ noted that a GAF exam performed
later, in 2012, resulted in a significantly higher score of 60. (Tr. at 36).
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compared Dr. Wilson=s report to one from a psychological expert, Dr. Summerlin,
who filed a report in connection with Mr. Recla=s earlier application for Social
Security benefits, and found them to be Aquite the opposite.@ (Tr. at 24). Dr.
Summerlin, the ALJ stated, opined in 2009 that the claimant was Amalingering and
Dr. Summerlin=s assessment, and the claimant=s own
report about his daily activities--which include mowing the lawn with a
self-propelled mower, helping with laundry and dishes, reading, driving, and
shopping--convinced the ALJ that ADr. Wilson=s assessment is overstated.@ (Tr. at
As for Dr. Storjohann=s report, the ALJ found it to be Anot consistent with the
record as a whole.@ (Tr. at 26). She further found that the plaintiff=s self-described
severe symptoms of mental disorders were Anot well documented@ and Aentirely
inconsistent@ with the plaintiff=s work history, leisure activities, and the report from a
friend who described him as easy-going and amiable. (Tr. at 27).4
In sum, the ALJ considered the reports of Drs. Wilson and Storjohann, and
accorded them little weight because they were inconsistent with the claimant’s
medical records, the reports of treating physicians, and with the claimant=s own
Mr. Recla had never reported such manic episodes to his long-time treating
physician, and had never received any documented treatment for PTSD or bipolar disorder.
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testimony. The ALJ clearly articulated Agood cause@ for the limited weight she
gave to the opinions, and therefore the determination was based upon substantial
evidence and was in accordance with the governing law.
The claimant further asserts that the ALJ erred in assigning little weight to the
reports of Drs. Jane Teschner,5 Daniel Prince, and Anthony Fava. Each of these
physicians performed independent physical evaluations at the request of plaintiff=s
counsel. The opinion of each is considered in turn.
Dr. Teschner examined the plaintiff once, apparently in August of 2011. 6
(Tr. at 1210-16). Dr. Teschner opined that Mr. Recla had a Amoderately severe@
impairment from lower back pain and Aserious@ depression and anxiety, which
would persist for 12 months or longer. (Tr. at 1215). The ALJ gave little weight to
the consultative opinion, and stated in some detail why Dr. Teschner=s opinion was
inconsistent with the treatment notes of Dr. Towles-Moore, a treating physician, and
with Dr. Teschner=s own observations. (Tr. at 31-35). In her own notes, Dr.
Teschner reported “no loss of ROM [Range of Motion]” on examination of the
Plaintiff=s counsel argues that the ALJ did not assign a weight to Dr. Teschner=s
opinion, but the ALJ specifically said she gave Alittle weight to Dr. Teschner=s physical
assessment@ because it was inconsistent with the credible medical and objective evidence, and
because her findings were Anot consistent with her examination findings;@ she further specified that
Dr. Teschner’s report is Agenerally viewed as unreliable.@ (Tr. at 35).
The signature on the report, however, is inexplicably dated April 7, 2011.
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claimant’s back. This is consistently confirmed by her ROM tables, showing only
slight limitations on range of motion. (Tr. at 1213-1214). The ALJ correctly noted
that Dr. Teschner’s comments were inconsistent with her own observations.
Dr. Prince examined the plaintiff in January of 2012. He opined that Mr.
Recla was disabled from work because of Afibromyalgia and chronic pain disorder,
and chronic mental nervous disorder, unspecified.@ (Tr. at 1218-20). The ALJ
discussed Dr. Prince=s report in great detail, according Asome weight@ to the final
diagnosis. (Tr. at 32). However, the ALJ specifically noted that Dr. Prince stated
that he had reviewed the medical records and that the objective reports did not show
any orthopaedic injury that would account for the extreme and widespread pain
complained of by Mr. Recla. (Id.)
The ALJ further noted that the basis of the
plaintiff=s argument, that Mr. Recla=s spinal injury meets Listing 1.01, is refuted by
Dr. Prince in that the Afirst step in disability analysis is to show whether the claimant
has a medically determinable condition that could produce the pain and other
The ALJ accorded Alittle weight@ to Dr. Prince=s
Aconclusory@ physical assessment, finding, inter alia, that Dr. Prince=s opinion that
claimant Acan never use his hands for grasping, fine manipulation or
fingering/feeling@ was inconsistent with other doctor=s reports, with the claimant=s
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own testimony, and with claimant=s wife=s reports of Mr. Recla=s daily activities.
(Tr. at 33).
Dr. Fava examined Mr. Recla on May 19, 2011. (Tr. at 747-51). On the one
hand, Dr. Fava noted a normal range of motion in the upper and lower extremities,
and neurological findings of a strong grip and intact fine and gross manipulation.
On the other hand, he opined that the claimant was Aunable to stand, walk, lift, carry,
handle objects weighing over one pound, or travel.@ (Tr. at 749). The ALJ gave
Dr. Fava=s assessment of Mr. Recla=s ability to do work-related activities little weight
because they were Anot consistent with the medical and objective evidence.@ (Tr. at
25). The ALJ pointed out that the opinion was not consistent with Dr. Fava=s own
recorded clinical observations, and that it was contradicted by the plaintiff=s own
testimony in April 2011 that he could lift 10 to 15 pounds. (Id.)
The ALJ articulated specific reasons for giving little weight to the
assessments of these examining physicians, and the assessments generally do not
comport with the clinical findings of treating physicians, with the plaintiff=s own
assessment of his daily activities, or with reports from the plaintiff=s wife and
long-time friend. Accordingly, the ALJ=s determination is based on substantial
evidence and adheres to the appropriate legal standards.
Page 19 of 22
C. Non-Examining Physicians= Assessments
While it is true that a non-examining physician=s opinion is generally entitled
to less weight than the opinions of treating or examining physicians, the opinion of a
non-examining physician still may be relied upon when it is supported by other
medical evidence and when it comports with the evidence viewed as a whole. See
Edwards v. Sullivan, 937 F.2d 580, 585 (11th Cir. 1991) . It is well settled that the
ALJ may assign minimal weight to any opinions that are not supported by the
evidence. See Sryock v. Heckler, 764 F.2d 834, 835 (11th Cir. 1985).
The plaintiff asserts that the ALJ erred in assigning more weight to the
non-examining physician, Dr. Carol Porch, and to the non-examining psychologist,
Dr. Steven Dobbs, than to the examining physicians. The Commissioner=s brief
does not specifically address the weight given to these assessments. The court
examines these two opinions in turn.
Dr. Porch completed a physical residual functional capacity (ARFC@)
assessment on Mr. Recla in June of 2011, after a review of the medical evidence,
including the reports from Drs. Connor and Fava. She opined that the claimant was
able to perform sedentary work with certain restrictions. The ALJ gave Asignificant
weight@ to the opinion of Dr. Porch, after she made an exhaustive review of all of the
relevant evidence. (Tr. at 41).
Page 20 of 22
Dr. Dobbs completed a Psychiatric Review Technique form in July of 2011,
finding that Mr. Recla had a mild restriction in activities of daily living; mild
difficulties in maintaining social functioning; moderate difficulties in maintaining
concentration, persistence, and pace; and no episodes of decompensation that were
of extended duration. (Tr. at 781-83). The ALJ gave Dr. Dobb=s assessment
Asubstantial weight,@ noting that it was Agenerally consistent with credible evidence
of record.@ (Tr. at 28).
The ALJ prepared a lengthy decision that reviewed in great detail the medical
records, the opinion evidence, the testimony from two hearings, and the statements
of Mr. Recla=s wife and his friend.
The decision points out numerous
inconsistencies in what Mr. Recla reported to doctors and what Mr. Recla testified
that he was able to do. The ALJ gave little weight to medical sources only after
determining that the opinions given were not supported by the objective medical
evidence, by the doctor=s own notations, by the claimant himself, or by other
credible evidence. Opinions such as whether a claimant is disabled, the claimant=s
residual functional capacity, and the application of vocational factors Aare not
medical opinions,... but are, instead, opinions on issues reserved to the
Commissioner;@ thus the court Amay not decide facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or
substitute [its] judgment for that of the Commissioner.@ Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d
Page 21 of 22
1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005). The court instead looks to 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.
In this case, the ALJ inspected all of the doctors= evaluations, weighed the
credibility of the claimant, described the inconsistencies and lack of support for
certain conclusions, and ultimately found that, during the relevant time, the claimant
was not disabled. The ALJ=s determination regarding Mr. Recla is supported by
substantial evidence and was both comprehensive and consistent with the applicable
Upon review of the administrative record, and considering all of Mr. Recla=s
arguments, the Commissioner=s decision is due to be AFFIRMED and the action is
due to be DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. The court will enter a separate order.
DATED the 22nd day of August, 2016.
T. MICHAEL PUTNAM
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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