Pointer v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DISMISSING CASE that the decision of the Commissioner is REVERSED and this action is REMANDED to the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration fur further proceedings consistent with this order. Signed by Judge C Lynwood Smith, Jr on 4/21/2016. (AHI)
2016 Apr-21 PM 03:20
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting
Commis s ione r, Social Se curity
Case No. 4:15-cv-927-CLS
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF REMAND
Claimant, Marilyn Pointer, commenced this action on June 3, 2015, pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final adverse decision of the
Commissioner, affirming the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), and
thereby denying her claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits.
The court’s role in reviewing claims brought under the Social Security Act is a
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.
claimant asserts that the ALJ improperly considered the opinions of her treating
physician, improperly evaluated her credibility, and failed to apply Grid Rule 201.14.
Upon review of the record, the court concludes that claimant’s first contention has merit.
The opinion of a treating physician “must be given substantial or considerable
weight unless ‘good cause’ is shown to the contrary.” Phillips v . Barnhart, 357 F.3d
1232, 1240-41 (11th Cir. 2004) (internal citations omitted).
Good cause exists when
“(1) [the] treating physician’s opinion was not bolstered by the evidence; (2) [the]
evidence supported a contrary finding; or (3) [the] treating physician’s opinion was
conclusory or inconsistent with the doctor’s own medical records.”
Additionally, the ALJ is not required to accept a conclusory statement from
a medical source, even a treating source, that a claimant is unable to work, because the
decision whether a claimant is disabled is not a medical opinion, but is a decision
“reserved to the Commissioner.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(d).
Social Security regulations also provide that, when considering what weight to give
any medical opinion (regardless of whether it is from a treating or non-treating
physician), the Commissioner should evaluate:
the extent of the examining or treating
relationship between the doctor and patient; whether the doctor’s opinion can be
supported by medical signs and laboratory findings; whether the opinion is consistent
with the record as a whole; the doctor’s specialization; and other factors. See 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1527(c). See also Wheeler v. Heckler, 784 F.2d 1073, 1075 (11th Cir. 1986)
(“The weight afforded a physician’s conclusory statements depends upon the extent to
which they are supported by clinical or laboratory findings and are consistent with other
evidence as to claimant’s impairments.”).
Dr. Sabrina Morgan-Graves, claimant’s primary care physician, completed a
“Social Security Disability Questionnaire” on August 28, 2012.
She stated that she had
treated claimant since February 22, 2011. Dr. Morgan-Graves checked a box indicating
that claimant was disabled according to the definition provided on the form, which was:
To be eligible for Social Security disability, a person must be unable
to perform any substantial gainful work due to a medical condition which
has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least
twelve months. The impairment must be so severe as to prevent the person
from working not only in his or her usual occupation, but in any other
substantial gainful work considering age, education, training and work
According to Dr. Morgan-Graves, claimant became disabled in approximately August of
2011 because of her “severe lower back pain with numbness, tingling in legs, ataxia, [and]
weakness,” and the disability would last for the rest of claimant’s life.2
been prescribed Lortab and Lyrica, which caused the side effects of drowsiness,
dizziness, and confusion. Dr. Morgan-Graves stated that, as a result of claimant’s lower
back pain, she would be “unable to squat, kneel to do work, stand [for] prolonged periods,
sit for prolonged periods, or walk unlimited distances.”3
Id. (alteration supplied).
Tr. 585 (alteration supplied).
She also stated that claimant
was at a high risk for falls because of her lower back pain and medications.4
Dr. Morgan-Graves also completed a Physical Capacities Form on September 23,
2013. She indicated that claimant could sit for three to four hours at a time, stand for
thirty minutes at a time, and walk for thirty minutes at a time. Claimant would need to
lie down, sleep, or sit with her legs propped up for six hours out of an eight-hour day.
She could perform a task for thirty minutes without needing rest or a break, and she could
maintain attention and concentration for three to four hours.
indicated that all of claimant’s limitations existed back to March 30, 2008, the alleged
onset date, and that claimant’s condition would last twelve or more months.5
The ALJ afforded “significant weight” to the August 28, 2012 questionnaire
because Dr. Morgan-Graves was a treating physician, but she did not give it controlling
weight “because it is inconsistent with other substantial evidence,
claimant’s report of March 1, 2012.”6
The ALJ afforded little weight to Dr. Morgan-
Graves’s legal conclusion of disability, “because it is on an issue that is reserved to the
Commissioner of Social Security.”7
The ALJ also afforded little weight to the Physical
Capacities Form completed by Dr. Morgan-Graves “because the additional limitations
she listed are not supported by her own treating records, and her statement that these
limitations existed back to March 30, 2008 is inconsistent with her opinion of August
Although the ALJ was not required to accept Dr. Morgan-Graves’s conclusion that
claimant was disabled, he was required to provide an adequate explanation, supported by
the record, of his reasons for failing to accept the functional limitations assessed by Dr.
The court finds that the ALJ did not satisfy that requirement.
reason the ALJ provided for not giving Dr. Morgan-Graves’s assessment controlling
weight was that the assessment was inconsistent with claimant’s March 1, 2012 selfreport.
But that report was a questionnaire from the Disability Determination Service
concerning claimant’s difficulties in using her hands.9
It had nothing to do with
claimant’s lower back pain, which was the reason Dr. Morgan-Graves stated for
claimant’s disability on August 28, 2012. Because of the disconnect between the ALJ’s
decision and the administrative record, this court cannot find that the ALJ’s decision was
supported by substantial evidence.
Remand is warranted for the ALJ to give further
Claimant indicated that she did not have any problems with dressing herself, shaving, and
feeding herself, but she usually has someone else do her hair because of discomfort and tingling in her
hands. Claimant reported preparing only simple meals using small pots and pans and exercising special
care when her hands felt numb and tingly. She performed light housework duties on good days and
wore her hand braces at night to help with carpal tunnel symptoms. Claimant did not experience any
difficulty with driving. She did experience difficulty writing with a pen or pencil and typing on a
keyboard, because her hands would tend to swell and stiffen up with prolonged performance of those
activities. Claimant sometimes experienced difficulty grasping or turning a door knob. Claimant
reported reading and watching television during her spare time. She also stated: “If I do anything for
long stretches of time whether doing my hair, writing or typing causes pain and swelling of my hands.
[sic] The pain from prolonged activity gets worse at night time.” Tr. 284-86.
consideration to Dr. Morgan-Graves’s opinion, and to more fully articulate the reasons
for his decision not to give that opinion controlling weight.
The decision of the Commissioner is REVERSED, and this action is REMANDED
to the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration for further proceedings
consistent with this order.
The Clerk of Court is directed to close this file.
DONE this 21st day of April, 2016.
United States District Judge
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