Elrod v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION. Signed by Judge L Scott Coogler on 8/1/2022. (MEB2)
2022 Aug-01 PM 01:15
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
MELISSA MICHELL ELROD,
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION
The plaintiff, Melissa Michell Elrod (“Elrod” or “Plaintiff”), appeals from
the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying her application for Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”). Elrod timely pursued and exhausted her administrative remedies and the
decision of the Commissioner is ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g),
Elrod was 39 years old at the time of her SSI application, and she attended
school through the eighth grade. (Tr. at 91, 240.) Her past work includes experience
as a deli cashier and a fast food worker. (Tr. at 37, 240.) Plaintiff originally claimed
that she became disabled on June 23, 2018, but she requested to amend the alleged
onset date to June 28, 2018, at the hearing before the ALJ. (Tr. 39.) Plaintiff claims
that she became disabled as a result of several conditions including back issues,
bulging discs, “Si Joint Issue,” mental problems, asthma, high blood pressure, high
cholesterol, and diabetes. (Tr. 239.)
The Social Security Administration has established a five-step sequential
evaluation process for determining whether an individual is disabled and thus eligible
for SSI. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; see also Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274,
1278 (11th Cir. 2001). The evaluator will follow the steps in order until making a
finding of either disabled or not disabled; if no finding is made, the analysis will
proceed to the next step. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). The first
step requires the evaluator to determine whether the plaintiff is engaged in
substantial gainful activity (“SGA”). Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). If
the plaintiff is not engaged in SGA, the evaluator moves on to the next step.
The second step requires the evaluator to consider the combined severity of
the plaintiff’s medically determinable physical and mental impairments. Id. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). An individual impairment or combination of
impairments that is not classified as “severe” and does not satisfy the durational
requirements set forth in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1509 and 416.909 will result in a finding
of not disabled. Id. The decision depends on the medical evidence contained in the
record. See Hart v. Finch, 440 F.2d 1340, 1341 (5th Cir. 1971) (concluding that
“substantial evidence in the record” adequately supported the finding that the
plaintiff was not disabled).
Similarly, the third step requires the evaluator to consider whether the
plaintiff’s impairment or combination of impairments meets or is medically equal to
the criteria of 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 criteria of a listed impairment
and the durational requirements set forth in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1509 and 416.909 are
satisfied, the evaluator will make a finding of disabled. Id.
If the plaintiff’s impairment or combination of impairments does not meet or
medically equal a listed impairment, the evaluator must determine the plaintiff’s
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) before proceeding to the fourth step. See id.
§§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). The fourth step requires the evaluator to determine
whether the plaintiff has the RFC to perform the requirements of his past relevant
work. See id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the plaintiff’s impairment
or combination of impairments does not prevent her from performing his past
relevant work, the evaluator will make a finding of not disabled. Id.
The fifth and final step requires the evaluator to consider the plaintiff’s RFC,
age, education, and work experience in order to determine whether the plaintiff can
make an adjustment to other work. Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v). If the
plaintiff can perform other work, the evaluator will find her not disabled. Id.; see also
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g). If the plaintiff cannot perform other work the
evaluator will find her disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 404.1520(g),
Applying the sequential evaluation process, the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) found that Plaintiff has not engaged in SGA since June 28, 2018, the
amended alleged date of the onset of her disability. (Tr. 18.) According to the ALJ,
Plaintiff’s obesity, lumbar degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis, carpal tunnel
syndrome, obstructive sleep apnea, and asthma are “severe impairments.” (Id.)
However, the ALJ found 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. 20.)
The ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the following RFC:
[T]o perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR §§ 404.1567(a) and
416.967(a) except as a part of the job requirements, she is unable to
climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; or perform around hazards. She can
occasionally climb ramps and stairs. She can frequently stoop, kneel, or
crouch, as well as handle or finger with either or both upper extremities;
but would no more than rarely (no more than ten percent of the
workday) crawl; and would not perform in concentrated exposure to
extreme hot temperatures or environments of fumes, odors, dust, gases,
and poor ventilation, etc. The claimant may use an assistive device for
walking greater than ten feet at one time.
According to the ALJ, Plaintiff is unable to perform any of her past relevant
work. (Tr. 25.) The ALJ also determined that Plaintiff is a “younger individual age
18-44” at 38 years old on the amended alleged onset date and has a limited education.
(Id.) The ALJ determined that the “[t]ransferability of job skills is not material to
the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a
framework supports a finding that the claimant is ‘not disabled,’ whether or not the
claimant has transferable job skills.” (Tr. 26.) Because Plaintiff cannot perform the
full range of sedentary work, the ALJ enlisted a vocational expert (“VE”) and used
Medical-Vocational Rules as a guideline for finding that there are jobs in the national
economy with a significant number of positions that Plaintiff is capable of
performing, such as an addresser, cutter and paster, and document preparer. (Id.)
The ALJ concluded his findings by stating that Plaintiff “has not been under a
disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from June 28, 2018, through the date
of this decision.” (Tr. 27.)
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 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)). This 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, this 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 this 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)).
However, 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.
Bowen v. Heckler, 748 F.2d 629, 635 (11th Cir. 1984) (citing Wiggins v. Schweiker, 679
F.2d 1387, 1389 (11th Cir. 1989)).
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ’s decision should be reversed and remanded for
two reasons: (1) the ALJ’s assessment of the opinion of April Connell, NPC, was not
supported by substantial evidence and warranted further development of the record,
and (2) the ALJ erred in evaluating the plaintiff’s subjective complaints because his
assessment was not supported by substantial evidence. (Doc. 13.)
A. The ALJ’s Assessment of the Opinion of April Connell, NPC
To be found disabled, Plaintiff had to demonstrate that she was unable to
engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of a medically determinable
physical or mental impairment expected to result in death or to last twelve or more
continuous months. See 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505. At step
two, the ALJ had to determine whether Plaintiff had a medically determinable
impairment or combination of impairments that is “severe.” 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(c), 416.920(c). An impairment or combination of impairments is “severe”
within the meaning of the regulations if it significantly limits an individual’s ability
to perform basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). An impairment or
combination of impairments is “not severe” when medical and other evidence
establishes only a slight abnormality or a combination of slight abnormalities which
would have no more than a minimal effect on an individual’s ability to work. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1521, 416.921; Social Security Ruling(s) (“SSR”s) 85-28. The burden
of showing that an impairment or combination of impairments is “severe” rested at
all times with Elrod, as the Plaintiff. Turner v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 182 Fed. App’x
946, 948 (11th Cir. 2006) (citing Jones v. Apfel, 190 F.3d 1224, 1228 (11th Cir. 1999)).
Because Plaintiff bore the burden of proving she had a severe impairment, she thus
had the burden of establishing the prerequisite for finding a severe impairment, i.e.,
the existence of a medically determinable impairment. See Doughty, 245 F.3d at 1280.
The record must include evidence from acceptable medical sources to
establish the existence of a medically determinable impairment. See 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(5)(A); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1513(a), 416.913(a) (“An individual's statement as
to pain or other symptoms shall not alone be conclusive evidence of disability … ;
there must be medical … findings, established by medically acceptable clinical or
laboratory diagnostic techniques, which show the existence of a medical impairment
that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities ….”); see
also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1502 (defining symptoms, signs, and laboratory findings).
Here, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had several severe impairments:
“obesity, lumbar degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome,
obstructive sleep apnea, and asthma.” (Tr. 18.) However, the ALJ found that none
of these impairments or combination of impairments met or medically equaled the
severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix
1. (Tr. 20.) Based on the determinations that the Plaintiff did not have an impairment
or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of
the qualifying impairments, the Plaintiff’s RFC, and the finding that there were jobs
in significant numbers in the national economy that the Plaintiff could perform, the
ALJ determined that the Plaintiff has not been under a disability since her amended
alleged onset date of June 28, 2018. (Tr. 20-27.)
Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ’s assessment of NP April Connell’s opinion is
not supported by substantial evidence and that rejection of her opinion warrants
development of the record with further opinion evidence. (Doc. 13 at 12-16.) For the
reasons set forth below, Plaintiff’s argument fails.
New regulations came into effect in 2017, which govern this case. These new
regulations provide revised instructions to the ALJ for evaluating medical opinions.
For claims filed after March 27, 2017, 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520c and 416.920c declare
that the ALJ “will not defer or give any specific evidentiary weight, including
controlling weight, to any medical opinion(s) or prior administrative medical
finding(s).” Instead, the ALJ will consider supportability, consistency, relationship
with the claimant, length of the treatment relationship, frequency of examinations,
purpose of the treatment relationship, extent of the treatment relationship,
examining relationship specialization, and other factors in evaluating medical
opinions and prior administrative medical findings, with the most important factors
being supportability and consistency. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520c, 416.920c. While the
ALJ must explain the role of the supportability and consistency factors in evaluating
the opinion of a medical source or administrative medical finding, he is not required
to do the same for the other factors. Id. Additionally, the ALJ is not required to
explain how he considered each medical opinion or prior administrative medical
finding from one medical source individually when making his determination. Id.
Here, the ALJ evaluated three medical opinions in making his determination,
those of Robert Estock, M.D., Thomas G. Amason, M.D., and April Connell, NPC.
(Tr. 24, 99, 103, 944.) The ALJ found Dr. Estock’s opinion that Plaintiff had mild
mental limitations persuasive, Dr. Amason’s opinion that Plaintiff could perform
work at the medium exertional level “somewhat persuasive,” and Connell’s opinion
that Plaintiff would be unable to perform “low stress” jobs, could sit for only twenty
minutes, could stand for fifteen minutes, needed unscheduled breaks, and required
for her legs to be elevated half of the workday not persuasive. (Tr. 24.)
Plaintiff argues that while the ALJ was correct to discount Dr. Amason’s
opinion, he should not have given it favorable weight at all due to the difference
between medium and sedentary work. (Doc. 13 at 15.) Plaintiff also contends that the
ALJ erred in rejecting Ms. Connell’s opinion because the ALJ improperly omitted
evidence that supported Ms. Connell’s opinion regarding leg elevation. (Id. at 1516.) Dr. Amason’s opinion indicated that Plaintiff could occasionally lift or carry fifty
pounds, could frequently lift or carry twenty-five pounds, could sit, stand, or walk
for about six hours during an eight-hour workday, and could frequently climb
ramps/stairs, balance, and stoop. (Tr. at 100.) In contrast, Ms. Connell’s opinion
indicated that Plaintiff could not lift more than ten pounds, could not sit for more
than twenty minutes at one time or stand for more than fifteen minutes at one time,
could never stoop and could only rarely climb stairs, would need an unscheduled
break every hour throughout an eight-hour workday, and would need to elevate her
legs 50% of the time during an eight-hour workday. (Tr. at 993-95.)
In regard to both opinions, the ALJ was required to explain only the
supportability and consistency factors and did not have a duty to provide anything
further. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520c, 416.920c. The ALJ explained that Dr. Amason’s
opinion was “only somewhat persuasive because it is inconsistent with the medical
records as a whole and the evidence received subsequent to that determination.”
(Tr. 24.) Dr. Amason’s opinion was dated August 7, 2019, and an MRI from October
2019 showed “minimal lower facet [degenerative joint disease], borderline disc
signal change at 4/5 without height loss and very tiny central bulge.” (Tr. 104, 944.)
The ALJ also described a polysomnography from October 2019 that confirmed
Plaintiff’s severe obstructive sleep apnea diagnosis. (Tr. 23, 958-59.) This evidence
was not considered by Dr. Amason, and the ALJ adjusted the RFC from Dr.
Amason’s recommended medium exertion level to sedentary to account for
limitations presented by these subsequent findings. (Tr. 23-24.)
The ALJ explained that he found the opinion of Nurse Practitioner Connell to
be unpersuasive “because it is not consistent with her correlative treatment records,
or the treatment records from other medical sources” and added that “the objective
medical evidence contains no medical restriction of the claimant’s functioning at any
time in the relevant period.” (Tr. 24.) The ALJ pointed to two pieces of medical
evidence as examples that supported his conclusion: a May 2019 examination in
which the plaintiff reported “no irregular heartbeat, no shortness of breath, no
hematuria, no joint swelling, no limitation in range of motion, and no lymph node
enlargement” and the October 2019 MRI discussed above that “showed only
minimal lower facet degenerative joint disease, borderline disc signal change at 4/5
without height loss and very fine central bulge.” (Tr. at 24, 860, 944.)
Elsewhere in his opinion, the ALJ also cited an echocardiogram that from May
18, 2018, which showed largely normal findings and only “mild concentric left
ventricular hypertrophy” and a “mildly dilated” left atrium. (Tr. 23, 750-51.) The
ALJ also noted a February 2019 follow-up office visit with Dr. Adam F. Shaw after
her carpal tunnel release. (Tr. 24, 758-60.) Dr. Shaw’s exam notes state that “her
carpal tunnel incisions [are] well-healed” with “no tenderness to palpation
throughout musculature,” and Dr. Shaw also described Plaintiff as “neurovascularly
intact distally.” (Id.) Dr. Shaw’s exam also revealed a “dorsal wrist ganglion cyst,”
but after discussing treatment options, Plaintiff declined and opted to use a brace
that she had to rest it. (Id.) The ALJ also noted that Plaintiff received epidural
injections for pain management in October 2018 and November 2019. (Tr. 23-24,
761-63, 939-40.) Finally, the ALJ also discussed a CT scan that identified no
pulmonary thromboembolism, found that “[m]ild heterogeneity in the peripheral
pulmonary arteries is likely artifactual,” and further revealed normal heart size, no
aortic aneurysm or dissection, no significant adenopathy within the chest, no pleural
effusion, no acute osseous abnormality, and no evidence of pneumonia. (Tr. 23, 947.)
Ultimately, the impression described no acute findings. (Id.) Based on this evidence,
the ALJ could properly find that Nurse Practioner Connell’s assessment of
Plaintiff’s limitations is inconsistent with the medical record and unsupported by
medical evidence in accordance with 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520c and 416.920c.
Despite the ALJ’s use of evidence in making his assessment, Plaintiff still
contends that the ALJ erred in rejecting Nurse Practitioner Connell’s opinion
because the ALJ improperly omitted evidence that supported her opinion regarding
leg elevation. (Doc. 13 at 16.) However, even though Nurse Practitioner Connell
recommended that Plaintiff elevate her legs 50% of the time during an eight-hour
workday in her RFC questionnaire, she indicated in her treatment records that there
were other methods Plaintiff could use to alleviate her symptoms, including
increasing water intake and reducing salt in her diet, working on diet and weight loss,
and taking medication as needed. (Tr. at 930, 992-95). The ALJ also cited other
evidence that undermined Ms. Connell’s opinion about leg elevation, including an
unremarkable physical examination, no limitation in the range of motion, and an MRI
that demonstrated only minimal lower facet degenerative joint disease. (Tr. at 24.)
This evidence, combined with the inconsistencies in the treatment record, show that
the ALJ did not improperly omit evidence regarding Ms. Connell’s opinion on leg
elevation. Furthermore, even if the ALJ had not cited such evidence, the ALJ is “not
required to articulate how [he] considered each medical opinion…from one medical
source individually.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520c(b)(1), 416.920c(b)(1). The ALJ
properly evaluated Ms. Connell’s opinion in accordance with his duty.
Plaintiff also contends that the ALJ failed to fully develop the record after
rejecting both opinions. (Doc. 13 at 16.) It is true that the ALJ “has a basic duty to
develop a full and fair record.” Ellison v. Barnhart, 355 F.3d 1272, 1276 (11th Cir.
2003). When an ALJ lacks sufficient evidence to make an informed decision, a court
may remand for further development of the record. Palmore v. Colvin, 4:13-CV00322-MHH, 2014 WL 3543701, at *3-4 (N.D. Ala. July 15, 2014) (discussing Castle
v. Colvin, 557 Fed. Appx. 849, 853 (11th Cir. 2014) and citing Manso-Pizarro v. Sec’y
of Health and Human Servs., 76 F.3d 15, 19 (1st Cir. 1996) and McCright v. Colvin,
2014 WL 1513290 (N.D. Ala. April 11, 2014)). But the plaintiff “bears the burden of
proving that he is disabled, and, consequently, he is responsible for producing
evidence in support of his claim.” Ellison, 355 F.3d at 1276; see also 20 C.F.R. §
416.912(a). “It is not unreasonable to require the [plaintiff], who is in a better
position to provide information about his own medical condition, to do so.” Bowen
v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987). Just because the ALJ found Nurse
Practitioner Connell’s opinion to be unpersuasive does not mean that he was
required to seek out other evidence to support his opinion, and if Plaintiff wanted
him to consider other evidence, then she had the burden to produce it. 20 C.F.R. §
In short, the ALJ had sufficient evidence to evaluate Dr. Amason’s opinion
and to reject Ms. Connell’s opinion, and he did not err by declining to further
develop the record. For these reasons, Plaintiff’s argument fails.
B. The ALJ’s Evaluation of Plaintiff’s Subjective Complaints
Plaintiff’s subjective complaints alone are insufficient to establish a disability.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1529(a), 416.926(a); Edwards v. Sullivan, 937 F.2d 580, 584
(11th Cir. 1991). Subjective testimony of pain and other symptoms may establish the
presence of a disabling impairment if it is supported by medical evidence. See Foote
v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1561 (11th Cir. 1995). The Eleventh Circuit applies a twopart pain standard when a plaintiff claims disability due to pain or other subjective
symptoms. The plaintiff must show evidence of the underlying medical condition
and either (1) objective medical evidence that confirms the severity of the alleged
symptoms arising from the condition, or (2) that the objectively determined medical
condition is of such a severity that it can reasonably be expected to give rise to the
alleged symptoms. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1529(a), (b), 416.929(a), (b); Social
Security Ruling (“SSR”) 16-3p, 2016 WL 1119029; Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d
1219, 1225 (11th Cir. 2002).
If the first part of the pain standard is satisfied, the ALJ then evaluates the
intensity and persistence of Plaintiff’s alleged symptoms and their effect on his
ability to work. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1529(c), 416.929(c); Wilson, 284 F.3d at
1225−26. In evaluating the extent to which the Plaintiff’s symptoms, such as pain,
affect his capacity to perform basic work activities, the ALJ will consider (1) objective
medical evidence, (2) the nature of Plaintiff’s symptoms, (3) the Plaintiff’s daily
activities, (4) precipitating and aggravating factors, (5) the effectiveness of
medication, (6) treatment sought for relief of symptoms, (7) any measures the
Plaintiff takes to relieve symptoms, and (8) any conflicts between a Plaintiff’s
statements and the rest of evidence. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1529(c)(3), (4),
416.929(c)(3), (4); SSR 16-3p. In order to discredit Plaintiff’s statements, the ALJ
must clearly “articulate explicit and adequate reasons.” See Dyer, 395 F.3d at 1210.
A credibility determination is a question of fact subject only to limited review
in the courts to ensure the finding is supported by substantial evidence. See Hand v.
Heckler, 761 F.2d 1545, 1548−49 (11th Cir. 1985), vacated for rehearing en banc, 774
F.2d 428 (11th Cir. 1985), reinstated sub nom., Hand v. Bowen, 793 F.2d 275 (11th Cir.
1986). Courts in the Eleventh Circuit will not disturb a clearly articulated finding
supported by substantial evidence. Mitchell v. Comm’r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 771 F.3d
780, 782 (11th Cir. 2014). However, a reversal is warranted if the decision contains
no indication of the proper application of the pain standard. “The question is not . .
. whether [the] ALJ could have reasonably credited [Plaintiff’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).
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in evaluating her subjective complaints
because his assessment was unsupported by substantial evidence. (Doc. 13 at 16-18.)
Specifically, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ failed to explain how Plaintiff’s
subjective complaints resulted in the ALJ’s decision to lower the RFC from medium
to sedentary. (Doc. 15 at 2.) However, Plaintiff’s claim fails for several reasons.
First, in following the two-step process, the ALJ thoroughly reviewed the
medical evidence, both relating to the symptoms she suffered from and how those
symptoms might be treated. (Tr. at 22-25.) Furthermore, as discussed above, the
ALJ also specifically explained that the October 2019 MRI and polysomnography
that were conducted after Dr. Amason rendered his opinion influenced his decision
to reject Dr. Amason’s medium exertion determination in favor of an RFC at the
sedentary exertional level. (Tr. 23-24).
The ALJ, however, also clearly considered Plaintiff’s subjective complaints.
Nurse Practitioner Connell’s evaluation indicated that Plaintiff lived a “very very
sedentary” lifestyle, and Plaintiff claimed that she “does not get out and do much
because of her pain.” (Tr. 871.) Plaintiff’s subjective complaints, along with the
medical evidence and opinions of medical professionals informed the ALJ’s decision
to reduce Plaintiff’s RFC. In doing so, the ALJ also included a limitation allowing
use of an assistive device for walking greater than ten feet at one time. (Tr. 22.)
However, the medical evidence indicates that she was never prescribed an assistive
device and uses one only occasionally, if she uses one at all. (Tr. 103, 994.) The only
substantial evidence that Plaintiff uses a walker is from her testimony. (Tr. 51-52.)
The ALJ considered both medical evidence and Plaintiff’s substantive complaints in
making his determination. The Court finds that substantial evidence supports the
ALJ’s decision, and Plaintiff’s claim therefore fails.
Upon review of the administrative record, and considering Plaintiff’s
argument, this Court finds the Commissioner’s decision is supported by substantial
evidence and in accord with the applicable law. A separate order will be entered.
DONE and ORDERED on August 1, 2022.
L. Scott Coogler
United States District Judge
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