Vinzant v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DISMISSING CASE that the Commissioner's final decision is AFFIRMED and costs are taxed to claimant as more fully set out in order. Signed by Judge C Lynwood Smith, Jr on 3/6/2014. (AHI )
2014 Mar-07 AM 09:06
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
) CIVIL ACTION NO. 5:12-CV-0843) CLS
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,
Acting Commissioner of Social Security, )
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff, Jonathan Vinzant, brings this action pursuant to the provisions of 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner of the
Social Security Administration (the Commissioner) denying his application for a period of
disability, disability insurance benefits, and Supplemental Security Income. Vinzant timely
pursued and exhausted his administrative remedies available before the Commissioner.
Accordingly, this case is now ripe for judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Based on the
court’s review of the record and the briefs submitted by the parties, the court finds that the
decision of the Commissioner is due to be affirmed.
I. STANDARD OF REVIEW
The sole function of this court is to determine whether the decision of the
Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence and whether proper legal standards were
applied. Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983). To that end this court
“must scrutinize the record as a whole to determine if the decision reached is reasonable and
supported by substantial evidence.” Id. (citations omitted). Substantial evidence is “such
relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Id. This court may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute its judgment
for that of the Commissioner. Id. Even if the court finds that the evidence preponderates
against the Commissioner’s decision, the court must affirm if the decision is supported by
substantial evidence. Id.
Unlike the deferential review standard applied to the Commissioner’s factual findings,
the Commissioner’s conclusions of law are not presumed to be valid. Martin v. Sullivan, 894
F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990). Therefore, the Commissioner’s “failure to apply the
correct law or to provide the reviewing court with sufficient reasoning for determining that
the proper legal analysis has been conducted mandates reversal.” Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936
F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991). This includes the Commissioner’s application of the
proper legal standards in evaluating Vinzant’s claim. Martin, 894 F.2d at 1529.
II. STATUTORY AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK
To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must be unable “to engage in any
substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental
impairment 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 . . . .”
§§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). A “physical or mental impairment” is defined as “an
impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which
are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 42
U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(3), 1382c(a)(3)(D).
Social Security regulations outline a five-step process that is used to determine
whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v), 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v). The
Commissioner must determine in sequence:
whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful
whether the claimant has a severe impairment or combination of
whether the claimant’s impairment meets or equals the severity of an
impairment in the Listing of Impairments;1
whether the claimant can perform any of his or her past work; and
whether there are significant numbers of jobs in the national economy
that the claimant can perform.
Winschel v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec, 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011). The evaluation
process continues until the Commissioner can determine whether the claimant is disabled.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). A claimant who is doing substantial gainful
activity will be found not disabled at step one. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 (a)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i).
A claimant who does not have a severe impairment will be found not disabled at step two.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). A claimant with an impairment that meets
The Listing of Impairments, (“Listings”) found at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1, are used to make determinations of disability based upon the presence of
impairments that are considered sufficiently severe to prevent a person from doing any
gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1525.
or equals one in the Listing of Impairments will be found disabled at step three. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii).
Prior to considering steps four and five, the Commissioner must assess the claimant’s
residual functional capacity (RFC), which will be used to determine the claimant’s ability to
work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). A claimant who can perform past relevant
work will be found not disabled at step four. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv),
416.920(a)(4)(iv). At step five the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show other work the
claimant can perform. Foot v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1559 (11th Cir. 1995). To satisfy this
burden the Commissioner must produce evidence of work in the national economy that the
claimant can perform based on the claimant’s RFC, age, education, and work experience. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1512(f), 416.912(f). A claimant who can perform other work will be found not
disabled at step five. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920 (a)(4)(v). A claimant who
cannot perform other work will be found disabled. Id.
In the present case, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) determined Vinzant was not
engaged in substantial gainful activity, and found he had the severe impairments of
“degenerative disc disease of the lumbosacral spine; degenerative joint disease of the left
knee; uncontrolled insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, type II; hypertension; obesity;
anxiety; depression; and a personality disorder with avoidant features.”R. 16. The ALJ
concluded Vinzant did not suffer from a listed impairment. R. 17. The ALJ found Vinzant
had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform a reduced range of light work. The
ALJ found Vinzant
can occasionally lift and carry ten pounds and frequently lift and carry twenty
pounds; he can sit six to eight hours in an eight-hour workday with normal
breaks; he can frequently push and/or pull foot controls with the left lower
extremity; he must not climb ropes, ladders or stairs; he can occasionally
crawl; he must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold and vibration; he
must avoid all unprotected heights and hazardous machinery; he can
understand and remember simple and some detailed instructions, but not
complex instructions; he is able to sustain attention and concentration for twohour periods in order to complete a regular workday at an acceptable pace and
attendance schedule; he can occasionally interact with coworkers and
supervisors, but he is restricted from public interaction at the workplace; and
he should be able to respond to simple and infrequent changes in the
R. 18. With this RFC, the ALJ found Vinzant unable to perform his past relevant work. R.
When a claimant is not able to perform the full range of work at a particular exertional
level, the Commissioner may not exclusively rely on the Medical-Vocational Guidelines
(“the grids”) to establish the presence of other jobs at step five.2 Foote, 67 F.3d at 1558-59.
The presence of a non-exertional impairment (such as pain, fatigue, or mental illness) also
prevents exclusive reliance on the grids. Id. at 1559. In such cases “the [Commissioner] must
seek expert vocational testimony.” Id. Based on Vinzant’s RFC and the testimony of a
vocational expert (VE), the ALJ found Vinzant could perform other work in the national
The Medical-Vocational Guidelines, 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 residual functional capacity when the claimant is unable to perform his
vocationally relevant past work. 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2, § 200.00(a).
Such determinations, however, are only conclusive when all of the criteria of a particular
rule are met. 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2, § 200.00(a).
economy. R. 23, 53-56. Therefore, the ALJ found he was not disabled at step five of the
sequential evaluation framework. R. 24.
III. FACTUAL BACKGROUND
Vinzant filed applications for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) on June 30, 2009, alleging he became disabled on
January 3, 2009. R. 14. Vinzant was 36 years old at the time of the ALJ’s decision. R. 23.
He has a high school education, and past relevant work as a construction worker and an
electrician’s helper. R. 23. Vinzant testified he is disabled due to pain in his back, legs,
shoulder and neck; diabetes; and symptoms of mental illness. R. 44-47.
The first treatment note in the record after Vinzant’s alleged onset date is from an
inpatient psychiatric admission at Decatur General Hospital in June 2009. R. 247. The
discharge summary shows Vinzant was admitted on June 25, 2009, with no prior psychiatric
history. R. 247. The reason for admission was as follows:
Patient has had severe back pain since the age of 12. Because he does not have
insurance, he has never been fully evaluated for pain. Now, he is having severe
pain in the back, shoulder, and legs. Because of the pain, he has not been able
to keep his job and he has been having financial problems. He feels hopeless
and he has been having suicidal ideation.
R. 247. His urine drug screen was positive for marijuana. R. 247. During his stay Vinzant
was given Celexa for depression and ibuprofen for pain. R. 247. His pain continued
throughout his hospital stay, but “his mood improved to the point of feeling not depressed
and not suicidal” at the time he was discharged. R. 247. Vinzant’s discharge diagnosis on
Axis I was “Depressive disorder, not otherwise specified; marijuana and alcohol abuse; and
anxiety disorder not otherwise specified.” R. 247. Vinzant was assessed a GAF score of 45.3
Following his discharge, Vinzant began seeing Dr. Thomas E. Lockard, a primary care
physician. On June 30, 2009, Dr. Lockard noted Vinzant’s diabetes was not well controlled.
R. 252. Dr. Lockard increased his diabetes medications. R. 252. His Celexa prescription was
also increased to treat his depression. R. 252. Dr. Lockard prescribed Naprosyn and Darvocet
for Vinzant’s chronic knee pain. R. 252.
On July 13, 2009, Dr. Lockard noted he had refused a phone request for Lortab. R.
251. His note states that he would not be doing chronic pain management. R. 251. Dr.
Lockard reviewed x-rays of Vinzant’s back and knee from his chiropractor’s office. Dr.
Lockard found the disk space was well maintained in Vinzant’s back, but stated he might
have “a mild degenerative disk disease at L5, S1.” R. 251. Dr. Lockard found Vinzant’s left
knee x-ray revealed “a little bit of osteoarthritic changes.” R. 251. Dr. Lockard gave Vinzant
a prescription for Lortab, and added Klonopin for treatment of his depression and anxiety.
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 Edition, Text Revision) (“DSM-IV-TR”). A GAF of 41-50 indicates:
“Serious symptoms (e.g., suicidal ideation, severe obsessional rituals, frequent
shoplifting) or any serious impairment in social, occupational, or school functioning
(e.g., no friends, unable to keep a job).” DSM-IV at 32 (emphasis in original).
On August 10, 2009, Vinzant’s mother saw Dr. Lockard, and reported he was still
having back pain and a lot of depression. R. 250. Dr. Lockard added a prescription for
Seroquel to treat Vinzant’s depression. R. 250.
Vinzant saw Dr. Lockard on September 18, 2009, complaining that his back pain and
depression were not any better. R. 249. Dr. Lockard also found Vinzant’s diabetes was not
well controlled. R. 249. His prescriptions were adjusted. R. 249.
On November 12, 2009, Vinzant returned to Dr. Lockard with elevated blood sugar
levels and high blood pressure. R. 356. Dr. Lockard did not think Vinzant was following his
diabetic diet. R. 356. Dr. Lockard noted Vinzant continued to complain of “generalized pain
all over,” but noted that he had “declined to give him pain medication.” R. 356. Dr.
Lockard’s note states: “I think a lot of his pain symptoms are coming from depression rather
than actual physical pain.” R. 356.
On January 18, 2010, Vinzant returned to Dr. Lockard for a checkup and medication
refills. R. 355. Dr. Lockard found Vinzant’s diabetes was not well controlled. R. 355. He also
added “[p]robable bipolar disorder” to Vinzant’s diagnoses. R. 355. He prescribed Lortab
7.5, two per day.
When Vinzant was seen on May 19, 2010, Dr. Lockard noted he still complained of
chronic pain. R. 354. Dr. Lockard gave him a prescriptions for Lortab 7.5, four per day, and
Xanax, each with three refills R. 354.
On July 19, 2010, Vinzant saw Dr. Lockard complaining of a spot on his leg, which
appeared to be a spider bite. R. 352. His medications were refilled. R. 352. A prescription for
Mobic was added after his visit. R. 350.
On October 20, 2010, Dr. Lockard found Vinzant’s diabetes was poorly controlled.
R. 349. His prescriptions were refilled, and his Lortab prescription was changed to Lortab
7.5, two per day. R. 349.
On January 20, 2011, Vinzant denied any problems, but needed refills of his
medications. R. 347. The note states his mother had taken him off Cymbalta, but started him
back because he was getting more depressed. R. 347.
On May 16, 2011, Vinzant returned for refills of his medicines, and reported he was
“doing okay.” R. 346. Vinzant’s Lortab prescription was changed to Lortab 10, two per day.
This is the last treatment note from Dr. Lockard in the record.
During the relevant time period, Vinzant was also seen by a nurse practitioner at the
Quality of Life clinic on April 22, 2010, for regulation of his diabetes and blood pressure.
R. 370. There are no physical exam notes, but his vital signs were recorded, which included
a pain score of 9/10. R. 371. On July 12, 2010, it was noted that diabetes medications had
been ordered through the patient assistance program, but that they had not arrived. R. 372.
On this date, Vinzant’s pain score was 0/10 and it was noted on examination that he exhibited
“[n]o unusual anxiety or depression.” R. 373. The diagnostic assessment was uncontrolled
diabetes. R. 373.
Vinzant was also treated from June 29 to September 30, 2009, by Dr. Sidney Sawyer,
a chiropractor. R. 256-297.
In addition to the treatment records, Vinzant underwent physical and mental
examinations at the request of the Social Security Administration. A consultative physical
disability examination was conducted by Dr. Marlin D. Gill on November 3, 2009. R. 299301. On musculoskeletal examination Dr. Gill found Vinzant’s gait was normal. R. 301.
Although Vinzant complained of pain with movement, his neck and back appeared normal,
and there was no tenderness. R. 301. Vinzant’s left knee showed a prominent tibial tuberosity
but otherwise looked normal.4 R. 301. There was no swelling or effusion. R. 301. Dr. Gill
found some crepitus with left knee movement. R. 301. Vinzant complained of pain with
movement of his left knee. R. 301. However, Dr. Gill made the following observation:
“Interestingly, when asked to squat from a standing position, he squats all the way down
without holding on balancing himself on the tiptoes. He can arise back up again with no
difficulty.” R. 301.
Vinzant underwent a consultative mental examination by Dr. Barry Wood, Ph.D., on
November 9, 2009. R. 303-06. Vinzant reported to Dr. Wood that he was fired from his most
recent job after two months “secondary to medical absenteeism (e.g., diabetes, skeletal pain,
ear pain).” R. 303-04. Prior to that job, Vinzant reported he had been employed by a
construction company for “perhaps six months,” when he was “fired secondary to
The tibial tuberosity “is a large oblong elevation on the proximal, anterior aspect
of the tibia, just below where the anterior surfaces of the lateral and medial tibial
condyles end.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tibial_tuberosity.
interpersonal complications.” R. 304. He reported that he had worked for another
construction company for “perhaps three months before he quit ‘. . . because they didn’t give
me a raise’ or words to that effect.” R. 304 (ellipsis in original).
Vinzant reported to Dr. Wood that he could stand for 20-30 minutes on most days and
was able to perform household chores, in limited increments, that included sweeping,
mopping, and vacuuming. R. 304. He reported he was able to take out small bags of trash and
prepare simple meals. R. 304.
Dr. Wood found Vinzant’s affect was constricted, and his mood was depressed. R.
305. He found Vinzant’s short-term and long-term memory were intact. R. 305. Dr. Wood
estimated Vinzant’s IQ was “within the Average range or high Low-Average range at
lowest.” R. 305.
Dr. Wood concluded Vinzant would be able to function independently and manage
financial benefits if awarded. R. 305. Dr. Wood opined Vinzant would be able to understand
instructions. R. 305. He opined Vinzant’s “residual mood symptoms and probable
personalogic deficits” would affect, but not preclude, his ability to recall instructions; follow
instructions; and to attend to tasks for at least two consecutive hours. R. 305. Dr. Wood
found Vinzant’s condition would “significantly impact his ability to interact with coworkers,
customers, and supervisors to a reasonable degree.” R. 305. Dr. Wood diagnosed Vinzant
with “Major Depressive Disorder With Anxiety, Recurrent, Moderate” and “Personality
Disorder NOS With Features of Avoidant Personality Disorder.” R. 306. He assessed
Vinzant with a GAF of 55.5 R. 306.
IV. ISSUES PRESENTED
Vinzant raises the following issues on appeal: 1) whether ALJ failed to properly
articulate good cause for according less weight to the opinions of his treating physician, and
2) whether the ALJ failed to properly evaluate his complaints of pain.
Vinzant argues the ALJ did not articulate good cause for giving less weight to the
opinion of Dr. Lockard, one of Vinzant’s treating physicians. Under the Commissioner’s
regulations, a treating physician’s opinion will be given controlling weight if it is well
supported and not inconsistent with other substantial evidence in the record.
If we find that a treating source’s opinion on the issue(s) of the nature and
severity of your impairment(s) is well-supported by medically acceptable
clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with the
other substantial evidence in your case record, we will give it controlling
20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2). In considering whether an ALJ has properly rejected a treating
physician’s opinion, this court is not without guidance. “The law of this circuit is clear that
the testimony of a treating physician must be given substantial or considerable weight unless
A GAF of 51-60 reflects: “Moderate symptoms (e.g., flat affect and
circumstantial speech, occasional panic attacks) OR moderate difficulty in social,
occupational, or school functioning (e.g., few friends, conflicts with peers or coworkers.)” DSM-IV-TR at 34 (emphasis in original).
“good cause” is shown to the contrary.” 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 records. Id. If a treating physician’s
opinion is rejected, the ALJ must clearly articulate the reasons for doing so. Id. (“The ALJ
must clearly articulate the reasons for giving less weight to the opinion of a treating
physician, and the failure to do so is reversible error.”)
The record contains two letters from Dr. Lockard expressing his opinion about
Vinzant’s condition. Dr. Lockard’s letter of January 29, 2010, contains the following:
Mr. Vinzant has been a patient of mine since he was admitted to Decatur
General West psychiatric facility for suicidal thoughts, suicidal attempt and
major depression. In my view, I think he has bipolar depression. I have been
treating him for such. His case appears to be fairly severe. In my opinion, I
doubt that he will be able to find gainful employment due to his significant
bipolar depression. He also complains of back pain which he states is
moderate to severe. I have been unable to work that up due to his financial
R. 335. On July 19, 2011, Dr. Lockard wrote the following:
Jonathan is a 36 year old male who has been a patient of mine since October
of 2005.6 During this time he has suffered from major depression and bipolar
disorder which are very difficult to control. He also has poorly controlled
diabetes, chronic back pain, and high blood pressure. Mr. Vinzant is on
multiple medications for both bipolar disorder and major depression as well as
for his diabetes and other medical problems. Due to his bipolar disorder and
major depression which has been very difficult to control, I feel like he is
unlikely to find any gainful employment.
Dr. Lockard’s earlier letter indicates he began seeing Vinzant following his
admission to the Decatur General West psychiatric facility in June 2009. R. 335. The first
treatment note from Doctor Lockard in the record is dated June 30, 2009. R. 252.
R 368. The ALJ considered Dr. Lockard’s opinions, but rejected them.
The ALJ noted that Dr. Lockard’s opinions concerning Vinzant’s ability to find
gainful employment concerned an issue that is reserved to the Commissioner. R. 22. The
regulations provide that opinions on issues reserved to the Commissioner are not medical
Opinions on some issues, such as the examples that follow, are not medical
opinions . . . but are, instead, opinions on issues reserved to the Commissioner
because they are administrative findings that are dispositive of a case; i.e., that
would direct the determination or decision of disability.
(1) Opinions that you are disabled. We are responsible for making the
determination or decision about whether you meet the statutory
definition of disability. In so doing, we review all of the medical
findings and other evidence that support a medical source's statement
that you are disabled. A statement by a medical source that you are
“disabled” or “unable to work” does not mean that we will determine
that you are disabled.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(d), 416.927(d)(1) (emphasis in original). Therefore, those portions
of Dr. Lockard’s letters were not medical opinions. See Denomme v. Commissioner, Social
Sec. Admin. 518 F. App’x 875, 878 (11th Cir. 2013) (finding doctor’s statement that
claimant’s condition would “likely prevent her from maintaining gainful employment” was
not a medical assessment) (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(d)(1), 416.927(d)(1)).
The ALJ also found Dr. Lockard’s opinions were vague and unsupported. R. 22. This
finding is supported by substantial evidence in the record. Although Dr. Lockard opined in
his letters that Vinzant would be unable to find gainful employment because of his
depression and bipolar disorder, the ALJ found his treatment notes “contain little objective
evidence supporting the alleged severity of [Vinzant’s] symptoms.” R. 19. A review of Dr.
Lockard’s treatment notes show that even though Dr. Lockard adjusted Vinzant’s
prescriptions for his mental conditions, there are no indications he conducted any mental
status examinations. Dr. Lockard’s treatment notes show that although he at one time
attributed most of Vinzant’s pain complaints to his depression, he subsequently prescribed
narcotic pain medications. R. 355-56. Dr. Lockard’s treatment notes also show that Vinzant
complained primarily about pain, and not depressive symptoms. Therefore, substantial
evidence supports the ALJ’s finding that Dr. Lockard’s treatment notes do not support his
opinions that Vinzant would be unable to sustain gainful employment.
The ALJ also found Dr. Lockard’s opinions were not supported by the consultative
mental exam and opinions of Dr. Wood. R. 22. Dr. Wood conducted a mental examination
of Vinzant and opined Vinzant’s mental symptoms would affect, but not preclude his ability
to follow instructions and attend to tasks for periods of two consecutive hours. R. 305.
Although Dr. Wood found Vinzant’s ability to interact with coworkers, customers, and
supervisors was significantly impacted, he did not opine this would prevent all work. R. 305.
Dr. Wood’s assessment of a GAF score indicating only mild symptoms also supports the
ALJ’s decision not to credit Dr. Lockard’s opinions. R. 306.
The opinions of Dr. Lockard are not bolstered his own treatment notes or by Dr.
Wood’s examination. Dr. Lockard’s opinion is also conclusory because it does not specify
how Vinzant’s mental symptoms prevent him from sustaining gainful employment.
Therefore, the ALJ articulated good cause supported by substantial evidence for his decision
to reject Dr. Lockard’s opinions.
Vinzant’s second argument is that the ALJ failed to properly evaluate his complaints
of pain. In this circuit a “pain standard” is applied “when a claimant attempts to establish
disability through his or her own testimony of pain or other subjective symptoms.” Foote
v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1562 (11th Cir. 1995). The standard requires a claimant to show
“evidence of an underlying medical condition and (1) objective medical evidence that
confirms the severity of the alleged pain arising from that condition or (2) that the
objectively determined medical condition is of such a severity that it can be reasonably
expected to give rise to the alleged pain.” Landry v. Heckler, 782 F. 2d 1551, 1553 (11th Cir.
1986). “[W]hether objective medical impairments could reasonably be expected to produce
the pain complained of is a question of fact . . . subject to review in the courts to see if it is
supported by substantial evidence.” Id.
“[A] claimant’s subjective testimony supported by medical evidence that satisfies the
standard is itself sufficient to support a finding of disability.” Holt v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d
1221, 1223 (11th Cir. 1991). “If the ALJ decides not to credit such testimony, he must
articulate explicit and adequate reasons for doing so.” Id. However, the ALJ’s credibility
determination need not cite “particular phrases or formulations” as long as it enables the
court to conclude that the ALJ considered the claimant’s medical condition as a whole.
Foote, 67 F.3d at 1562. “A clearly articulated credibility finding with substantial supporting
evidence in the record will not be disturbed by a reviewing court.” Id.
In the present case, the ALJ found Vinzant’s medically determinable impairments
could reasonably be expected to cause his alleged symptoms. R. 19. However, he found that
Vinzant’s allegations were not credible to the extent they were inconsistent with his RFC
finding. R. 19. The ALJ articulated a number of reasons for rejecting Vinzant’s testimony
of disabling symptoms.
The ALJ also found Vinzant’s reported daily activities were “not limited to the extent
one would expect given the complaints of disabling symptoms and limitations.” R. 21. The
ALJ cited Vinzant’s reports of “independently caring for his personal needs” and
“performing household chores in limited increments, such as sweeping, mopping, vacuuming
and taking out small bags of trash; preparing meals; playing the guitar; and watching
television,” which he found to be inconsistent with his allegations of disability. R. 21. See
Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1212 (11th Cir. 2005) (approving of ALJ’s reliance on
inconsistencies between claimant’s descriptions of diverse daily activities and her claims of
infirmity to discredit her testimony).
The ALJ also found Vinzant’s credibility was weakened because he had provided
inconsistent information regarding his daily activities. R. 21. The ALJ noted Vinzant had
told Dr. Wood that he was able “to take out small bags of trash, prepare meals like chicken
stew, and perform household chores in limited increments, such as sweeping, mopping, [and]
vacuuming.” R. 21. However, he noted Vinzant had reported on his function report that his
mother performed all of these activities on his behalf. R. 21. The ALJ found these
inconsistencies lead him to infer that Vinzant’s other statements might not be entirely
credible. R. 21-22.
The ALJ also considered Vinzant’s “generally unpersuasive testimony at the hearing”
as a factor in reaching his decision. R. 22. The ALJ specifically found Vinzant’s “description
of his mental symptoms was quite vague and general, lacking the specificity that might
otherwise make it more convincing.” R. 22. The ALJ cited as an example that Vinzant “was
unable to explain what problems he had that would affect his ability to work.” R. 22. At his
hearing, Vinzant was asked about his mental symptoms.
Do you also have mental symptoms that you think would keep you
Yeah. I’ve had that all my life. I ain’t never, ever held down a steady
Why not? What happens?
I can’t get along with people. I can’t work with nobody.
Why do you have trouble working with other people?
If I knew that I’d be a scientist. I don’t know.
But I mean what happens?
It just, I just, I don’t know. It’s a mental thing. I can’t explain it. I don’t
The Eleventh Circuit has held an “ALJ may consider the claimant’s demeanor among
other criteria in making credibility determinations.” Norris v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 1154, 1158
(11th Cir. 1985). The Norris court explained that
[o]n appellate review, we defer often to the district court’s findings based
upon his observation and assessment of a witness’s demeanor during trial.
Likewise, an ALJ is afforded an opportunity to consider a claimant’s
demeanor during his hearing. The ALJ, however, must not reject the objective
medical evidence and claimant’s testimony solely upon his observation during
the hearing; rather, the ALJ may consider a claimant’s demeanor among other
criteria in making credibility determinations.
Id. (emphasis added). The Norris court distinguished Freeman v. Schweiker, 681 F.2d 727,
731 (11th Cir 1982), which had prohibited “sit and squirm” jurisprudence. “In Freeman, we
did not intend to prohibit an ALJ from considering the claimant’s appearance and demeanor
during the hearing. Rather, an ALJ must not impose his observations in lieu of a
consideration of the medical evidence presented.” Norris 760 F.2d at 1158. In the present
case, the ALJ emphasized that the unpersuasive nature of Vinzant’s testimony was only one
observation among many that he used in deciding not to credit Vinzant’s allegations. R. 22.
The ALJ found that although Vinzant’s hospitalization for his mental illness would
ordinarily support Vinzant’s allegations about his symptoms, in the present case the records
lacked objective findings to provide such support. R. 20. The ALJ also found Vinzant’s
noncompliance with the recommended follow-up treatment suggests his mental impairments
might not have been as severe as he alleged.7 R. 20.
The discharge summary indicates Vinzant was to follow-up with the Morgan
County Mental Health Center for treatment. R. 247.
As required by the Eleventh Circuit pain standard, the ALJ articulated specific
reasons for discounting Vinzant’s testimony of disabling symptoms. Those reasons are
supported by substantial evidence. Because this court does not reweigh the evidence, there
is no reversible error in the ALJ’s credibility finding.
VI. CONCLUSION AND ORDER
The court concludes the ALJ’s determination that Vinzant is not disabled is supported
by substantial evidence, and that the ALJ applied the proper legal standards in arriving at this
decision. Accordingly, the Commissioner’s final decision is AFFIRMED. Costs are taxed to
claimant. The Clerk is directed to close this file.
DONE this 6th day of March, 2014.
United States District Judge
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