Berzett v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Inge P Johnson on 1/10/13. (ASL)
2013 Jan-10 PM 03:32
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
COLEMAN S. BERZETT,
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE,
Commissioner of the Social
The plaintiff appeals from the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
denying his application for supplemental security income. The case is now properly
before the court. See 42 U.S.C. § 405.
At the time of the hearing before the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), the
plaintiff was 24 years old, having been born January 26, 1986, and had a GED and
a few college classes. (R. 32). Plaintiff alleges he became disabled on August 19,
2008 (R. 34, 134). The ALJ found plaintiff has the severe impairments of bipolar
disorder, schizoaffective disorder, and a history of substance abuse (R. 15). The ALJ
specifically considered whether the plaintiff met the requirements of Listing 12.04 or
12.09, and found that he did not (Id.). The ALJ concluded that the plaintiff had the
residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels,
with the moderate limitations in plaintiff’s mental residual functional capacity (R.
16). The ALJ specifically found that plaintiff could be expected to be able to
understand, remember, and carry out short simple instructions, but would likely have
difficulty with more detailed tasks and instructions (Id.). Plaintiff could be expected
to be able to maintain attention and concentration for 2 hours with all customary rest
breaks, and a well spaced work environment would be best for maximum
concentration (Id.). Plaintiff would likely miss no more than 1 or 2 days per month
due to psychological symptoms (Id.). Plaintiff’s contact with the public should be
infrequent and non intensive with tactful, constructive, and non threatening
Changes in plaintiff’s workplace should be infrequent and
gradually introduced (Id.).
Based on these limitations and vocational expert
testimony, the ALJ determined plaintiff could perform his past relevant work as a
warehouse worker, as well as other jobs available in significant numbers in the
national economy (R. 20-21, 57-62). The ALJ concluded that the plaintiff was not
disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act (R. 21).
The 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, 91 S. Ct. 1420, 28 L. Ed. 843 (1971);
Lamb v. Bowen, 847 F.2d 698, 701 (11th Cir.1988). The Court may not decide facts,
reweigh evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. See
Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir.1983). However, this limited
scope does not render affirmance automatic,
for “despite [this] deferential standard for review of claims . . . [the]
Court must scrutinize [the] record in its entirety to determine
reasonableness of the decision reached.” Bridges v. Bowen, 815 F.2d
622 (11th Cir. 1987).
Lamb, 847 F.2d at 701. Moreover, failure to apply the correct legal standards is
grounds for reversal. See Bowen v. Heckler, 748 F.2d 629, 634 (11th Cir.1984).
The plaintiff argues that the final decision of the Commissioner is deficient
because the attorney for the plaintiff wanted the plaintiff’s mother to testify as a
witness to the impact of the plaintiff’s severe medical problems on his ability to
engage in substantial gainful work activity and that the ALJ failed to correctly apply
the treating physician rule to the facts of this case. Although the ALJ did not allow
the plaintiff’s mother to testify, a statement of plaintiff’s mother regarding plaintiff’s
condition was part of the record (R. 151-158). The court, therefore, finds that
plaintiff’s mother’s statement was presented to the ALJ for consideration and there
was no error.
Plaintiff’s additional claim of error centers on a statement by Dr. Karis Knight
that plaintiff “is not capable of working full-time because work stress would cause
physical decompensation, which would exacerbate his fragile mental state” (R. 263).
This statement appears to be made in a letter to plaintiff’s attorney on May 4, 2010
(See id.). The weight afforded a physician’s opinion on the nature and severity of a
claimant’s impairments depends upon the physician’s examining and treating
relationship with the claimant, the evidence the physician presents to support his
opinion, how consistent the opinion is with the record as a whole, the physician’s
specialty, and other factors. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(d). Generally, a treating
physician’s opinion is entitled to more weight, and an ALJ must give good reasons
for rejecting it. See id. § 416.927(d)(2). However, the opinion of a physician, even a
treating physician, may be discounted when not supported by objective medical signs
and diagnostic testing or if inconsistent with the record. See id. § 416.927(d);
Crawford v. Comm’r, 363 F.3d 1155, 1159-60 (11th Cir. 2004); Phillips v. Comm’r,
357 F.3d 1232, 1240-41 (2004).
In this case treatment notes from Dr. Karis Knight reflect that plaintiff
improved shortly after beginning treatment in March 2008 (See R. 206-215, 245-262).
On July 8, 2008, the month prior to his alleged disability onset, plaintiff reported
feeling “alright” (R. 212). He reported that he had down days and did not go out
much because he did not have a car, but stated it was a good day and he was having
more good days (R. 212-213). On September 16, 2008, plaintiff was “definitely
feeling better” (R. 214). He was “watch[ing] TV and stuff” to keep busy, since he
had not gotten his driver’s license back yet and was not getting out much (R. 214).
By December 15, 2008, plaintiff successfully took the driver’s license tests, and was
driving and getting out more (R. 255). His sleep and mood were noted to be “pretty
good” (R. 255). He stated that he still had thoughts about people watching and
talking about him, but he was realizing this was not the case (R. 255).
By February 24, 2009, plaintiff was job hunting (Tr. 255). He was “doing
alright” and getting out more (R. 255). He was less nervous; his mood, sleep, and
depression had improved; and he denied psychosis (R. 255). While plaintiff reported,
on May 21, 2009, not doing much and tiring easily, he was working with vocational
rehabilitation to get a job (R. 258). On May 26, 2009, he reported that things were
going “great” and his medications were working well (R. 259). Plaintiff’s mood was
pretty good, and he stayed busy when he could “hang out” with friends (R. 259). On
July 20, 2009, his anxiety and paranoia were better, and his sleep was satisfactory (R.
260). Plaintiff continued to job hunt (R. 260). On September 21, 2009, Plaintiff
denied having problems with depression, delusions, or hallucinations, and reported
that he had a job interview (R. 261). Otherwise, he was “just hanging out mostly” and
enjoyed watching football (R. 261). Plaintiff reported having a good holiday season
when he was seen again on January 13, 2010 (R. 261). His mood was good, though
he was frustrated with the lack of available jobs (R. 261-262). He enjoyed watching
football, hanging out with his friends, playing video games, and watching television
As the ALJ concluded, Dr. Knight’s treatment records, in contradiction to his
May 4, 2010 statement, support a finding that, as of his alleged disability onset date
and thereafter, plaintiff did not have disabling limitations (R. 18). See 20 C.F.R. §
416.1529(c)(3)(iv); Harwell v. Heckler, 735 F. 2d 1292, 1293 (11th Cir. 1984); see
also Stout v. Shalala, 988 F.2d 853, 855 (8th Cir. 1986) (“If an impairment can be
controlled by treatment or medication, it cannot be considered disabling.”). In so
finding the ALJ also considered the opinion of consultative examiner Dr. Jon Rogers
(R. 19, 221-226). Upon examining plaintiff, psychologist Dr. Rogers noted he was
appropriately dressed and groomed, with an alert expression and average motor
activity (R. 223). Though plaintiff’s mood was anxious, he conversed normally,
performed serial 7 calculations, and solved math problems (R. 223). He repeated 5
digits forward and 4 backwards, and Dr. Rogers found his general knowledge
adequate (R. 223). Dr. Rogers assessed that Plaintiff’s thought processes were
normal, and his insight and judgment were fair to poor (R. 223). He found plaintiff’s
effort, motivation, and cooperation during the evaluation to be marginal, as he was
evasive about his substance abuse history and arrest record (R. 223, 225). Plaintiff
told Dr. Rogers that treatment has helped him be more stable and that he feels “all
right on medications” (R. 221, 223). Dr. Rogers diagnosed plaintiff as having bipolar
disorder, mixed (R. 224). He assessed that plaintiff’s mental impairment was
moderate (R. 225). Dr. Rogers’ opinion is substantial evidence supporting the ALJ’s
RFC finding (R. 16, 221-226). See 20 C.F.R. § 416.929(c)(2), (3).
The findings of Dr. Rogers and the ALJ are also supported by plaintiff’s daily
activities (R. 16-19). See 20 C.F.R. § 416.929(c)(3). Although plaintiff’s parents pay
his bills, he lives independently in a trailer on their property (R. 31-33). He cleans
his home, mows the yard, and goes shopping for groceries and clothes (R. 47, 50,
161, 163-164). He has no problems with personal care and, as reflected in Dr.
Knight’s treatment records, he drives, watches television and football, and plays
video games (Tr. 33, 46, 165, 211, 213-214, 261-262).
Without redeciding the facts or reweighing the evidence, this court can find no
basis upon which to reverse the decision of the ALJ. See e.g., Martin v. Sullivan, 894
F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990). Accordingly, the decision of the Commissioner of
the Social Security Administration will be affirmed by separate order.
Done, this 10th day of January 2013.
INGE PRYTZ JOHNSON
U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
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