Lake v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn on 3/11/16. (SMH)
2016 Mar-11 PM 03:37
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
JAMES ONEAL LAKE,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting
Commissioner of Social Security,
CASE NO. 5:14-CV-1928-SLB
Plaintiff James Oneal Lake brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking
judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his
applications for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits [DIB], and supplemental
security income [SSI]. After review of the record, the parties’ submissions, and the relevant
law, the court is of the opinion that the Commissioner’s decision is due to be affirmed.
I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Mr. Lake filed an application for a period of disability and DIB on February 8, 2012,
and an application for SSI on March 16, 2012, alleging a disability onset date of January 27,
2012. (Doc. 8-6 at R.187, R.195.)1 The applications were denied on June 20, 2012. (Doc.
8-5 at R.108.) Thereafter, Mr. Lake requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
Reference to a document number, (“Doc. __”), refers to the number assigned to each
document as it is filed in the court’s record. References to page numbers in the
Commissioner’s record are set forth as (“R.__”).
[ALJ], which was held as a video hearing on March 18, 2013. (Doc. 8-3 at R.50; see doc.
8-5 at 120.) The ALJ found that Mr. Lake was capable of making a vocational adjustment
to other occupations, such as assembler, inspector, and box maker. (Doc. 8-3 at R.44.)
Therefore, he denied Mr. Lake’s applications for a period of disability, DIB, and SSI on May
17, 2013. (Id.)
Mr. Lake requested review of the ALJ’s decision by the Appeals Council. (See id. at
R.30.) The Appeals Council denied the request for review, stating that it “found no reason
under [its] rules to review the [ALJ’s] decision.” (Id. at 1.) Therefore, “the [ALJ’s] decision
is the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security in [Mr. Lake’s] case.” (Id.)
Mr. Lake filed an appeal in this court on October 9, 2014. (Doc. 1.)
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
In reviewing claims brought under the Social Security Act, this court’s role is a
narrow one: “Our review of the Commissioner’s decision is limited to an inquiry into
whether there is substantial evidence to support the findings of the Commissioner, and
whether the correct legal standards were applied.” Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221
(11th Cir. 2002); see also Lamb v. Bowen, 847 F.2d 698, 701 (11th Cir. 1988). The court
gives deference to factual findings. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145 (11th Cir.
1991). The court “may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its]
judgment for that of the [Commissioner], rather [it] must scrutinize the record as a whole to
determine if the decision reached is reasonable and supported by substantial evidence.”
Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990) (quoting Bloodsworth v. Heckler,
703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir.1983)) (internal quotations and other citation omitted). “The
Commissioner’s factual findings are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence.”
Wilson, 284 F.3d at 1221 (citing Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990);
Allen v. Bowen, 816 F.2d 600, 602 (11th Cir. 1987)). “Substantial evidence” is “more than
a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Winschel v. Commissioner of Social Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th
Cir. 2011) (internal quotations and citations omitted).
Conclusions of law made by the Commissioner are reviewed de novo. Cornelius, 936
F.2d at 1145. “No . . . presumption of validity attaches to the [Commissioner’s] conclusions
of law.” Wiggins v. Schweiker, 679 F.2d 1387, 1389 (11th Cir. 1982).
A. THE FIVE-STEP EVALUATION
The regulations require the Commissioner to follow a five-step sequential evaluation
to determine whether a claimant is eligible for a period of disability, DIB, and/or SSI. See
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(1)-(2); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(1)-(2); see Bowen v. City of New
York, 476 U.S. 467, 470 (1986). “[A]n individual shall be considered to be disabled for
purposes of [determining eligibility for DIB and SSI benefits] if he is 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.” 42 U.S.C.
§1382c(a)(3)(C)(1); see also 42 U.S.C. § 416(i)(1); 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).
The specific steps in the evaluation process are as follows:
1. Substantial Gainful Employment
First, the Commissioner must determine whether the claimant is engaged in
“substantial gainful activity.” Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 137 (1987). The regulations
define “substantial gainful activity” as “work activity that is both substantial and gainful.”2
20 C.F.R. § 404.1572; 20 C.F.R. § 416.972. If the claimant is working and that work is
substantial gainful activity, the Commissioner will find that the claimant is not disabled,
regardless of the claimant’s medical condition or his age, education, and work experience.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(b). “Under the first step, the claimant has the
The regulations state:
(a) Substantial work activity. Substantial work activity is work activity that
involves doing significant physical or mental activities. Your work may be
substantial even if it is done on a part-time basis or if you do less, get paid less,
or have less responsibility than when you worked before.
(b) Gainful work activity. Gainful work activity is work activity that you do
for pay or profit. Work activity is gainful if it is the kind of work usually done
for pay or profit, whether or not a profit is realized.
(c) Some other activities. Generally, we do not consider activities like taking
care of yourself, household tasks, hobbies, therapy, school attendance, club
activities, or social programs to be substantial gainful activity.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1572; 20 C.F.R. § 416.972.
burden to show that [he] is not currently engaged in substantial gainful activity.”
Reynolds-Buckley v. Commissioner of Social Sec., 457 Fed. Appx. 862, 863 (2012).3
The ALJ found that Mr. Lake had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since
January 27, 2012, the alleged onset date. (Doc. 8-3 at R.36.)
2. Severe Impairments
If the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the Commissioner must
next determine whether the claimant suffers from a severe impairment or combination of
impairments that significantly limits the claimant’s physical or mental ability to do basic
work activities. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), (c); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(ii), (c). “[A]
‘physical or mental impairment’ is 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); 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(D). The
regulations provide: “[I]f you do not have any impairment or combination of impairments
which significantly limits your physical or mental ability to do basic work activities, we will
find that you do not have a severe impairment and are, therefore, not disabled. We will not
consider your age, education, and work experience.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c); 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(c). “An impairment can be considered as not severe only if it is a slight abnormality
Eleventh Circuit Rule 36-2 provides, in pertinent part, “An opinion shall be
unpublished unless a majority of the panel decides to publish it. Unpublished opinions are
not considered binding precedent, but they may be cited as persuasive authority.” 11th Cir.
R. 36-2 (emphasis added).
which has such a minimal effect on the individual that it would not be expected to interfere
with the individual’s ability to work, irrespective of age, education, or work experience.”
Brady v. Heckler, 724 F.2d 914, 920 (11th Cir. 1984); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521(a); 20
C.F.R. § 416.921(a). A complainant may be found disabled based on a combination of
impairments even though none of the individual impairments alone are disabling. Walker v.
Brown, 826 F.2d 996, 1001 (11th Cir. 1985); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1523; 20 C.F.R. §
416.923. A claimant has the burden to show that he has a severe impairment or combination
of impairments. Reynolds-Buckley, 457 Fed. Appx. at 863.
The ALJ found that Mr. Lake had “the following severe impairments: fibromyalgia,
Crohn’s disease, erosive gastritis, duodenitis, depression, and anxiety.” (Doc. 8-3 at R.36.)
He found that Mr. Lake had not alleged arthritis was a severe impairment and, because this
condition did not result in any work-related limitations, arthritis was not a severe impairment.
3. The Listings
If the claimant has a severe impairment, the Commissioner must then determine
whether the claimant’s impairment and whether it is equivalent to any one of the listed
impairments, which are impairments that are so severe as to prevent an individual with the
described impairment from performing substantial gainful activity.
20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(iii), (d)-(e); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iii), (d)-(e); see 20 C.F.R. pt. 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1 [The Listings]. If the claimant’s impairment meets or equals an
impairment listed in the regulations, the Commissioner must find the claimant disabled,
regardless of the claimant’s age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d);
20 C.F.R. § 416.920(d). The claimant has the burden of proving that his impairment meets
or equals the criteria contained in one of the Listings. Reynolds-Buckley, 457 Fed. Appx. at
The ALJ found that Mr. Lake did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part
404, Subpart P, Appendix I. (Doc. 8-3 at R.37.)
4. Residual Functional Capacity and Past Relevant Work
If the impairment or combination of impairments does not meet or equal the criteria
of a Listing, the claimant must prove that his impairment or combination of impairments
prevents him from performing his past relevant work. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv),
(f); 20 C.F. R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv), (f). At step four, the Commissioner “will first compare
[her] assessment of [the claimant’s] residual functional capacity [RFC] with the physical and
mental demands of [the claimant’s] past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1560(b); 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.960(b). “Past relevant work is work that [the claimant has] done within the past 15
years, that was substantial gainful activity, and that lasted long enough for [him] to learn to
do it. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1560(b)(1); 20 C.F.R. § 416.960(b)(1). If the claimant is capable of
performing his past relevant work, the Commissioner will find he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1560(e); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(e). The claimant bears the burden of establishing that
the impairment or combination or impairments prevents him from performing past work.
Reynolds-Buckley, 457 Fed. Appx. at 863.
Based on his “consideration of the entire record,” the ALJ found that Mr. Lake could
perform a limited range of medium work; he found:
[T]he claimant has the [RFC] to perform less than a full range of medium work
as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c)[,]4 except he can
frequently perform postural maneuvers with the exception of occasional
climbing of ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. He should avoid concentrated
exposure to extreme heat and cold, humidity, gases, dusts, odors, fumes, and
areas of poor ventilation. He can perform unskilled work with the ability to
understand and carry out simple and short instructions.
(Doc. 8-3 at R.38 [footnote added].) The ALJ found that Mr. Lake could not perform his
past relevant work as a “psych aide,” a sales clerk in retail, a slitter operator, and a pest
control technician. (Id. at R.42-43.)
5. Other Work in the National Economy
If the claimant establishes that he is unable to perform his past relevant work, the
Commissioner must show that the claimant – in light of his RFC, age, education, and work
experience – is capable of performing other work that exists in substantial numbers in the
national economy. Reynolds-Buckley, 457 Fed. Appx. at 863; see also 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(c)(1); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(c)(1). The regulations provide:
The Regulations define medium work as follows: “Medium work involves lifting no
more than 50 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 25
pounds.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(c); 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(c).
If we find that your [RFC] is not enough to enable you to do any of your
past relevant work, we will use the same [RFC] assessment we used to decide
if you could do your past relevant work when we decide if you can adjust to
any other work. We will look at your ability to adjust to other work by
considering your [RFC] and your vocational factors of age, education, and
work experience. Any other work (jobs) that you can adjust to must exist in
significant numbers in the national economy (either in the region where you
live or in several regions in the country).
20 C.F.R. § 404.1560(c)(1); 20 C.F. R. § 416.960(c)(1). If the claimant is not capable of
performing such other work, the Commissioner must find the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(f); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(f).
If, however, the Commissioner finds that the
claimant can perform other work, the claimant has the burden to prove he is not capable of
performing such other work.
The ALJ found that Mr. Lake, who was born in 1968, was a “younger individual” on
the alleged onset date, and that he had at least a high school education and could
communicate in English. (Doc. 8-3 at R.43.) The ALJ consulted a vocational expert [VE];
the VE testified that an individual with Mr. Lake’s RFC and vocational factors could perform
“jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy,” including assembler,
inspector, and box maker. (Id. at R.43-44.) Based on this testimony, the ALJ found Mr.
Lake could make as successful adjustment to perform other work. (Id. at R.44.)
Therefore, the ALJ found that Mr. Lake had not been under a disability at any time
from January 27, 2012, the alleged onset date, through May 17, 2013, the date of the ALJ’s
B. MR. LAKE’S APPEAL
Mr. Lake raises two issues on appeal: (1) “the ALJ failed to properly consider the
opinion of plaintiff’s treating physician, Dr. Schmidt,” (doc. 10 at 7), and (2) “the ALJ failed
to properly consider plaintiff’s impairments in combination,” (id. at 10). For the reasons set
forth below, the court finds that the Commissioner’s decision is due to be affirmed.
1. Weighing the Opinion of Dr. Schmidt
Mr. Lake contends that the ALJ erred by failing to give the opinion of his treating
physician, Allen James Schmidt, Jr., M.D., substantial weight. (Doc. 10 at 7-10.) According
to his Decision, the ALJ discounted Dr. Schmidt’s opinion because Dr. Schmidt had made
diagnoses outside of his speciality, he had examined Mr. Lake on “relatively infrequent”
occasions, and he had relied on Mr. Lake’s subjective reports of symptoms and limitations,
which the ALJ found were not supported by Dr. Schmidt’s examinations and notes of record.
(See doc. 8-3 at 42.)
In evaluating medical opinions, the ALJ considers many factors,
including the examining relationship, the treatment relationship, whether an
opinion is amply supported, whether an opinion is consistent with the record
and the doctor’s specialization. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(d), 416.927(d).
Generally, the more consistent a physician’s opinion is with the record as a
whole, the more weight an ALJ should place on that opinion. Id. §§
404.1527(d)(4), 416.927(d)(4). Usually, the opinions of treating physicians are
given more weight than non-treating physicians, and the opinions of examining
physicians are given more weight than non-examining physicians. See id. §§
404.1527(d)(1)-(2), 416.927(d)(1)-(2). A non-examining doctor’s opinion that
contradicts an examining doctor’s medical report is accorded little weight and
cannot, standing alone, constitute substantial evidence. Edwards v. Sullivan,
937 F.2d 580, 584 (11th Cir.1991). However, the ALJ may rely on a
non-examining physician’s opinion if it does not contradict the examining
physician’s medical findings or test results in the medical report. See id. at
Flowers v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 441 Fed. Appx 735, 740 (11th Cir. 2011). The Eleventh
Circuit has held “that the opinion of a treating physician is entitled to substantial weight
unless good cause exists for not heeding the treating physician’s diagnosis.” Edwards v.
Sullivan, 937 F.2d 580, 583 (11th Cir. 1991).
“Good cause exists ‘where the doctor’s
opinion was not bolstered by the evidence, or where the evidence supported a contrary
finding.’ [The court] will not second guess the ALJ about the weight the treating physician’s
opinion deserves so long as he articulates a specific justification for it.” Hunter v. Soc. Sec.
Admin., Comm’r, 808 F.3d 818, 822-23 (11th Cir. 2015)(quoting Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d
1436, 1440 (11th Cir. 1997); citing Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1212 (11th Cir.
2005)); see also Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1179 (“Good cause exists when the: (1) treating
physician’s opinion was not bolstered by the evidence; (2) evidence supported a contrary
finding; or (3) [the] treating physician’s opinion was conclusory or inconsistent with the
doctor’s own medical records.”)(internal quotations and citation omitted).
Mr. Lake’s treating physician, Allen Schmidt, M.D., an internist, wrote two
substantially similar letters in support of Mr. Lake’s claim for disability benefits. (See doc.
8-8 at R.358; doc. 8-9 at R.366.) In the first letter, dated July 15, 2012, Dr. Schmidt stated:
Note that I have known Mr. Lake for over 15 years; he has severe systemic
arthritis, fibromyalgia and chronic pain in multiple joints. This is complicated
by depression and fatigue. His arthralgia and level of pain has continued to
worsen over the last 5-6 years. He was diagnosed with this arthritis around
He is very limited in his endurance and ability to lift and to move and to be
able to focus at work[ ] due to the level of pain. His pain requires chronic
levels of medication. Both for the arthritis and pain and for his depression and
I do not feel that his condition is going to improve any time in the near future
and his pain and condition seems to be slowly deteriorating. So I am
encouraging him to pursue disability.
He has been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and part of his arthralgia is the
Enteropathy that is associated with Crohn’s disease.
He has tremendous fatigue and also has Adult Attention Deficit Disorder; the
combination of these disease processes makes it impossible to pursue gainful
(Doc. 8-8 at R.358.) The second letter, dated March 13, 2013, includes a diagnosis of
spondyloarthropathy, but is otherwise identical to the July 2012 letter. (Compare doc. 8-9
ast R.366 with doc. 8-8 at R.358.)
With regard to these letters and Dr. Schmidt’s treatment records, the ALJ found:
Treatment records from Allen Schmidt, M.D., a physician of internal medicine,
in January 2012 show the claimant with a diagnosis of Crohn’s disease
wanting to pursue disability. The claimant denied diarrhea, constipation or
nausea and vomiting. Upon physical examination, [Dr. Schmidt noted that Mr.
Lake] was well developed and nourished and appeared consistent with his age.
His abdomen was soft, nondistended, nontender, no rebound rigidity or
guarding and bowel sounds were symmetric x4. The claimant had no obvious
joint or bony abnormalities. There was no cyanosis, clubbing or edema of the
extremities and no CVA tenderness. Deep tendon reflexes were bilaterally
symmetric and normal for the upper and lower extremities. Cranial nerves
were grossly intact, reflexes were normal and there was no focal deficit. He
was alert and oriented x3 and mood and affect were appropriate. Dr. Schmidt
diagnosed regional enteritis small intestine (primary), inflammatory
spondylopathies, generalized anxiety disorder, and screening for depression.
[Mr. Lake] was advised to return for follow up in three months. No new
medications were prescribed at that time. The claimant returned one month
later, in February 2012[,] complaining of diarrhea and hurting all the time. It
was noted that the claimant stated that he felt that when he is on disability it
would help him tremendously. There were no changes from the previous
examination. Dr. Schmidt did recommend the need for weight loss and
recommended aerobic exercise a minimum of three days per week.
Hydrocodone was prescribed at that time (Exhibit 5F).5 The claimant was seen
in May 2012 stating he still does not feel very good and is having trouble with
making payments and had not been approved for disability. Upon physical
examination, the claimant appeared consistent with his age, was well
developed and nourished, in no acute distress, and he was alert and oriented
x3. His diagnoses were the same as his previous visit with instructions to do
aerobic exercises a minimum of three days per week. In June 2012, the
claimant was seen requesting refills of his medication. He stated that he has
battled pretty intense depression. However, the claimant was alert and
oriented x3 and his mood and affect were appropriate upon examination. In
a July 2012 letter from Dr. Schmidt, he stated that the claimant has severe
systemic arthritis, fibromyalgia, and chronic pain in multiple joints
complicated by depression and fatigue. He stated that the claimant’s arthralgia
and level of pain has continued to worsen over the last five to six years and
was diagnosed with arthritis in 1994. Dr. Schmidt opined that the claimant is
very limited in his endurance and ability to lift, move, and be able to focus at
work due to his level of pain. He stated that his pain requires chronic levels
of medication for both arthritis and pain and depression and anxiety. Dr.
Schmidt did not feel his condition was going to improve any time in the near
future and his pain and condition appeared to be slowly deteriorating so he is
encouraging him to pursue disability. He stated that he has Crohn’s disease
and part of his arthralgia is the enteropathy that is associated with Crohn’s
disease. Dr. Schmidt stated that the claimant has tremendous fatigue and has
adult attention deficit disorder and the combination of these disease processes
makes it impossible to pursue gainful employment. The claimant was not seen
again until March 2013, six months later, complaining of his joints and
muscles hurting, requesting pain medication. Upon examination, the claimant
was well developed and well nourished in no acute distress. There were no
obvious joint or bony abnormalities, no CVA [tenderness], clubbing, cyanosis
or edema. Deep tendon reflexes were normal for the upper and lower
(Doc. 8-8 at R.321-26.)
extremities, cranial nerves were grossly intact, reflexes were normal, and there
was no focal deficit (Exhibits 11F and 15F).6
The course of medical treatment in this case is not consistent with disabling
levels of pain.
In regard to Crohn’s disease, there is no indication in the record that his
Crohn’s disease is of the severity as testified to at the hearing. If it were of the
severity as alleged at the hearing, one would think there would be more
treatment and/or hospitalizations for these symptoms and he would have had
to excuse himself during the course of the hearing.
In regard to fibromyalgia, the record shows no early morning joint stiffness or
swelling of the extremities, no peripheral cyanosis or clubbing, and no loss of
He denied rheumatologic symptoms or muscle weakness.
Furthermore, he only saw a rheumatologist on only one occasion for
In regard to anxiety and depression, the claimant has never received any
treatment at a mental health facility and has never been hospitalized due to
mental health symptoms. Furthermore, he was found to have only mild
symptoms and his anxiety symptoms would not preclude his ability to interact
with coworkers, customers or supervisors. Moreover, there were times that the
claimant did not even complain about anxiety or depression, indicating that his
anxiety and depression are not of the severity as alleged.
With regard to the assessed global assessment of functioning (GAF) of 63 in
2012, the undersigned notes that according to the Diagnostic and Statistical
Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric
Association, a GAF of 63 indicates only mild symptoms or only mild difficulty
in social, occupational, or school functioning.
(Id. at R.352-58; doc. 8-9 at R.366-69.)
(Doc. 8-8 at R.362-64.) The records indicate that Mr. Lake saw the rheumatologist,
Dr. Vijay Jampala, on two occasions – July 28, 2011 and September 26, 2011. (Id.)
In regard to gastritis and duodenitis, the record shows no evidence of any
functional limitations as a result of these diagnoses. The claimant was
prescribed medication and since that time the claimant has reported no
problems with diarrhea, constipation, nausea or vomiting. Examinations have
shown no rebound rigidity or guarding of the abdomen, bowels sounds are
symmetric x4, and the abdomen is soft and nondistended. Furthermore, the
claimant has not complained of any specific symptoms in regard to these
Therefore, the undersigned finds the course of medical treatment in this case
does not bolster the claimant’s credibility with respect to the degree of his pain
and other subjective complaints.
Although Dr. Schmidt does have a treating relationship with the claimant, the
record reveals that actual treatment visits have been relatively infrequent.
Additionally, his opinion appears to rest at least in part on an assessment of an
impairment outside his area of expertise.
Moreover, Dr. Schmidt’s opinion is inconsistent with his own treatment
records. Specifically, noting minimal findings upon physical examination and
giving diagnoses that he does not specialize[, i]t appears that Dr. Schmidt
relied quite heavily on the subjective report of symptoms and limitations
provided by the claimant, and seemed to uncritically accept as true most, if not
all, of what the claimant reported. Yet, as explained elsewhere in this
decision, there exist good reasons for questioning the reliability of the
claimant’s subjective complaints.
The undersigned gives little weight to the opinion of Dr. Schmidt because his
opinion is inconsistent with his own treatment records and the evidence as a
(Doc. 8-3 at R.39-42 [footnotes added].)
The court finds that the ALJ clearly stated the weight given Dr. Schmidt’s opinion and
he adequately stated his specific justification for it. The ALJ’s justification is supported by
substantial evidence. Therefore, this court will not disturb his finding. See Hunter, 808 F.3d
2. Combination of Impairments
Mr. Lake contends that the ALJ failed to properly consider his combined impairments
and he failed to consider his arthritis at all. (Doc. 10 at 10.) The court finds these
contentions do not provide a basis for reversing the Commissioner’s decision to deny Mr.
Lake disability benefits.
At step two, the ALJ found that, although Mr. Lake had a diagnosis of arthritis,
arthritis was not a severe impairment. (Doc. 8-8 at 36.) Nevertheless, the ALJ found that
Mr. Lake had other severe impairments – “fibromyalgia, Crohn’s disease, erosive gastritis,
duodenitis, depression, and anxiety.” (Id.) Because the ALJ moved beyond step two of the
sequential evaluation, any error in not finding arthritis to be a severe impairment was
harmless. See Jamison v. Bowen, 814 F.2d 585, 588 (11th Cir. 1987).
“Where a claimant has alleged several impairments, the Commissioner must consider
the impairments in combination and determine whether the combined impairments render the
claimant disabled.” Hearn v. Comm’r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 619 Fed. Appx. 892, 895 (11th Cir.
2015)(citing Jones v. Dep’t of Health & Human Servs., 941 F.2d 1529, 1533 (11th Cir.
1991)). “An ALJ’s statement that [he] has considered a combination of impairments is
adequate to meet this standard.” Id. (citing Jones, 941 F.2d at 1533).
In this case the ALJ stated:
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed
impairments . . . .
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned
finds that the claimant has the [RFC] to perform less than a full range of
medium work . . . except he can frequently perform postural maneuvers with
the exception of occasional climbing of ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. He
should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme heat and cold, humidity, gases,
dusts, odors, fumes, and areas of poor ventilation. He can perform unskilled
work with the ability to understand and carry out simple and short instructions.
In making this finding, the undersigned has considered all symptoms and the
extent to which these symptoms can reasonably be accepted as consistent with
the objective medical evidence and other evidence, based on the requirements
of 20 C.F.R. 404.1529 and 416.929 and SSRs 96-4p and 96-7p. The
undersigned has also considered opinion evidence in accordance with the
requirements of 20 C.F.R. 404.1527 and 416.927 and SSRs 96-2p, 96-5p,
96-6p and 06-3p.
(Doc. 8-8 at 38 [emphasis added].)
The Eleventh Circuit has held that these types of statements are sufficient to show that
the ALJ considered a claimant’s impairments in combination. Hubbard v. Comm’r of Soc.
Sec., 618 Fed. Appx. 643, 649-50 (11th Cir. 2015)(citing Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219,
1224-25 (11th Cir. 2002); Jones, 941 F.2d at 1533)). Therefore, the court finds no error
based on Mr. Lake’s contention that the ALJ failed to consider his impairments in
Based on the reasons set forth above, the decision of the Commissioner, denying
plaintiff’s claim for a period of disability, DIB, and SSI will be affirmed. An Order
affirming the decision of the Commissioner will be entered contemporaneously with this
DONE this 11th day of March, 2016.
SHARON LOVELACE BLACKBURN
SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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