Morris v. Social Secuirty Administration, Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION. Signed by Judge R David Proctor on 3/25/2016. (AVC)
2016 Mar-25 AM 11:13
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
SHERMAN SEAY MORRIS, III,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,
Acting Commissioner of Social Security, }
Civil Action No.: 5:14-cv-02387-RDP
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION
Plaintiff, Sherman Morris, brings this action pursuant to Sections 405(g) and 1631(c)(3)
of the Social Security Act (“the Act”) seeking review of the decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying his applications for disability, Disability Insurance
Benefits (“DIB”), and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI. See 42
U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). For the reasons outlined below, the court finds that the decision of
the Commissioner is due to be affirmed because it is supported by substantial evidence and
proper legal standards were applied.
Plaintiff filed applications for a period of disability, disability insured benefits, and
supplemental security income in January 2012, in which he alleged he became unable to work
beginning October 1, 2008. (R. 170-83). Plaintiff timely requested a hearing at which he
appeared in February 2013. (R. 27-63, 122). On April 26, 2013, the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) issued a decision denying Plaintiff’s applications. (R. 11-22). On appeal, the Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review. (R. 1-4). Therefore, Plaintiff has properly
exhausted his administrative remedies, filed a timely action in this court, and the case is ripe for
review. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c).
Plaintiff was 39 years old on the date of the ALJ’s decision. (R. 174). He had a high
school education and attended three years of college. (R. 30). He previously worked as a
machine operator, child-care attendant, and general laborer. (R. 33, 37).
Plaintiff alleges he is disabled due to depression, back problems, and foot problems. (R.
200). Although Plaintiff alleges that he has been disabled since October 1, 2008, he last worked
for approximately a week and a half packing sugar in December 2011 at a sugar plant. (R. 33).
Prior to that, Plaintiff worked on and off for approximately four years as a public relations
director at a church daycare center. (R. 33). In this position, Plaintiff earned $12,066 in 2009
and $12,574 in 2010, and those earnings exceeded the requisite amounts for those years. (R.
In approximately 2004, Plaintiff was injured at work. He sustained an injury to his back
as a result of this incident and later underwent surgery for a hernia. (R. 38). In 2012, he was
injured in a car wreck. (R. 47). Plaintiff has been diagnosed with back pain with radiculopathy,
lumbar facet syndrome, and degenerative disc disease, all of which cause him to suffer from
chronic pain. (R. 260). He reports that the pain is continuous, radiates from his lower back down
his right leg, as well as his shoulder blades, and is aggravated by long periods of sitting,
standing, or lying down. (R. 54-55; 276). He also loses feeling in his arm and his hand. (R. 54).
On average, Plaintiff rates the pain at approximately a 5-6 out of 10 in severity (R. 54;
272-280), but can elevate to 6-8 out of 10 on a bad day. (R. 54). According to Plaintiff, he has
bad days a few times per week. (R. 55). Plaintiff previously attempted to treat his pain with
physical therapy; however, he indicates the therapy made the pain worse. (R. 317). At the time
of the hearing, Plaintiff too Lortab for treated his chronic pain. (R. 54).
Plaintiff first began to experience symptoms associated with various mental illnesses
following a divorce in approximately 2010. (R. 40). In August 2010, Plaintiff sought treatment
from his primary care physician for anxiety problems after experiencing a panic attack. (R. 304).
On March 20, 2012, he underwent a psychological evaluation.
revealed that he had concentration and memory problems, was severely depressed, and that his
circumstances would “affect his ability to function independently.” (R. 357). In early 2012,
Plaintiff began receiving treatment from the Mental Health Center of North Alabama for
depressive disorder and anxiety disorder; he also presented with psychosis, paranoia, and visual
hallucinations. (R. 389-392).
Plaintiff has reported depression, anxiety, paranoia, and hallucinations. (R. 448-447). He
also has reported that his sleep is affected because of pain and anxiety. (R. 210). However, at the
hearing, he testified that he was no longer experiencing sleeping problems. (R. 46). He reported
that he has poor hygiene, has trouble paying bills, handling savings accounts and using a
checkbook, constantly has to re-read instructions, and does not handle stress well. (R. 210, 212,
214-215). At the hearing, he testified that he is able to handle his finances. (R. 48). He further
testified that he stopped going to church after his 2012 car accident. (R. 47). He does not have
problems talking with others, he just does not want to do so. (R. 49).
In November and December 2011, Plaintiff was seen by Ahmad Shikh, M.D., at the
Valley Pain Clinic on a referral from his family physician, Dr. Malcolm Hendricks. (R. 249281).
Dr. Shikh saw Plaintiff for an initial visit on or about November 16, 2011. During that
visit, Plaintiff reported that his chief complaint was back pain, and that the pain was located in
the lower back and radiated to the right leg. (R. 272). He described the pain as constant, dull,
aching, exhausting, and unbearable at times. (R. 272). Plaintiff described the pain as ranging
from 5-6 up to 9 on a 10 pain scale. Dr. Shikh noted that Plaintiff’s “daily activities are
moderately limited due to the pain” and that “the pain is relieved by lying down, the pain
medications, and a hot bath with Epsom salt.” (R. 272). Dr. Shikh noted that Plaintiff was alert
and “oriented x 3” and that he “ambulates with a Normal Gait,” and had a “Normal Range of
motion of lumbar spine with pain.” (R. 272).
Plaintiff returned to see Dr. Shikh on or about November 30, 2011. (R. 260). At that
time, he reported a pain level of 5/10 and that his daily activities were moderately limited due to
the pain. (R. 260). Dr. Shikh noted that “the pain  is relieved with medication.” (R. 260).
Although Plaintiff reported he was not taking the medication as prescribed, “they are helping.”
Dr. Shikh set forth his “Plan/Recommendation” as follows: “Continue current
mediations as he states the medicines helped him to tolerate his pain and helped to improve his
function with no significant side effects.” (R. 260). He further recommended a “home based
exercise program; posture and body mechanics training.” (R. 260).
Dr. Shikh noted that
physical therapy and a chiropractor had been tried, but was not helpful, and that injections were
only helpful for a short period. (R. 262). Under “Review of Symptoms” Dr. Shikh stated that
Plaintiff denied major depression and suicide ideation or thoughts. (R. 263).
Dr. Hendricks has treated Plaintiff since at least 2008. (R. 287-352). On January 23,
2012, Plaintiff saw Dr. Hendricks for an evaluation of symptoms of depression. (R. 288).
Although Dr. Hendricks indicated that Plaintiff’s “symptoms suggest depression with possible
psychotic features” and that “he needs to see a psych,” he also noted he would start Plaintiff on a
mood stabilizer and Trazadone for sleep in the interim until Plaintiff could have a psychiatric
consultation. (R. 288). Previously, Plaintiff had seen Dr. Hendricks for hypertension (R. 290)
and back pain. (R. 313-314). In 2009, Plaintiff reported to Dr. Hendricks that his back pain was
improved with medication.
On January 12, 2010, Plaintiff reported to Dr.
Hendricks that he was going through a divorce and “has been taking more of his pain medication
because he ha[d] recently started a business in [which] he cuts hair. He still feels that he needs
disability.” (R. 309). On April 15, 2010, Plaintiff saw Dr. Hendricks for a follow up on shoulder
pain. (R. 306-7). Under “Plan,” Dr. Hendricks notes, “Pt cont to request disability and I refuse
to place him on disability he appears fully functional to me and capable to work in the
workforce. … visit was 30 plus minutes and most of time spent discussing disability and reason
for refusal.” (R. 306).
On January 26, 2012, Plaintiff was seen at the Mental Health Center of North Central
Alabama by Counselor Louisa DiLeone. (R. 402-406). In this Assessment/Intake report, Ms.
DiLeone noted that Plaintiff reported that he was in the process of applying for disability. (R.
402). She determined that Plaintiff was suffering from Depressive Disorder NOS and Anxiety
Disorder. (R. 403). She assigned Plaintiff a GAF score of 54. (R. 403). Ms. DiLeone’s plan
was for Plaintiff to return in two weeks so she could assess him for appropriate services and to
formulate a treatment plan. (R. 406).
On February 12, 2012, Plaintiff filled out a pain questionnaire for the Disability
Determination Service. (R. 227-228). In that questionnaire, Plaintiff reported that his pain
medications relieve his pain for about three hours with no side effects. (R. 227-228).
Also in February 2012, Plaintiff’s therapist stated that he was in need of a “higher level
of care” because he was “isolating at home, feels hopeless, and is experiencing paranoia.
[Plaintiff] reported passive suicidal ideation.” (R. 397). Later that month, Plaintiff’s treatment
notes indicate he was sleeping all day, had poor hygiene, as well as paranoia and hallucinations,
and was viewed as a moderate suicide risk. (R. 399). Throughout March and April 2012,
Plaintiff was described by his therapists as being “dysphoric and tearful” with socialization being
severely impacted and having a flat affect and depression (R. 360, 362). Plaintiff also reported
that he lies down all the time to avoid activities. (R. 380). He was hospitalized for depression
from November 14 through 16, 2012, and indicated a few weeks prior that he had suicidal
ideations. (R. 450-453).
In a Function Report prepared by Joniqua Carrington on February 21, 2012, Plaintiff
reported that he lives alone. (R. 209). During the day he goes to doctors’ appointments if
scheduled, and does light work around the house. (R. 209). He stated that he takes care of his
daughter, providing all emotional and financial support for her. (R. 210). He showers and uses
the toilet without help. (R. 210). He prepares frozen meals and makes his bed. He does not do
yard work because of metal plates and screws in his hand. (R. 211). He goes outside three times
a week. He drives a car, uses public transportation, and shops in stores and by phone for food
and household products. (R. 212). He reported he talks with others, watches television, and
attends church. (R. 213). He is able to follow in depth verbal instructions as well as can follow
written instructions, but has to re-read them. (R. 214).
On March 20, 2012, Plaintiff was seen by Annie M. Wells, a Licensed Psychologist. (R.
Ms. Wells noted that Plaintiff was on antidepressant medications and that “he
indicated that he feels better when he takes his medications.” (R. 354-355). Although Ms. Wells
gave Plaintiff a GAF score of 45, she noted that his “intellectual functioning is Average.” (R.
Melissa Neel, who testified as a Vocational Expert (“VE”) at Plaintiff’s hearing before
the ALJ, characterized Plaintiff’s past work as a childcare center manager (sedentary, skilled),
extruder operator (medium, skilled), and helper (heavy, unskilled). (R. 37). The VE further
testified that someone such as Plaintiff would be unable to perform Plaintiff’s past relevant work
given his current restrictions; however, assuming such a person was as impaired as Plaintiff
claims to be, there would be no jobs in the state of Alabama or the U.S. economy he/she could
perform. (R. 62).
However, the Ms. Neel testified that, based on the following assumptions:
a person such as Plaintiff could perform a range of light work with frequent use of
the bilateral lower extremities for the operation of foot controls, as well as for
pushing and pulling;
a person such as Plaintiff could occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but can never
climb ropes, ladders or scaffolds;
a person such as Plaintiff could occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and
a person such as Plaintiff could to avoid all exposure to hazards including
unprotected heights; and
a person such as Plaintiff could perform unskilled work with occasional
interaction with supervisors and co-workers and infrequent interaction with the
such an individual would be able to, with a gradual changes in a workplace setting and job
duties, perform other work in the state or national economy. Specifically, the person could
perform the light, unskilled jobs of housekeeper/cleaner (1500 in Alabama, 132,000 in the U.S.),
marker (4200 in Alabama, 313,000 in the U.S.), or work on a conveyor line (600 in Alabama,
13,000 in the U.S.). (R. 61-62).
The ALJ’s Decision
Disability under the Act is determined under a five-step test. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.
First, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant is engaging in substantial gainful activity.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). “Substantial work activity” is work activity that involves doing
significant physical or mental activities. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1572(a). “Gainful work activity” is
work that is done for pay or profit. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1572(b). If the ALJ finds that the claimant
engages in substantial gainful activity, then the claimant cannot claim disability. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(b). Second, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has a medically
determinable impairment or a combination of medical impairments that significantly limits the
claimant’s ability to perform basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). Absent such
impairment, the claimant may not claim disability. Id. Third, the ALJ must determine whether
the claimant’s impairment meets or medically equals the criteria of an impairment listed in 20
C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, and 404.1526.
If such criteria are met, the claimant is declared disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii).
If the claimant does not fulfill the requirements necessary to be declared disabled under
the third step, the ALJ may still find disability under the next two steps of the analysis. The ALJ
must first determine the claimant’s residual functional capacity (“RFC”), which refers to the
claimant’s ability to work despite his impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). In the fourth step,
the ALJ determines whether the claimant has the RFC to perform past relevant work. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant is determined to be capable of performing past relevant
work, then the claimant is deemed not disabled. Id. If the ALJ finds the claimant unable to
perform past relevant work, then the analysis proceeds to the fifth and final step. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(v). In the last part of the analysis, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant
is able to perform any other work commensurate with his RFC, age, education, and work
experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g). Here, the burden of proof shifts from the claimant to the
ALJ to prove the existence, in significant numbers, of jobs in the national economy that the
claimant can do given his RFC, age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g),
Here, the ALJ first determined that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through December 31, 2013. (R. 13). The ALJ next found that Plaintiff had
engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date of October 1, 2008. (R. 13).
Specifically, the ALJ found that Plaintiff’s work activity rose to the level of SGA through 2010,
a finding not disputed by Plaintiff. (R. 13, 185). Therefore, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was
able to “participate in vocational activity well after the alleged onset date.” (R. 13). If a
claimant receives wages exceeding those set out in an earnings guidelines table, a presumption
arises that he was engaged in substantial gainful activity during that period. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1574(b)(2); 416.974(b)(2); see also Johnson v. Sullivan, 929 F.2d 596, 598 (11th Cir. 1991)
(noting that earnings on income tax returns create a rebuttable presumption that the taxpayer was
gainfully employed). Nonetheless, despite this finding, the ALJ proceeded to evaluate the
remaining steps in the process.
The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of degenerative disc
disease, radiculopathy, lumbar facet syndrome, left foot Haglands deformity, Achilles tendonitis,
obesity, spondylolisthesis, left foot fractures, L2-3/L5-S1 bulges with foraminal encroachment
and no significant stenosis, as well as depression, a mood disorder, and anxiety with psychotic
features. (R. 14). The ALJ found that these impairments caused a “significant limitation in the
[Plaintiff]’s ability to perform basic work activities.” (R. 14).
At the fourth step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (R. 14). In making this finding, the
ALJ considered whether the paragraph B criteria were satisfied. (R. 14). Those criteria require
two of the following: marked restrictions of activities of daily living, marked difficulties in
maintaining social functioning, marked difficulty in maintaining concentration, persistence, or
pace, or reported episodes of decomposition, each of extended duration. (R. 15). The ALJ found
that the evidence only showed mild restrictions in Plaintiff’s activities of daily living. The ALJ
specified that Plaintiff’s testimony was that he was unmotivated to engage in such activities, but
was unable to do so. (R. 15). As to his social functioning, the ALJ found that the evidence
demonstrated only moderate difficulties. The ALJ found that the evidence showed that Plaintiff
was able to use public transportation, shop in stores, attend church, and spend time conversing
with others. (R. 15). The ALJ found Plaintiff had only moderate difficulties with concentration
based on his own reports, and his ability to watch television, which requires some concentration.
(R. 15). The ALJ also found that there was no evidence of an episode of decompensation of any
extended duration. (R. 15).
Finally, the ALJ found that, although Plaintiff could not perform his past relevant work
(R. 20), based on the testimony of the VE, Plaintiff could perform representative occupations of
housekeeper/cleaner, marker, and conveyor line job, each of which existed in significant
numbers in the national economy. (R. 21, 61-62). The ALJ accepted that Plaintiff’s medically
determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged symptoms. (R. 17).
However, he found that Plaintiff’s statements concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting
effects of those symptoms were not entirely credible. (R. 17). The ALJ explained the reasons
for that conclusion in detail. (R. 17).
The reasons given by the ALJ for not crediting Plaintiff’s statements concerning the
intensity, persistence, and limiting effect of those symptoms included reports by Plaintiff -- to
medical providers and on his pain questionnaire -- that his pain is tolerable when taking pain
medications. Furthermore, the medical evidence in the record makes clear that Plaintiff had a
normal gait and a normal range of motion. As to Plaintiff’s mental impairments, the ALJ
explained that Plaintiff’s Functions Report indicated that he was not motivated to perform certain
functions, not that he was unable to do so. The AL also concluded that the medical evidence
supports the conclusion that Plaintiff felt better when he was taking his antidepressant
medications. (R. 354-355).
Plaintiff’s Argument for Reversal
Plaintiff raises two arguments on appeal, both of which essentially contend that the ALJ’s
decision was not supported by substantial evidence. First, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in
failing to properly credit his Plaintiff’s testimony and evidence regarding his chronic pain.
Second, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in failing to properly credit Plaintiff’s testimony
and evidence regarding his mental impairments.
Standard of Review
The only issues before this court are whether the record reveals substantial evidence to
sustain the ALJ’s decision, see 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Walden v. Schweiker, 672 F.2d 835, 838
(11th Cir. 1982), and whether the correct legal standards were applied. See Lamb v. Bowen, 847
F.2d 698, 701 (11th Cir. 1988); Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986). Title 42
U.S.C. § 405(g) mandates that the Commissioner’s findings are conclusive if supported by
“substantial evidence.” Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990). The district
court may not reconsider the facts, reevaluate the evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of
the Commissioner; instead, it must review the final decision as a whole and determine if the
decision is reasonable and supported by substantial evidence. See Id. (citing Bloodsworth v.
Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983)).
Substantial evidence falls somewhere between a scintilla and a preponderance of
evidence; “[i]t is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Martin, 894 F.2d at 1529 (quoting Bloodsworth, 703 F.2d at 1239) (other
citations omitted). If supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner’s factual findings
must be affirmed even if the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner’s findings. See
Martin, 894 F.2d at 1529. While the court acknowledges that judicial review of the ALJ’s
findings is limited in scope, the court also notes that review “does not yield automatic
affirmance.” Lamb, 847 F.2d at 701.
After careful review, the court finds the ALJ’s findings are supported by substantial
evidence and that the ALJ applied correct legal standards. For the reasons discussed below, the
ALJ’s decision is due to be affirmed.
The ALJ Properly Evaluated the Credibility of Plaintiff’s Testimony
Regarding Disabling Symptoms
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in failing to properly credit his evidence regarding
his chronic pain. The court disagrees. The ALJ articulated several valid reasons which support
his decision not to credit Plaintiff’s subjective pain testimony, and those reasons are supported
by substantial evidence in the record.
According to the regulations set forth by the Social Security Administration, Plaintiff’s
statements regarding his alleged disabling pain are not, alone, enough to establish a disability.
See 20 C.F.R. § 401.1529(a). The pain standard is comprised of both a threshold inquiry and a
credibility determination. If a claimant meets the threshold inquiry, the ALJ is called upon to
evaluate other factors to determine the credibility of the claimant’s allegations of subjective
In order for a claimant to satisfy the threshold inquiry, he must present (1) evidence of an
underlying medical condition, and (2) either objective medical evidence confirming the severity
of the alleged pain, or that the objectively determined medical condition is of such severity that it
can be reasonably expected to give rise to the alleged pain. See Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d
1219, 1225 (11th Cir. 2002) (citing Holt v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d 1221, 1223 (11th Cir. 1991).
After the threshold inquiry is met, if the ALJ discredits a claimant’s subjective testimony
of disabling pain, the ALJ “must clearly articulate explicit and adequate reasons” for doing so.
Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005); see also Holt, 921 F.2d at 1223 (11th
Cir. 1991). As part of the analysis used in determining credibility, the ALJ looks at intensity and
persistence of the symptoms alleged by a claimant, as well as the extent to which the alleged
symptoms affect the claimant’s functional limitations. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1529.
In determining whether substantial evidence supports an ALJ’s credibility determination,
“[t]he question is not . . . whether the ALJ could have reasonably credited [claimant’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). There are certain determinations that are solely
within the province of the ALJ, and a determination of credibility is one of those. See Moore v.
Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1212 (11th Cir. 2005). Indeed, it is well-established that a reviewing
court “will not disturb a properly articulated credibility finding that is supported by substantial
evidence.” Strickland v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 516 Fed. App’x 829, 832 (11th Cir. 2013).
Here, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had medically determinable impairments that could
reasonably be expected to cause the alleged symptoms. (R. 17). However, he further found that
Plaintiff’s statements concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of the symptoms
are not entirely credible and explained his reasons for that finding. In particular, the ALJ found
that the medical evidence established that Plaintiff was able to function physically and mentally,
even with his impairments. When Dr. Stoddard at SportsMed examined Plaintiff for lower back
pain, she noted that Plaintiff had a normal gait, good hip movements, only slight obesity, and no
sign of acute distress or joint tenderness. (R. 413-415).
In August 2010 and March 2011,
Plaintiff sought treatment at Parkway Medical Center for swelling. (R. 416-432). Physical
examination revealed intact motor/sensory/neurological functions, a normal affect, alertness,
intact orientation, equal motor strength and a well-appearing male. There were no signs of acute
distress. (R. 416-432). The ALJ determined that these types of medical reports indicated that
Plaintiff was stable mentally and physically. (R. 17-19). Furthermore, medical reports indicated
that Plaintiff’s pain was improved or stabilized with medications. (R. 416-417). An August
2010 report indicated that Plaintiff performs ADLs independently. (R. 416).
When Plaintiff was seen at the Valley Pain Clinic in late 2011, he reported that his pain
medications were helping. (R. 260). The ALJ noted that physical examinations of Plaintiff
revealed alertness, intact orientation, fluent speech, a normal gait, normal lumbar spine range of
motion, normal heel-toe walk, and normal neurological/sensory/motor. (R. 249-281). The ALJ
noted that these reports were consistent with Plaintiff’s pain questionnaire, which reported that
Plaintiff’s pain medications relieved his pain with no side effects. (R. 18, 227-228).
The ALJ also reviewed Plaintiff’s records from Decatur Orthopaedics Specialists. (R.
282-286). Those records reported that Plaintiff’s pain was only mild to moderate in severity and
his psychiatric system was negative for any psychiatric disorder. (R. 282-286).
Plaintiff was regularly treated at Hendricks Family Practice from 2008 through 2012. (R.
287-352). The ALJ noted that Plaintiff had reported to Dr. Hendricks that, in January 2010, he
was starting a barber business, which certainly indicates that Plaintiff was able to function
vocationally at that time. (R. 19, 309).
The ALJ also reviewed the medical evidence specific to Plaintiff’s mental issues. (R.
19). He noted that in 2012 Annie Wells, a licensed psychologist, performed a consultative
psychological examination of Plaintiff. (R. 19, 253-257). She assessed Plaintiff as suffering
from major depression, but noted that he felt better when he took his medications. (R. 253-257).
The ALJ found this to be an indication that Plaintiff’s mental conditions were also improved
with treatment and/or medication. (R. 19, 253-257). Ms. Wells assigned Plaintiff a GAF score
of 45, but the ALJ afforded this score little weight because it was largely based on Plaintiff’s
subjective complaints. (R. 19).
The ALJ also reviewed Plaintiff’s treatment records from early 2012 from the Mental
Health Center of North Central Alabama (Dr. Gamble) for depressive disorder. (R. 19, 358406). Here, the ALJ noted Plaintiff was awarded a GAF score of 54 which indicated only
moderate symptoms or difficulties. (R. 19, 403). The ALJ gave substantial weight to this GAF
score because it was from a treating source, rather than a consultative source, and was consistent
with many mental status findings which could be gleaned from the medical record as a whole.
(R. 19). The January and February mental status examinations of Plaintiff found in the records
from the Mental Health Center of North Central Alabama report that Plaintiff had an appropriate
affect, appropriate speech/thought processes/thought content, adequate judgment/insight, and
appropriate perceptions. (R. 358-406). In April 2012, Plaintiff was found to be alert, have intact
orientation, be logical, and to demonstrate goal directed thought processes. (R. 360-363). In
addition, Plaintiff denied suicidal ideations. (R. 360-363). This evidence fully supports the
ALJ’s finding that, despite his depression and anxiety, Plaintiff’s mental status was improving.
Finally, in May 2012, Plaintiff was evaluated by a DDS physician who reported that
Plaintiff was able to perform light work, with certain limitations. (R. 76-105). The ALJ afforded
these opinions considerable weight because they were consistent with the majority of the medical
evidence. (R. 19). The ALJ also noted that this finding was consistent with (1) medical
observations that Plaintiff’s conditions improved with medication, (2) the fact that Plaintiff
engaged in SGA in 2009 and 2010, and (3) participated in some vocational activity in 2011, all
well after the alleged onset date of Plaintiff’s claimed disability. (R. 19-20).
The ALJ clearly articulated his reasons for discrediting the extent of Plaintiff’s subjective
symptoms. See Dyer, 395 F.3d at 1210; Holt, 921 F.2d at 1223. Those reasons were not only
explicit, but are adequate and supported by substantial evidence in the record. This court will not
disturb a properly articulated credibility finding that is supported by substantial evidence.
Strickland, 516 Fed. App’x at 832. Because the ALJ’s credibility findings are supported by
substantial evidence and the correct legal standards were applied, those findings are due to be
Substantial Evidence Support’s the ALJ’s Determination that Plaintiff Did
Not Meet Listings 12.04 and 12.06
Plaintiff next argues that the ALJ improperly found he did not meet the requirements of
Listing 12.04 (affective disorders) or 12.06 (anxiety-related disorders). To reiterate, however,
this court’s review of the ALJ’s findings is limited. If supported by substantial evidence, the
Commissioner’s factual findings must be affirmed, even if the court believes the evidence
preponderates against the Commissioner’s findings. See Martin, 894 F.2d at 1529.
The ALJ’s determination that Plaintiff did not meet the listings was in large part based on
his finding that the medical evidence failed to show a marked restriction of Plaintiff’s ability, or
any inability, to perform his activities of daily living. (R. 14-15). The ALJ found that the
medical evidence established only a mild restriction. (R. 14-15). In reaching this conclusion, the
ALJ employed an analysis similar to that employed when making a credibility finding related to
subjective complaints of pain. (R. 15). The ALJ specifically noted that, while the medical
evidence supported a finding that Plaintiff is “not motivated” to maintain his self-care, it did not
indicate that he was unable to care for himself or perform any particular activities. (R. 15).
This finding is supported by substantial evidence in the record. The record contains
evidence that Plaintiff engaged in substantial gainful activity in 2009 and 2010. (R. 185). That
evidence shows that, in January 2010, Plaintiff had reported to Dr. Hendricks that he was starting
a barber business. (R. 309). In Plaintiff’s psychological assessment in March 2012, Ms. Wells
noted that Plaintiff was on antidepressant medications and that “he indicated that he feels better
when he takes his medications.” (R. 354-355). This evidence indicated to the ALJ that Plaintiff
was able to function vocationally. (R. 17-18). 1
The ALJ properly determined that Plaintiff’s subjective reports indicating a lack of
motivation do not support a finding that he had a “marked” restriction or an inability to function,
although they were sufficient to support a finding of mild restrictions in activities of daily living
and social functioning. Of course, the criteria of listings 12.04 and 12.06 require “marked”
Further support for this conclusion is found in Plaintiff’s February 21, 2012 Function Report. (R. 209-
restrictions. There is substantial evidence in the record supporting the ALJ’s determination that
at last two of these criteria were not present and, in making that determination, the ALJ applied
the correct legal standards. Therefore, the ALJ’s decision is due to be affirmed.
The court concludes that the ALJ’s determination that Plaintiff is not disabled is
supported by substantial evidence and proper legal standards were applied in reaching this
determination. The Commissioner’s final decision is therefore due to be affirmed, and a separate
order in accordance with this memorandum of decision will be entered.
DONE and ORDERED this March 25, 2016.
R. DAVID PROCTOR
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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