Guin v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Magistrate Judge John E Ott on 5/23/2017. (JLC)
2017 May-23 AM 10:10
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
SANDRA KAY GUIN,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,
Acting Commissioner of
Case No. 5:15-cv-02027-JEO
Plaintiff Sandra Kay Guin brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g),
seeking review of the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social
Security 1 (“Commissioner”) denying her application for disability insurance
benefits. (Doc. 2 1). The case has been assigned to the undersigned United States
Magistrate Judge pursuant to this court’s general order of reference. The parties
have consented to the jurisdiction of this court for disposition of the matter. (Doc.
Nancy A. Berryhill was named the Acting Commissioner on January 23, 2017. See
https://www.ssa.gov/agency/commissioner.html. Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), “[a]ny action
instituted in accordance with this subsection shall survive notwithstanding any change in the
person occupying the office of Commissioner of Social Security or any vacancy in such office.”
Accordingly, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and Rule 25(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure, the Court has substituted Nancy A. Berryhill for Carolyn W. Colvin in the case
caption above and HEREBY DIRECTS the clerk to do the same party substitution on CM/ECF.
References herein to “Doc(s). __” are to the document numbers assigned by the Clerk of the
Court to the pleadings, motions, and other materials in the court file, as reflected on the docket
sheet in the court’s Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) system.
14). Upon review of the record and the relevant law, the undersigned finds that
the Commissioner’s decision is due to be affirmed.
I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On October 29, 2012, Guin filed an application for a period of disability and
disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning December 21, 2010. (R. 3
51, 157-58). Her application was denied initially and on reconsideration. (R. 5152). Guin then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”).
(R. 61-62). The hearing was held on June 17, 2014. (R. 23-40). Guin, her counsel,
and a vocational expert attended the hearing. (R. 23). The ALJ issued a decision
on July 7, 2014, finding that Guin was not entitled to benefits. (R. 12-18). The
Appeals Council denied Guin’s request for review on September 11, 2015. (R. 14). Guin then filed this action for judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
The court’s review of the Commissioner’s decision is narrowly
circumscribed. The function of the court is to determine whether the decision of
the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence and whether proper legal
standards were applied. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390, 91 S. Ct. 1420,
1422 (1971); Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002). The court
must “scrutinize the record as a whole to determine if the decision reached is
References herein to “R. __” are to the page number of the administrative record, which is
located at Docs. 9-1 through 9-13.
reasonable and supported by substantial evidence.” Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703
F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence
as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. It is
“more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Id.
The court must uphold factual findings that are supported by substantial
evidence. However, it reviews the ALJ’s legal conclusions de novo because no
presumption of validity attaches to the ALJ’s determination of the proper legal
standards to be applied. Davis v. Shalala, 985 F.2d 528, 531 (11th Cir. 1993). If
the court finds an error in the ALJ’s application of the law, or if the ALJ fails to
provide the court with sufficient reasoning for determining that the proper legal
analysis has been conducted, it must reverse the ALJ’s decision. Cornelius v.
Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).
III. STATUTORY AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK
To qualify for disability insurance benefits under the Social Security Act, a
claimant must show the “inability 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 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); 42
U.S.C. § 416(i). 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). To be eligible for disability insurance
benefits, a claimant must demonstrate disability on or before the last date she was
insured. See Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211 (11th Cir. 2005) (citing 42
U.S.C. § 423(a)(1)(A)).
Determination of disability under the Social Security Act requires a five step
analysis. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). Specifically, the Commissioner must
determine in sequence:
whether the claimant: (1) is unable to engage in substantial gainful
activity; (2) has a severe medically determinable physical or mental
impairment; (3) has such an impairment that meets or equals a Listing
and meets the duration requirements; (4) can perform [her] past
relevant work, in light of [her] residual functional capacity; and (5)
can make an adjustment to other work, in light of [her] residual
functional capacity, age, education, and work experience.
Evans v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 551 F. App’x 521, 524 (11th Cir. 2014) (citing 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)).4 The claimant bears the burden of proving that she was
disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Moore, 405 F.3d at 1211.
The applicable “regulations place a very heavy burden on the claimant to
demonstrate both a qualifying disability and an inability to perform past relevant
Unpublished opinions of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals are not considered binding
precedent; however, they may be cited as persuasive authority. 11th Cir. R. 36-2.
The Medical Evidence
Guin was 60 years old at the time of her hearing before the ALJ. (R. 27).
She has an associate’s degree in nursing and has past work experience as a
Registered Nurse. (R. 27, 29). She alleges that she became disabled on December
21, 2010, due to symptoms related to obstructive hypertrophic cardio myopathy
and mitral valve prolapse, as well as arthritis in her neck. (R. 30). For disability
purposes, her date last insured was December 31, 2011. (R. 12). The relevant
period, therefore, is just over one year long, from December 21, 2010, through
December 31, 2011.
On December 13, 2010, shortly before her alleged onset date, Guin was
examined by Dr. William Cox at Huntsville Cardiovascular Clinic. (R. 256-258).
Guin complained of intermittent chest discomfort and intermittent palpitations, but
denied any shortness of breath. (R. 257). Dr. Cox noted that Guin had “a harsh
systolic murmur at the lower left sternal border which sound[ed] more consistent
with a VSD [ventricular septal defect].” (R. 258).
Dr. Cox referred Guin to Dr. James Kirklin at the Kirklin Clinic. (R. 35960). Dr. Kirklin examined Guin on January 24, 2011. He noted:
This 57 year old woman has a known history of a heart murmur for 20
years. Over the past 1 year or so, she has noted increasing fatigue,
shortness of breath walking up inclines, and occasional chest
tightness. She denies lower extremity edema or other signs of right
heart failure. An echocardiographic study on 1/24/11 revealed normal
right and left ventricular systolic function, moderate mitral
insufficiency, moderate tricuspid insufficiency, and evidence of
hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy.
(R. 359). Dr. Kirklin determined that in view of Guin’s symptoms, “operation is
advisable if we can document severe subaortic obstruction.” (R. 360).
Dr. Kirklin re-evaluated Guin on August 15, 2011. (R. 275). Guin reported
that her exercise tolerance had “progressively decreased” and was impairing her
quality of life. (Id.) Dr. Kirklin noted that Guin had a history of idiopathic
hypertrophic subaortic stenosis (IHSS) and that her echocardiographic studies
revealed moderate mitral insufficiency. (Id.) He recommended that Guin undergo
transaortic myectomy and mitral valve repair. (Id.) Guin elected to have the
surgery, which was performed by Dr. Kirklin on August 17, 2011. (R. 277-78).
She was discharged on August 23, 2011. (R. 288).
From August 26, 2011, through September 27, 2011, Guin was seen on a
regular basis at Riverbend Family Medicine, primarily for prothrombin time (PT)
tests. 5 (R. 400-420). The Riverbend records from September list “fatigue” as one
of Guin’s ongoing problems, but provide no discussion of the nature or extent of
the fatigue. (R. 400, 402, 405, 407, 409, 411).
Prothrombin time (PT) is a blood test that measures how long it takes blood to clot.
http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/prothrombin-time#1 (last visited May 17, 2017).
On October 17, 2011, Guin was seen by Dr. Kirklin for a “moderate rightsided pleural effusion present in September.” (R. 297). Dr. Kirklin noted that the
effusion had decreased in size since September. (Id.). In other respects, Dr. Kirklin
reported that Guin was “doing quite well,” walked “two miles per day without
difficulty,” and had “no heart failure symptoms.” (R. 297). Dr. Kirklin noted
Guin’s “good recovery” following surgery and recommended only “[r]outine
follow up care.” (Id.)
On November 11, 2011, Guin was examined by Dr. Michael Ridner at the
Heart Center, Inc. (R. 372-75). Dr. Ridner noted that Guin had begun developing
“exertional fatigue and dyspnea” the prior month and “continues to experience
dyspnea with exertion.” (R. 373). Guin reported “no orthopnea.” (Id.) Dr. Ridner
observed that Guin had findings of a “persistent pleural effusion on the right.” (Id.)
He also observed that Guin’s surgical myectomy and mitral valvular repair
appeared to have been “successful.” (Id.)
Dr. Ridner examined Guin again on December 14, 2011, shortly before her
date last insured. (R. 367-71). He noted that recent echocardiographic studies
confirmed “a competent mitral valve with no signs of regurgitation,” that Guin’s
“left ventricular function was normal,” and that “[s]urgical myectomy has been
successful in relieving outflow tract obstruction.” (R. 368). However, Guin had
also developed a “moderate degree of mitral stenosis.” (Id.) Dr. Ridner noted that
Guin “continues to report exertional fatigue and dyspnea” but “has not had any
orthopnea and reports no palpitations.” (Id.) Guin also reported walking seven
days a week for exercise. (Id.) Dr. Ridner “did not feel immediate action” was
necessary and scheduled Guin to return to his office in six months. (Id.)
Six months later, on June 18, 2012, Dr. Ridner conducted a follow-up
examination of Guin. (R. 362-63). Guin continued to report dyspnea with exertion
but reported no orthopnea. (R. 363). She had no problems walking on level
surfaces and was still walking seven days a week for exercise. (Id.) She reported
“brief episodes” of increased awareness of her heart. (Id.) Echocardiography
confirmed mitral stenosis. (Id.) Dr. Ridner again noted that Guin had experienced
a “good surgical result from [her] myectomy” and opined that her current
symptoms were primarily related to her mitral stenosis. (Id.)
Separate from her heart issues, Guin was in an automobile accident in 2008
and complained of neck pain following the accident. (R. 565). She described the
pain as “more stiffness than anything.” (Id.) Since then, she has received
chiropractic treatment for her neck pain on a regular basis. (R. 220-254, 465-532,
576-586, 588-595). However, when Guin was examined by Dr. Cox in December
2010, she denied any musculoskeletal problems to Dr. Cox, who noted that her
neck was supple. (R. 257). Her 2011 records from Riverbend Family Medicine
likewise reflect a supple neck and normal musculoskeletal examinations. (R. 403,
414, 419). Dr. Kirklin also noted that Guin’s musculoskeletal system was “grossly
normal” when he examined her in October 2011. (R. 297). Guin reported “no
muscle aches and muscle weakness” when she was examined by Dr. Ridner in
November and December 2011. (R. 369-70, 374). Dr. Ridner noted that Guin’s
range of motion was normal. (Id.) Most recently, in April 2014 Guin was
evaluated at Premier Orthopaedics for back and neck pain. (R. 637-38). Her
physical examination revealed a full range of motion in her head and neck and full
strength in all neck muscles. (R. 637). She was diagnosed with “mild cervical
degenerative disk disease normal for [her] age.” (R. 368).
Guin’s medical records were reviewed by Dr. John Pataki, a state agency
medical consultant, in February 2013. (R. 533). Dr. Pataki noted that the records
revealed “a long history of cardiomyopathy and valvular heart disease” and that the
“[c]urrent objective findings indicate a significant increase in severity which limits
[Guin’s] ability to sustain a 40 hour workweek ….” (Id.) He concluded, however,
that the evidence did not support an assessment that Guin was unable to function at
a light level of work activity prior to her date last insured. (Id.)
Guin’s Function Report and Hearing Testimony
On November 18, 2012, Guin completed a function report in connection
with her application for disability insurance benefits. (R. 189-96). In her function
report, Guin reported that she had no problem with personal care; that she prepared
“simple meals” on a daily basis; that she “swiffered” floors for 30 minutes on a
daily basis and did light dusting for 30 minutes on a weekly basis; that she did
laundry on a weekly basis; that she shopped for groceries once a week with her
husband’s assistance; that she could walk one-quarter mile before needing to rest;
that she was no longer able to go hiking; that she could only lift 10 pounds and
could only walk slowly; and that she became short of breath climbing stairs and
tired easily. She also reported that she went outside on a daily basis and was able
to drive a car. (Id.)
At the hearing before the ALJ, Guin testified that she was unable to work
during the relevant period from December 21, 2010, through December 31, 2011,
due to symptoms related to her obstructive hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and
mitral valve prolapse and arthritis in her neck. (R. 30). She testified that her heart
condition causes “weakness, fatigue, shortness of breath … and palpitations.” (Id.)
She further testified that the arthritis in her neck resulted from the “whiplash
injury” she suffered in the car accident in 2008 and that she has “pain, stiffness,
and lack of mobility in [her] neck.” (R. 30-31).
Guin testified that she was able to walk for 10 minutes, stand for 10 minutes,
and sit for 15 minutes during the relevant 2010-2011 period. (R. 31-32). She was
able to run errands with her husband’s help, fix herself something to eat, and bathe
and dress herself without help. (R. 32). She was also able to drive and did so about
once a week. (Id.) She also testified, however, that she could not climb a set of
stairs or do any kind of housework without help. (R. 32-33). She said that she
spent most of her days during the 2010-2011 time period resting, watching TV, and
reading. (R. 34). She estimated that in an eight-hour day back then, she probably
spent 80 to 90 percent of her time resting or lying down. (R. 34-35).
V. FINDINGS OF THE ALJ
The ALJ found that Guin had severe impairments of cardiomyopathy and
degenerative disc disease. (R. 14). She determined that these impairments could
reasonably be expected to cause Guin’s alleged symptoms, but that Guin’s
statements concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of her
symptoms were not entirely credible. (R. 16). The ALJ expressly recognized that
Guin’s condition had deteriorated since the date she was last insured for benefits,
but determined that there was no evidence that her condition prevented her from
working prior to that date. (Id.) The ALJ found that Guin had the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work with the following restrictions:
no work at unprotected heights; no exposure to dust, odors, fumes, and pulmonary
irritants; and no work in extreme heat or cold.6 (R. 15).
Based on the testimony of the vocational expert, the ALJ found that Guin
could not perform her past relevant work. (R. 16). She further found, however,
Residual functional capacity is the most a claimant can do despite her impairment(s). See 20
that Guin was capable of performing a number of other jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy, including medical assistant, office nurse, and
unit clerk. (R. 17). The ALJ concluded that Guin was not under a disability at any
time from her alleged onset date of December 21, 2010, through her date last
insured of December 31, 2011. (R. 18).
Guin argues that the Commissioner’s decision should be reversed and
remanded because the ALJ failed to properly evaluate the credibility of her pain
testimony in finding her capable of performing a reduced range of light work.
(Doc. 11 at 4-11). As a general rule, “credibility determinations are for the ALJ.”
Wilson v. Heckler, 734 F.2d 513, 517 (11th Cir. 1984). “After considering a
claimant’s complaints of pain, the ALJ may reject them as not creditable, and that
determination will be reviewed for substantial evidence.” Marbury v. Sullivan, 957
F.2d 837, 839 (11th Cir. 1992).
To establish a disability based on subjective testimony of pain and other
symptoms, a claimant must establish “(1) evidence of an underlying medical
condition; and (2) either (a) objective medical evidence confirming the severity of
the alleged pain; or (2) that the objectively determined medical condition can
reasonably be expected to give rise to the claimed pain.” Wilson, 284 F.3d at 1255.
If the ALJ discredits a claimant’s subjective testimony regarding pain, the ALJ
must articulate “explicit and adequate reasons for doing so.” Id. “[T]he ALJ need
not cite to ‘particular phrases or formulations’ to support the credibility
determination, … [but] must do more than merely reject the claimant’s testimony,
such that the decision provides a reviewing court a basis to conclude that the ALJ
considered the claimant’s medical condition as a whole.” Mijenes v. Comm’r of
Soc. Sec., -- F. App’x -- , 2017 WL 1735236, *5 (May 3, 2017) (quoting Dyer v.
Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005) (quotations omitted)).
Here, the ALJ found that Guin suffered from two severe impairments:
cardiomyopathy and degenerative disc disease. The ALJ determined that these
impairments could reasonably be expected to cause Guin’s alleged symptoms, but
that Guin’s statements concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of
her symptoms were not entirely credible. Guin contends that the ALJ’s reasons for
refusing to fully credit her subjective testimony are not supported by substantial
evidence. (Doc. 11 at 6). She raises two primary challenges to the ALJ’s
credibility determination. First, Guin argues that the ALJ “mischaracterized the
medical evidence and failed to properly consider [her] longitudinal medical history
….” (Id.) Within this argument, Guin asserts that the medical record supports both
her allegations of chronic fatigue due to her heart problems and her testimony
regarding her neck pain. (Doc. 11 at 7-8). Second, Guin argues that the ALJ
erroneously based her credibility determination on “the absence of a physician’s
opinion” finding Guin unable to work. (Id. at 9). The Commissioner responds that
substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s credibility determination as well as her
RFC determination. (Doc. 12 at 5-14).
Guin’s Fatigue and Neck Pain
Guin concedes that her “window to prove disability is limited from
December 21, 2010 through December 31, 2011,” but argues that “the records
contained in the file support [her]allegations of debilitating symptoms, specifically
chronic fatigue, during this time period.” (Doc. 11 at 7). While the medical record
does reflect that Guin complained of fatigue throughout most of the relevant
period, substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s determination not to fully credit
her subjective complaints concerning the debilitating effects of her fatigue.
As the ALJ noted in her decision, Guin underwent left ventricular myectomy
and mitral valve repair on August 17, 2011. (R. 16, 277-78). Although Guin
developed a “moderate right-sided pleural effusion” following the surgery, Dr.
Kirklin noted that the effusion had decreased in size by October 2011. (R. 297). In
all other respects, Guin was “doing quite well” and was walking “two miles per
day without difficulty.” (Id.) She had “no heart failure symptoms” and Dr. Kirklin
recommended only “[r]outine follow up care.” (Id.)
The ALJ assigned significant weight to Dr. Ridner’s records. (R. 16). As the
ALJ observed, Dr. Ridner reported on December 14, 2011, that Guin’s recent
echocardiographic studies confirmed a competent mitral valve with no signs of
regurgitation and normal left ventricular function. (R. 16, 368). Dr. Ridner also
noted that Guin’s surgery had been successful in relieving outflow tract
obstruction. (Id.) Although Guin had developed a moderate degree of mitral
stenosis and continued to report exertional fatigue and dyspnea, she did not report
any orthopnea, reported no palpitations, and reported walking seven days a week
for exercise. (Id.) Dr. Ridner did not feel that immediate action was necessary at
that time (just over two weeks before Guin’s date last insured). (Id.) When Dr.
Ridner examined Guin six months later, Guin continued to report dyspnea with
exertion but again reported no orthopnea and reported only brief episodes of
awareness of her heart. (R. 363). She was still walking seven days a week for
The ALJ also assigned significant weight to Dr. Pataki’s opinion that Guin
was able to function at a reduced range of light work prior to her date last insured.
(R. 16, 533). Guin argues that Dr. Pataki’s opinion is “inconsistent with the other
evidence in the file” and that the ALJ’s reliance upon Dr. Pataki’s opinion “renders
her finding not supported by substantial evidence” (doc. 11 at 9), but that is not the
case. First of all, state agency medical consultants such as Dr. Pataki are “highly
qualified physicians … who are experts in the evaluation of the medical issues in
disability claims” and ALJs “may not ignore [their] opinions ….” Social Security
Ruling (SSR) 96-6p, 1996 WL 374180, *2 (July 2, 1996); see 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(e)(2)(i) (“State agency medical and psychological consultants . . . are
highly qualified physicians, psychologists, and other medical specialists who are
also experts in Social Security disability evaluation.”). Second, contrary to Guin’s
assertion, Dr. Pataki’s opinion is consistent with the medical evidence discussed
above, which reflects that Guin’s heart condition improved in the months
following her surgery and prior to her date last insured. Third, the ALJ did not rely
solely on Dr. Pataki’s opinion in finding that Guin had the RFC to perform a
reduced range of light work during the relevant period. Even if Dr. Pataki’s
opinion were given little or no weight, the ALJ’s decision would still be supported
by substantial evidence.
Moreover, although not addressed by the ALJ, Guin reported performing a
wide range of daily activities during the relevant period. She reported preparing
“simple meals” on a daily basis, “swiffering” floors for 30 minutes on a daily
basis, dusting for 30 minutes on a weekly basis, doing laundry on a weekly basis,
shopping for groceries once a week with her husband’s assistance, walking outside
every day, and driving a car once a week. (R. 32, 189-96). These activities provide
further support for the ALJ’s decision not to fully credit Guin’s testimony
regarding the limiting effects of her fatigue. See Wolfe v. Chater, 86 F.3d 1072,
1078 (11th Cir. 1996) (ALJ properly discredited claimant’s subjective pain
complaints based in part on claimant’s reported activities during the relevant
With respect to Guin’s allegations regarding her neck pain, the Court notes
that the ALJ did not expressly address Guin’s neck pain in her decision. Even so,
the Court finds that Guin’s testimony with respect to her neck pain is insufficient
to establish that the ALJ’s credibility determination is not supported by substantial
evidence, much less that Guin was disabled during the relevant period.
As an initial matter, the Court observes that Guin never identified her neck
pain as disabling until she testified at the hearing before the ALJ, even though she
traces her neck pain to her automobile accident in 2008 and has been receiving
chiropractic treatment for her pain since 2008. (R. 30, 171, 211). Even at the
hearing, Guin merely testified that she has “pain, stiffness, and lack of mobility” in
her neck (R. 31); she offered no testimony regarding any limiting effects of her
neck pain and no testimony regarding how (if at all) the pain rendered her disabled
and unable to perform any work, including a limited range of light work. In
addition, the medical evidence reflects that Guin denied any musculoskeletal
problems when she was examined by Dr. Cox in December 2010, and her medical
records from 2011 consistently reflect normal musculoskeletal examinations. (R.
257, 297, 369-70, 374, 403, 414, 419). Indeed, Guin’s most recent medical records
from April 2014 reflect a full range of motion in her head and neck, full strength in
all neck muscles, and a diagnosis of “mild cervical degenerative disk disease
normal for [her] age.” (R. 367-68). Simply put, there is no evidence that Guin’s
neck pain would have prevented her from performing a limited range of light work
during the relevant period.
In sum, based on the record as a whole, the Court finds that substantial
evidence supports the ALJ’s determination that Guin’s allegations of disabling
limitations during the relevant period were not entirely credible, and that
substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s finding that Guin had the RFC to perform
a limited range of light work during the relevant period.
The Absence of a Medical Opinion that Guin was Unable to Work
In her decision, the ALJ “specifically note[d] that no doctor opined that
[Guin] was unable to engage in work activity at any time, especially before she
was last insured for benefits.” (R. 16). Guin argues that the ALJ erroneously based
her credibility determination on “the absence of a physician’s opinion” finding
Guin unable to work. (Doc. 11at 9 (citing Lamb v. Bowen, 847 F.2d 698, 703 (11th
Cir. 1988)). The ALJ, however, did not base her credibility determination or her
RFC finding solely on the absence of a physician’s opinion indicating that Guin
was incapable of working. Rather, she based her determination on a “careful
consideration of the evidence,” including the medical evidence discussed in her
decision. (R. 16). See Clyburn v. Comm’r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 555 F. App’x 892,
894 (11th Cir. 2014) (rejecting the claimant’s contention that the ALJ gave
improper weight to her treating physician’s silence regarding her functional
capacity, noting that the ALJ “did not base his residual functional capacity
determination merely on [the physician’s] silence” with respect to the claimant’s
limitations). Moreover, contrary to Guin’s contention, it is proper for an ALJ to
note the absence of a physician’s opinion indicating that the claimant was disabled
or unable to perform the level of work reflected in the RFC. See Powell v. Comm’r
of Soc. Sec., 571 F. App’x 914, 917 (11t h Cir. 2014) (holding that the ALJ
articulated explicit and adequate reasons for discrediting the claimant’s subjective
testimony about her pain, including that the claimant “did not present any opinions
from a treating or examining physician indicating that she was disabled or had
limitations greater than those reflected in the RFC”); Mayo v. Colvin, No. 2:13-cv0553-AKK, 2014 WL 4829555, *4 (N.D. Ala. Sept. 29, 2014) (“The court finds no
error because it is proper for the ALJ to rely on the absence of restrictions in
evaluating [the claimant’s] credibility.” (citing Powell)).
For the reasons set forth above, the decision of the Commissioner is due to
be affirmed. An appropriate order consistent with this opinion will be entered.
DONE, this the 23rd day of May, 2017.
JOHN E. OTT
Chief United States Magistrate Judge
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