Lucas v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge R David Proctor on 1/31/2014. (AVC)
2014 Jan-31 PM 01:43
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
MARTHA A. LUCAS,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,
Acting Commissioner of Social Security,
) CIVIL ACTION NO. 6:09-CV-1984-RDP
Plaintiff, Martha A. Lucas, brings this action pursuant to the provisions of 42
U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner
of the Social Security Administration (the Commissioner) denying her application for
disability insurance benefits. Lucas timely pursued and exhausted her administrative
remedies available before the Commissioner. Accordingly, this case is now ripe for
judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Based on the court’s review of the record and
the briefs submitted by the parties, the court finds that the decision of the Commissioner
is due to be affirmed.
I. STANDARD OF REVIEW
The sole function of this court is to determine whether the decision of the
Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence and whether proper legal standards
were applied. Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983). To that end
this court “must scrutinize the record as a whole to determine if the decision reached is
reasonable and supported by substantial evidence.” Id. (citations omitted). Substantial
evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Id. This court may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the
evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Id. Even if the court
finds that the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner’s decision, the court
must affirm if the decision is supported by substantial evidence. Id.
Unlike the deferential review standard applied to the Commissioner’s factual
findings, the Commissioner’s conclusions of law are not presumed to be valid. Martin v.
Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990). Therefore, the Commissioner’s “failure
to apply the correct law or to provide the reviewing court with sufficient reasoning for
determining that the proper legal analysis has been conducted mandates reversal.”
Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991). This includes the
Commissioner’s application of the proper legal standards in evaluating Lucas’s claim.
Martin, 894 F.2d at 1529.
II. STATUTORY AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK
To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must be unable “to engage in any
substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental
impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be
expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months . . . .” 42 U.S.C.
§§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). A “physical or mental impairment” is defined as “an
impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities
which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic
techniques.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(3), 1382c(a)(3)(D).
Social Security regulations outline a five-step process that is used to determine
whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v), 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v).
The Commissioner must determine in sequence:
whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful
whether the claimant has a severe impairment or combination of
whether the claimant’s impairment meets or equals the severity of
an impairment in the Listing of Impairments;1
whether the claimant can perform any of his or her past work; and
whether there are significant numbers of jobs in the national
economy that the claimant can perform.
Winschel v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec, 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011). The evaluation
process continues until the Commissioner can determine whether the claimant is
disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). A claimant who is doing
substantial gainful activity will be found not disabled at step one. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520
(a)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). A claimant who does not have a severe impairment will be found
The Listing of Impairments, (“Listings”) found at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart
P, Appendix 1, are used to make determinations of disability based upon the presence of
impairments that are considered severe enough to prevent a person from doing any
gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1525.
not disabled at step two. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). A claimant
with an impairment that meets or equals one in the Listing of Impairments will be found
disabled at step three. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii).
Prior to considering steps four and five, the Commissioner must assess the
claimant’s residual functional capacity (RFC), which will be used to determine the
claimant’s ability to work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). A claimant who
can perform past relevant work will be found not disabled at step four. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). At step five the burden shifts to the
Commissioner to show other work the claimant can do. Foot v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553,
1559 (11th Cir. 1995). To satisfy this burden the Commissioner must produce evidence
of work in the national economy that the claimant can do based on the claimant’s RFC,
age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1512(f), 416.912(f). A claimant
who can do other work will be found not disabled at step five. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920 (a)(4)(v). A claimant who cannot do other work will be
found disabled. Id.
In the present case, Lucas seeks Title II disibility insurance benefits alleging
disability beginning on December 1, 2001. R. 13. Based on Lucas’s earnings records, she
has sufficient quarters of coverage to remain insured through December 31, 2006. R. 14.
Therefore, Lucas must establish that she became disabled on or before December 31,
2006, her date last insured. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d
1219, 1226 (11th Cir. 2002). The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) determined Lucas did
not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset date
through her date last insured. R. 15. Through her date last insured, the ALJ found Lucas
had the severe impairments of “status post right elbow flexion contracture following
radial head fracture; left L4-5 disc herniation; and lumbalgia.” R. 15. The ALJ concluded
Lucas did not suffer from a listed impairment through her date last insured. R. 18. The
ALJ found Lucas had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform “the full range
of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b)” through her date last insured.2 R.
18. With this RFC, the ALJ found Lucas unable to perform her past relevant work. R. 21.
Based on Lucas’s RFC the ALJ found she was not disabled based on Medical-Vocational
Rule 202.20 and Rule 202.13.3 R. 21-22. Therefore, the ALJ found she was not disabled
at step five of the sequential evaluation framework. R. 22.
III. FACTUAL BACKGROUND
Lucas filed applications for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits
on December 27, 2006, and alleges she became disabled on December 1, 2001. R. 13. A
The regulations define light work as “lifting no more than 20 pounds at a time
with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 10 pounds.” 20 C.F.R.
The Medical-Vocational Guidelines, found at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 2, are used to make determinations of disability based upon vocational factors
and the claimant’s residual functional capacity when the claimant is unable to perform
vocationally relevant past work. 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2, § 200.00(a).
Such determinations, however, are only conclusive when all of the criteria of a particular
rule are met. 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2, § 200.00(a).
hearing was held before an ALJ on July 3, 2008. R. 50. In a decision rendered July 21,
2008, the ALJ denied Lucas’s claim for benefits. R. 50-59. Lucas exhausted her
administrative remedies and filed this action for judicial review on October 5, 2009.
(Doc. #1.) Prior to briefing by the parties, the Commissioner filed a motion to remand
because the recording of the ALJ hearing was inaudible, which prevented the filing of
transcript. R. 68-70. The action was remanded on January 5, 2010, for completion of the
administrative record. R. 67. On remand a second hearing was conducted before the
same ALJ on March 31, 2011. R. 27-44. On June 15, 2011, the ALJ again denied
benefits. R. 13-22. The matter is now before the court on appeal of that decision.
Lucas was 52 years old on December 31, 2006, her date last insured. R. 21. She
has a high school education, and past relevant work as a fiberglass roller. R. 21. Lucas
alleges she is disabled due to back pain. R. 39.
The medical records show Lucas sustained a radial head fracture of the right
elbow on December 21, 1998. R. 260. On March 24, 1999, she had surgery to treat a
right elbow flexion contracture. R. 219. Treatment records from Dr. G. Scott Jones at
Columbus Orthopedic Clinic show Lucas did well in therapy, and she was released for
light duty work on May 18, 1999. R. 218. On June 11, 1999, it was noted that Lucas had
been conscientious in her physical therapy, but Dr. Jones felt she might be in need of an
additional contracture release. R. 218. Although the medical records do not document
any additional surgeries, she reported she has had additional surgeries on her right
shoulder, and that she eventually returned to work. R. 276. Lucas worked until 2001,
when she lost her job as a result of a reduction in force by her employer. R. 276.
After 1999 there are no treatment records until 2006. On May 2, 2006, Lucas was
seen by Dr. Jeffrey D. Harrison, a chiropractor. R. 270. She reported a three day history
of mild to moderate pain low back pain. R. 270. She reported the pain had appeared
gradually, and was worsened by standing for long periods of time on hard surfaces. R.
270. An xray of the lumbar spine was normal. On May 4, 2006, Lucas reported she was
experiencing less back pain since her last visit. R. 269. On May 8, 2006, Lucas reported
markedly less low back pain since her last visit. R. 268. She described her symptoms as
being approximately 70% improved. R. 268. On May 22, 2006, Lucas reported she had
been doing well, but had a recurrence of her low back pain after she had done a lot of
stooping to clean grave markers the previous day. R. 267. An MRI of the lumbar spine
showed a bulging disc with facet hypertrophy and mild spinal stenosis at L3-4, and a
small left disc herniation at L4-5. R. 266. Because there was no direct impingement of
the nerve root, Dr. Harrison recommended nerve blocks. R. 265.
On May 23, 2006, Lucas saw Dr. Wesley L. Spruill for an epidural steroid
injection. R. 227. At that time she rated her pain as a nine, on a scale of one to ten. R.
227. She returned to Dr. Spruill on May 30, 2006, for a second injection. R. 225. She
reported that overall her pain was 50% better after her first injection. She rated her pain
as a five. R. 225.
Lucas saw Dr. Harrison, on June 2, 2006, reporting that she was improving after
her epidural steroid injections. R. 257. When she saw Dr. Harrison on June 6, 2006, she
reported that she felt better since her last visit, and that her pain level was approximately
a three. R. 256. There was also a decrease in the objective examination findings. R. 256.
On June 9, 2006, she again reported that her back pain was less pronounced. R. 255.
Although she still had some residual leg pain, she reported it was improving. R. 255. On
June 14, 2006, Lucas reported that after doing some housework on a stool, she started
having increased low back pain. R. 254. She described the pain as mild to moderate. R.
254. On June 20, 2006, Lucas reported to Dr. Harrison that she was “having much less
low back pain since her last visit.” R. 253. She rated her pain level as a two. R. 253. Dr.
Harrison opined that Lucas was “progressing well at this point,” and that her prognosis
continued to be good. R. 253. When Lucas saw Dr. Harrison on June 26, 2006, she
described no significant change in her low back pain since her last visit. R. 252. On June
29, 2006, she reported she was experiencing less low back pain since her last visit. R.
251. She also reported that her leg pain was slightly better. R. 251.
When Lucas saw Dr. Spruill on June 30, 2006, for her third epidural steroid
injection, she stated she was 90% better after her last injection. R. 224. She rated her
pain level as a two, but continued to report some radicular symptoms in her left leg. R.
Lucas saw Dr. Harrison on July 12, 2006, and reported she was slightly better
than prior to the injections. R. 250. She reported milder low back pain, and some left leg
soreness. R. 250. It was noted that Lucas had not attempted to work since her last visit.
R. 250. On July 14 and 17, 2006, Lucas reported no change in her back pain. R. 248-49.
When Lucas saw Dr. Harrison on July 20, 2006, she reported less low back pain. R.
247. On July 24, 2006, Lucas reported that her back pain had been worse due to
working four hours two days previously. R. 246. She reported that she had a mild
increase in her low back pain and leg pain. R. 246. On July 26, 2006, Lucas reported
that she was feeling better since her last visit. R. 244. She reported that her pain level
had returned to the same status as before her attempt to work. R. 244. On July 28, 2006,
Lucas reported no change in her low back pain since her previous visit. R. 245. Dr.
Harrison believed Lucas had made all the progress that was possible under his care, and
she was released from treatment. R. 245.
Lucas saw Dr. Harrison on September 28, 2006, reporting that her pain was less
pronounced since her last visit. R. 243. She reported that she had a mild exacerbations
of her low back pain after sitting during a revival service at church. R. 243. It was noted
that her radiating pain was much less severe. R. 243. On November 28, 2006, Lucas
reported she had experienced moderate right low back pain, which did not radiate. R.
242. She reported that the symptoms started two days before, with no apparent cause. R.
242. On November 30, 2006, Lucas reported to Dr. Harrison that her symptoms had
improved since her last visit. R. 241. This is the final treatment record from Dr. Harrison
prior to Lucas’s date last insured.
On January 2, 2007, two days after her date last insured, Lucas returned to Dr.
Harrison reporting that her pain had been worse since Christmas day for unknown
reasons. R. 240. She rated her pain as an eight. R. 240. On January 4, 2007, Lucas
reported she was experiencing “markedly less low back pain since the last visit,” and
there was improvement in the objective examination findings. R. 239. On January 9,
2007, Lucas again reported that her back pain had improved since her last visit. R. 238.
She also reported increased left shoulder pain, which she rated as moderate to severe. R.
238. On January 15, 2007, Lucas reported an exacerbation of her left shoulder pain. R.
236. An x-ray of the shoulder was normal. R. 237. On January 18, 2007, Lucas reported
that her shoulder pain had remained unchanged since her last visit. R. 235. On January
22, January 25, January 30, February 1, and February 6, 2007, Lucas saw Dr. Harrison
for treatment of her shoulder pain. R. 296-301. At each of these visits Lucas reported
that her shoulder pain had improved, and there was no mention of back pain. On
February 8, 2007, Lucas reported her shoulder pain was unchanged. R. 301. On
February 19, 2007, Lucas reported to Dr. Harrison that she was experiencing moderate
lumbosacral pain with radiation into her right thigh after “helping at the cleaning
business” the previous week. R. 302. At her next visit on February 22, 2007, Lucas
reported her pain had improved. R. 303.
Lucas was also seen during the relevant time period by Dr. Travis Miller, her
primary care physician. On February 16, 2006, Lucas reported that she had been doing
fairly well overall, with no myalgias. R. 373. On August 7, 2006, she saw Dr. Miller for
refills of her medicines. R. 372. Dr. Miller saw Lucas for an adverse reaction to her
medications on August 21 and August 28, 2006. R. 370-71. On December 28, 2006,
Lucas returned to Dr. Miller for refills of her blood pressure medications. R. 369. At this
visit it was noted Lucas “has had a lot of osteoarthritic back pain,” which was noted to
be a chronic problem. R. 369. The treatment note states that she was “not taking
anything on a regular basis” for her osteoarthritis pain, and Dr. Miller prescribed Mobic.
R. 369. On February 26, 2007, Lucas saw Dr. Miller complaining of sinus congestion.
The record contains additional treatment records from the period after Lucas’s
date last insured. However, those notes are not relevant to her condition prior to her date
On February 7, 2007, Lucas underwent a disability examination by Dr. Boyde J.
Harrison. R. 276-78. Dr. Harrison noted Lucas walked into the exam room without
difficulty. R. 277. On musculoskeletal examination, Dr. Harrison found Lucas had
reduced range of motion in her shoulders. R. 278. She was able to squat, but had
difficulty arising. R. 278. She had a reduced range of motion in her lumbar spine. R.
278. Straight leg raise testing was negative, and her hips flexed normally. R. 278. Dr.
Harrison’s diagnostic impression was as follows:
Patient has painful posttraumatic right elbow with decreased range
of motion and crepitation during the range of motion.
Patient has pain and decreased range of motion in her left shoulder.
Patient has low back pain and has previously had three epidurals.
R. 278. Dr. Harrison was of the opinion that Lucas “will not be able to return to physical
manual labor as she has previously performed in her previous jobs.” R. 278.
On August 15,2008, Dr. Harrison, the plaintiff’s treating chiropractor, completed
a Physical Capacities Evaluation indicating Lucas could lift ten pounds occasionally or
less frequently. R. 374. He also limited Lucas to standing and walking for a total of
three hours in an eight-hour day. R. 274. Dr. Harrison also completed a Clinical
Assessment of Pain form indicating Lucas’s pain would “be distracting to adequate
performance of daily activities or work.” R. 375.
IV. ISSUES PRESENTED
Lucas raises the following issues on appeal: 1) whether the ALJ failed to properly
evaluate her complaints of pain in accordance with the Eleventh Circuit’s pain standard;
2) whether ALJ failed to properly articulate good cause for according less weight to the
opinions of her treating chiropractor; and 3) whether the ALJ failed to properly consider
her impairments in combination.
Lucas argues the ALJ erred in failing to credit her allegations of disabling pain. In
this Circuit a “pain standard” is applied “when a claimant attempts to establish disability
through his or her own testimony of pain or other subjective symptoms.” Foote v.
Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1562 (11th Cir. 1995). The standard requires a claimant to show
“evidence of an underlying medical condition and (1) objective medical evidence that
confirms the severity of the alleged pain arising from that condition or (2) that the
objectively determined medical condition is of such a severity that it can be reasonably
expected to give rise to the alleged pain.” Landry v. Heckler, 782 F. 2d 1551, 1553
(11th Cir. 1986). “[W]hether objective medical impairments could reasonably be
expected to produce the pain complained of is a question of fact . . . subject to review in
the courts to see if it is supported by substantial evidence.” Id.
“[A] claimant's subjective testimony supported by medical evidence that satisfies
the standard is itself sufficient to support a finding of disability.” Holt v. Sullivan, 921
F.2d 1221, 1223 (11th Cir. 1991). “If the ALJ decides not to credit such testimony, he
must articulate explicit and adequate reasons for doing so.” Id. However, the ALJ’s
credibility determination need not cite “particular phrases or formulations” as long as it
enables the court to conclude that the ALJ considered the claimant’s medical condition
as a whole. Foote, 67 F.3d at 1562. “A clearly articulated credibility finding with
substantial supporting evidence in the record will not be disturbed by a reviewing
Lucas argues the treatment notes from Dr. Spruill and her chiropractor, Dr.
Harrison, support her allegations of disabling pain. The ALJ discussed these treatment
notes in his decision and found they showed that Lucas’s pain improved with treatment.4
The ALJ noted that there were no treatment notes from 1999 until May 2, 2006,
when Lucas saw her chiropractor with a three day history of low back pain. R. 19.
However, the ALJ observed Lucas reported her pain was “approximately 70%
improved” when she returned on May 8. The ALJ also noted that after Dr. Spruill
performed epidural steroid injections, Lucas “rated her pain intensity as being 2/10 and
she admitted she was 90% better.” R. 20. The ALJ discussed Dr. Harrison’s treatment
notes, which showed Lucas reported on September 28, 2006, she had “a mild
exacerbation of her low back pain that had occurred after sitting during a church
revival.” R. 20. He also observed Dr. Harrison noted on November 28, 2006, that the
plaintiff reported “a two-day history of moderate right lower back pain,” and that she felt
better after chiropractic adjustment. R. 20. Finally, the ALJ noted the plaintiff reported
There is a treatment note from Dr. Miller dated February 16, 2006. R. 373.
However, it was for a check up of Lucas’s hypertension and hyperlipidemia. R. 373. She
reported she was doing fairly well and there is no mention of back or elbow pain. R. 373.
“she was experiencing markedly less low back pain” when she saw Dr. Harrison on
January 4, 2007. R. 20.
Therefore, the treatment notes show that prior to her date last insured, her
complaints of significant pain were infrequent. Those note show Lucas responded well
to treatment, and frequently rated her pain as mild or moderate. Therefore, the treatment
notes provide substantial evidence to support the ALJ’s credibility determination.
Lucas also argues the ALJ placed undue influence on her daily activities, and
work history in finding her pain allegations were not credible. The ALJ found Lucas’s
credibility was diminished because she was able to return to work after surgery for her
elbow injury in 1999. R. 20. The ALJ noted she worked until there was a reduction in
work force and she was the first one to go. R. 20. The ALJ reasoned that “[t]he fact that
the impairment did not prevent the claimant from working at that time strongly suggests
that it would not currently prevent work.” R. 20. The ALJ’s reliance on Lucas’s work
history to find that her elbow impairment did not cause disabling symptoms during the
relevant period of time (December 1, 2001 to December 31, 2006) is reasonable in light
of the absence of treatment for that condition.
The ALJ also found Lucas’s testimony “that she was able to do light housework,
cook meals, shop in grocery stores, go to church and attend church revivals” diminished
the credibility of her allegations of disability. R.20. The ALJ found Lucas’s activities
were “not limited to the extent one would expect based on the claimant’s allegations of
disabling pain and dysfunction.” R. 20. Lucas correctly points out that“participation in
everyday activities of short duration, such as housework or fishing” does not disqualify a
claimant from disability. Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1346, 1441 (11th Cir. 1997).
However, the ALJ did not rely solely on Lucas’s activities of daily living to find her not
disabled. The ALJ properly considered Lucas’s activities of daily living as one factor in
his credibility determination. See Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1212 (11th Cir.
2005) (approving of ALJ’s reliance on inconsistencies between claimant’s descriptions
of diverse daily activities and her claims of infirmity to discredit her pain testimony);
Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1212 (11th Cir. 2005) (finding the ALJ’s
consideration of claimant’s activities of daily living, frequency of his symptoms, and
types and dosages of his medications was adequate to discredit his testimony).
Here, the ALJ considered Lucas’s activities of daily living, the frequency of her
symptoms, and the effectiveness of treatment to find her pain testimony was not
credible. Substantial evidence in the record supports the ALJ's finding, as the medical
evidence shows Lucas reported symptoms infrequently and that treatment was effective
in relieving her pain during the relevant time period. See Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d
1219, 1226 (11th Cir. 2002) (approving of ALJ’s reliance on claimant’s activities of
daily living, limited use of pain medication, and effectiveness of treatment to discredit
his pain testimony).
As required by the Eleventh Circuit pain standard, the ALJ articulated specific
reasons for discounting Lucas’s testimony of disabling symptoms and those reasons are
supported by substantial evidence. This court cannot reweigh the evidence. There is no
reversible error in the ALJ’s credibility finding.
Lucas also argues the ALJ failed to properly articulate good cause for according
less weight to the opinions of her treating chiropractor, Dr. Harrison. On August
15,2008, Dr. Harrison completed a Physical Capacities Evaluation indicating Lucas
could lift ten pounds occasionally or less frequently. R. 374. He also limited Lucas to
standing and walking for a total of three hours in an eight-hour day. R. 274. Dr.
Harrison also completed a Clinical Assessment of Pain form indicating Lucas’s pain
would “be distracting to adequate performance of daily activities or work.” R. 375.
Chiropractors are not acceptable medical sources for establishing the presence of a
medically determinable impairment. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1513(a) (listing acceptable
medical sources). Nor may a chiropractor render a medical opinion. “Medical opinions are
statements from physicians and psychologists or other acceptable medical sources that
reflect judgments about the nature and severity” of a claimant’s impairments. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(a)(2). However, once medical evidence establishes the presence of a medically
determinable impairment, the opinions of a chiropractor may be utilized to show how a
claimant’s impairment affects her ability to work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1513(d)(1). Even
though a chiropractor’s opinions may be considered, “an ALJ has no duty to give
significant or controlling weight to a chiropractor's views.” Miles v. Soc. Sec. Admin. 469
F.App’x 743, 745 (11th Cir. 2012)(unpublished).
Here, the ALJ considered the opinion of Dr. Harrison, but gave it little weight. R.
21. The ALJ gave the following reasons for his decision:
Mr. Harrison’s opinion is not supported or explained, nor is it consistent
with the record. Moreover, it appears that Mr. Harrison’s opinion is based
almost entirely on the claimant’s subjective complaints, which, for the
reasons explained above, are considered less than credible.
R. 21. Substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s finding that Dr. Harrison’s opinion is
inconsistent with the medical evidence of record during the relevant period of time. The
medical evidence through December 31, 2006, which the ALJ discussed in detail, shows
Lucas’s impairments responded well to treatment, and that she reported very little pain
after her initial visit to Dr. Harrison on May 2, 2006. See Crawford v. Comm’r Of Soc.
Sec. 363 F.3d 1155, 1160 (11th Cir. 2004) (finding ALJ’s decision to discredit a treating
chiropractor was supported by substantial evidence when the opinion was inconsistent
with his own treatment notes).
Lucas’s final argument is that the ALJ failed to properly consider her impairments
in combination. When a claimant has several impairments, the Commissioner “has a duty
to consider the impairments in combination and to determine whether the combined
impairments render the claimant disabled.” Jones v. Department of Health and Human
Services, 941 F.2d 1529, 1533 (11th Cir. 1991). Here, a review of the ALJ’s decision
shows that he was aware of his obligation to consider Lucas’s impairments in
combination, and that he did so in his consideration of the evidence.
The ALJ recognized this obligation in his consideration of whether Lucas had a
“severe” impairment. “[T]he undersigned must determine whether the claimant has a
medically determinable impairment that is “severe” or a combination of impairments that
is “severe.” R. 14. In finding Lucas had the severe impairments of “status post right
elbow flexion contracture following radial head fracture; Left L4-5 disc herniation; and
lumbalgia,” the ALJ stated that this “combination of impairments cause more than
minimal limitation in claimant’s ability to perform basic work activities and will be
discussed in more detail below.” R. 15-16. He also recognized that Lucas’s combined
impairments must be considered in determining whether she met a Listing. R. 14. He
found that “[t]hrough the date last insured, the claimant did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments.”
R. 18. In Jones the court held the ALJ’s finding that Jones “does not have ‘an
impairment or combination of impairments listed in, or medically equal to one [in the
Listings]’” was sufficient evidence to show the ALJ had considered the combined effect
of his impairments. Id. In assessing Lucas’s RFC, the ALJ recognized that he “must
consider all of the claimant’s impairments, including impairments that are ‘not severe.’”
R. 14-15. He stated that in making his RFC finding, he “considered all symptoms.” R. 18.
This is not a case such as Walker v. Bowen, where the ALJ did not mention many
of the claimant’s impairments. 826 F.2d 996, 1001 (11th Cir. 1987) (finding the ALJ did
not consider the combination of claimant’s impairments before determining her RFC
when he made specific reference to only two impairments and failed to mention five other
impairments except to find they did not establish disabling pain). In the present case,
there is ample evidence showing the ALJ considered all of Lucas’s impairments and their
combined impact on her ability to perform work related activities. Therefore, he did not
fail to properly consider Lucas’s impairments in combination. See Macia v. Bowen, 829
F.2d 1009, 1012 (11th Cir. 1987) (finding the ALJ considered the claimant’s combined
impairments because of his lengthy consideration of those conditions and his well
articulated findings as to their effect on the claimant).
The court concludes the ALJ’s determination that Lucas is not disabled is
supported by substantial evidence, and that the ALJ applied the proper legal standards in
arriving at this decision. Accordingly, the Commissioner’s final decision is due to be
affirmed. An appropriate order will be entered.
DONE and ORDERED this
day of January, 2014.
R. DAVID PROCTOR
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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