Garcia v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION Signed by Judge William M Acker, Jr on 12/17/13. (SAC )
2013 Dec-17 PM 03:25
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
TONYA LYNN GARCIA,
)Civil Action No.: 6:12-CV-0558-WMA
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,
Acting Commissioner of
Claimant, Tonya Lynn Garcia (“claimant”), brings this action
challenging the decision of defendant, the Commissioner of the
Social Security Administration, to deny the disability benefits she
claims under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 301 et seq.
impairments, including degenerative disk disease in her lower back,
degenerative joint disease in one knee, morbid obesity, bi-polar
disorder, and severe learning disabilities resulting in functional
She worked as a door finisher from 2003-2006 and a
house cleaner in 2009, but has not worked since 2009.
2010, she filed a claim for social security disability benefits.
The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denied her initial
claim, and after a hearing on the matter, an Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) concurred that claimant’s impairments did not rise to
the level of disability.
Claimant appealed the ALJ’s decision to
the Social Security Appeals Council, and, failing there, to this
This court’s review of the ALJ decision is limited. The court
must affirm so long as the ALJ applied the correct law, Graham v.
Apfel, 129 F.3d 1420, 1422 (11th Cir. 1997), and based her decision
on substantial evidence, 42 U.S.C. § 405 (“The findings of the
Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by
substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . . .”).
Claimant insists that the ALJ must be reversed because she
failed to adhere to the mandates of two of the Social Security
Rulings (“SSRs”) promulgated by the SSA for resolving social
First, claimant argues that the ALJ failed to
follow SSR 00-4P, 2000 WL 1898704 (Dec. 4, 2000).
that SSR, testimony of a vocational expert testimony “generally
should be consistent with the occupational information supplied by
the [SSA’s ‘Dictionary of Occupational Titles’ (‘DOT’)],” and in
cases of conflict between the two, “the adjudicator must elicit a
reasonable explanation for the conflict before relying on the
[vocational expert] evidence.”
Id. at *2.
In this case, the
vocational expert at claimant’s hearing testified that a person who
Despite claimant’s indications to the contrary, the court
concludes both alleged errors should be reviewed as errors of law
because both deal with the ALJ’s alleged failure to follow
specific rules set out in the SSRs.
could not “be required to read instructions, to read or prepare
written reports, [or to] perform mathematical calculations at the
job site” could nonetheless perform “all of the past work of
R. at 79-80.
The DOT, on the other hand, assigns house
cleaning a reasoning level of “2,” which requires the ability to
carry out written instructions.
While the court agrees with claimant that the vocational
expert’s testimony was inconsistent with the DOT, the court finds
that the inconsistency was not relevant to the question before the
ALJ, and thus did not constitute reversible error.
mental impairments have been with her for her entire life, and did
not prevent her from working for several years in the past.
primary question in this case was whether the onset of physical
disabilities, especially the deterioration of claimant’s back and
knee, truly made it impossible for her to continue working in her
On that question, the ALJ explicitly concluded that
the impairments were not disabling.
See R. at 20.
cannot now set aside the ALJ’s conclusion based on a technical
Claimant’s mental impairments are of course relevant to the
secondary question whether, if claimant’s physical condition was
disabling, her mental condition would prevent her from obtaining
other jobs. See R. at 80-81 (testimony of vocational expert that
a person in claimant’s position with “the need to alternate
sitting and standing at the job site in 30 minute increments”
would be unable to find work because “the jobs . . . that allow
for a sit/stand option require more than a third grade reading
level”). But on this relevant question, the vocational expert’s
testimony about other jobs was consistent with the DOT.
error found on an irrelevant, and thus harmless, topic.
Second, claimant argues that the ALJ failed to follow SSR 0603p.
SSR 06-03p requires that “evidence of a disability decision
by another governmental or nongovernmental agency cannot be ignored
and must be considered.”
2006 WL 2329939, at *6 (S.S.A. Aug. 9,
In this case, the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation
Services emphatically concluded that claimant’s impairments were
complete barriers to employment.
See R. at 208-09.
claimant’s reading of the SSR is incomplete.
SSR 06-03p expressly
incorporates 20 C.F.R. § 404.1504, which states that a “decision by
. . . any other governmental agency about whether you are disabled
or blind is based on its rules and is not our decision about
whether you are disabled . . . .”
Thus, while the ALJ was required
to consider the state agency determination in this case, she was
not required to accept it or follow it.
The ALJ acted within her
She described the state agency determination in great
detail, see R. at 15-20, but ultimately concluded it was entitled
only to “[l]imited weight” because it was inconsistent with other
evidence, R. at 20.
Because the ALJ did not commit any legal error, the only
The evidence in this case is deeply unclear
On the one hand, claimant indisputably has a long,
well-chronicled history of serious medical problems.
See R. at
238-320, 377-91. There is no evidence that she has faked symptoms,
and the court personally has no doubt that she must deal with
On the other hand, there is no evidence that
claimant’s pain worsened during the years leading up to her leaving
her job, see R. at 238-320 (doctors’ reports showing consistent
pain levels of about 7), she did not show pain at her state agency
evaluation, see R. at 208, and she remains capable of performing
cleaning her own house, and driving, see R. at 62, 66-68.
like this, the conclusion this court would draw from the evidence
dispositive is the fact that the ALJ weighed the evidence, see R.
at 19-20, and drew her own conclusion from it.
this court, actually viewed the claimant.
entitled to deference.
The ALJ, unlike
Her conclusion is
See Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1212
(11th Cir. 2005) (“[C]redibility determinations are the province of
the ALJ.”); Wilson v. Heckler, 734 F.2d 513, 517 (11th Cir. 1984)
(“The ALJ determines the disabling nature of pain.”).
aggregation of serious physical and mental impairments, including
the assured lack of mobility and agility in a woman 5'3" in height
with a weight of 280 pounds, would cause a different result, but
this court is strictly precluded from substituting its judgment for
that of the ALJ when there was substantial evidence upon which she
could find what she found.
For these reasons, this court concludes the decision of the
Commissioner is to be AFFIRMED.
The court will enter a separate
order to that effect simultaneously.
DONE this 17th day of December, 2013.
WILLIAM M. ACKER, JR.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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