Benford v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala on 3/30/2015. (KEK)
2015 Mar-31 AM 08:49
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
KAREN SUE BENFORD,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting
Commissioner of the Social Security
Case No.: 6:13-CV-00397-MHH
Plaintiff Karen Sue Benford brings this action pursuant to Title II of
Section 405(g) of the Social Security Act.
Ms. Benford seeks review of the
decision by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration1 denying her
claims for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. See 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). After careful review, the Court finds that substantial evidence supports
the ALJ’s decision. Therefore, the Court affirms the Commissioner’s ruling.
Carolyn W. Colvin became the Acting Commissioner of Social Security on February 14, 2013.
Therefore, she should be substituted for Commissioner Michael J. Astrue as defendant in this
action. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 25(d) (“An action does not abate when a public officer who is a party
in an official capacity dies, resigns, or otherwise ceases to hold office while the action is pending
. . . Later proceedings should be in the substituted party’s name, but any misnomer not affecting
the parties’ substantial rights must be disregarded.”).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The scope of review in this matter is limited. “When, as in this case, the
ALJ denies benefits and the Appeals Council denies review,” the Court “review[s]
the ALJ’s ‘factual findings with deference’ and [his] ‘legal conclusions with close
scrutiny.’” Riggs v. Soc. Sec. Admin. Comm’r, 522 Fed. Appx. 509, 510–11 (11th
Cir. 2013) (quoting Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001)).
The Court must determine whether there is substantial evidence in the record
to support the ALJ’s findings. “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is
such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support
a conclusion.” Crawford v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir.
2004). In making this evaluation, the Court may not “reweigh the evidence or
decide the facts anew,” and the Court must “defer to the ALJ’s decision if it is
supported by substantial evidence even if the evidence may preponderate against
it.” Gaskin v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 533 Fed. Appx. 929, 930 (11th Cir. 2013).
With respect to the ALJ’s legal conclusions, the Court must determine
whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards. If the Court finds an error in
the ALJ’s application of the law, or if the Court finds that the ALJ failed to provide
sufficient reasoning to demonstrate that the ALJ conducted a proper legal analysis,
then the Court must reverse the ALJ’s decision. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d
1143, 1145–46 (11th Cir. 1991).
PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND
On April 9, 2010, Ms. Benford filed an application for a period of disability
and disability insurance benefits. (Doc. 12-4, p. 2). The Commission denied the
claims a few months later. (Doc. 12-5, p. 4). At Ms. Benford’s request, an ALJ
conducted a hearing and reviewed the Commissioner’s decision. (Doc. 12-3, p. 24;
Doc. 12-5, p. 9).
Ms. Natalie Maurin, a vocational expert (“VE”), and Mr.
Timothy Zanaty, Ms. Benford’s attorney, appeared at the hearing with Ms.
Benford. (Doc. 12-3, p. 24).
At the time of her hearing, Ms. Benford was 44 years old.2 Ms. Benford has
a high school education and is able to communicate in English. (Doc. 12-3, p. 29).
She worked in the past as a bookkeeping secretary. (Doc. 12-3, p. 29). The ALJ
found that Ms. Benford was capable of performing past relevant work as a
secretary. (Doc. 12-3, p. 19). Therefore, the ALJ denied Ms. Benford’s request for
disability benefits. (Id.). To evaluate Ms. Benford’s claim, the ALJ applied the
Social Security Administration’s “five-step sequential evaluation process for
determining if an individual is disabled.” (Doc. 12-3, pp. 13–14).
At step one, the ALJ found that Ms. Benford had not “engage[d] in
substantial gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset date of March
At 44 years of age, 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563 designates Ms. Benford as a “younger person,” which
means, generally, her age will not be considered to seriously affect her ability to adjust to other
16, 2010 through her date last insured of December 31, 2011.” (Doc. 12-3, p. 15).
At step two, the ALJ found that Ms. Benford has the following severe
impairments: “vertebrobasilar insufficiency, status-post stent and closure of carotid
artery aneurysm, and peripartum cardiomyopathy.” (Doc. 12-3, p. 15). The ALJ
stated that these impairments “more than minimally impact [Ms. Benford’s] ability
to perform basic work activity.” (Doc. 12-3, p. 15). The ALJ concluded that Ms.
Benford suffers from sensorineural hearing loss and anxiety but determined that
these impairments were not severe under the Regulations. (Doc. 12-3, p. 15; Doc.
12-9, p. 67).3
At step three, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Benford had the “residual
functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b)[,]
except only frequent, but not constant use of the right, dominant upper extremity,
and no exposure to unprotected heights, dangerous machinery, or commercial
driving.” (Doc. 12-3, p. 16; Doc. 12-9, pp. 55–61). In reaching her conclusion, the
ALJ considered the assessment of consultative examiners, the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) assessment by Dr. Katrina Paige-Hand, Ms. Benford’s
medication regimen and treatment history, and testimony about Ms. Benford’s
ability to perform daily activities. (Doc. 12-3, p. 18).
The ALJ’s findings are consistent with Ms. Benford’s medical records. Throughout this
opinion, there are citations to both the ALJ’s decision and supporting documents such as medical
Medical records and notes from various physicians support the ALJ’s RFC
assessment. In July 2010, Dr. Boyde Harrison, a consultative examiner, found that
Ms. Benford had 2/4 grip strength in the right hand and 4/4 grip strength in the left
hand. (Doc. 12-3, p. 17; Doc. 12-9, p. 52). Dr. Gary Turner, a consultative
examiner, found that Ms. Benford had abnormal tracking during ocular motor
testing and 10-percent right-sided weakness, which is within the normal limits.
(Doc. 12-3, pp. 17–18; Doc. 12-9, p. 65).
Treatment notes show that Ms.
Benford’s “audiological study demonstrated only very slight sensorineural hearing
loss with 100% discrimination.” (Doc. 12-3, p. 15; Doc. 12-9, p. 67). Dr. PaigeHand’s RFC assessment indicated that Ms. Benford could perform light work, and
Dr. Paige-Hand noted that Ms. Benford’s “statements about her symptoms and
functional limitations are partially credible as the severity alleged is not consistent
with the objective findings[.] . . .” (Doc. 12-9, p. 59). Treatment notes by Dr.
Camilo Gomez from physical examinations in March 2010 and April 2010 show
that Ms. Benford had “normal eye movement, attention, muscle strength,
coordination, and ambulation despite her complaints of dizziness [and headaches].”
(Doc. 12-3, p. 18; Doc. 12-9, pp. 36–37). The ALJ analyzed Ms. Benford’s
medication regimen and treatment history. She found that Ms. Benford was taking
Enalapril, Metropolol, Apsirin, Topamax, Amitriptyline, Nexium, Coumadin,
Plavix, Zantac, and Xanax. (Doc. 12-3, p. 17).
In March and April of 2010, Ms. Benford complained of headaches and
dizziness. (Doc. 12-3, p. 17). Those symptoms resulted from heart problems that
required surgery, but Ms. Benford recovered after surgery. Imaging showed that
Ms. Benford “experienced a left internal carotid artery aneurysm, and thus, she
underwent a stent and closure of the left internal carotid artery.” (Doc. 12-3, p. 17;
Doc. 12-9, p. 33). “Subsequent to her surgery, treatment notes show [that Ms.
Benford] continued to complain of dizziness and headaches.” (Doc. 12-3, p. 17;
Doc. 12-9, p. 71).
Dr. Gomez’s treatment notes indicate that Ms. Benford
complained of shortness of breath after climbing a flight of stairs and walking half
a block. (Doc. 12-3, p. 17; Doc. 12-10, p. 16). Dr. Gomez noted that Ms. Benford
had normal gait without any instability, and her ejection fraction had normalized.
(Doc. 12-3, p. 18; Doc. 12-9, p. 76; Doc. 12-10, p. 16). Additionally, Ms. Benford
testified that she can perform daily activities like “caring for her own personal
needs, prepar[ing] sandwiches, and occasionally shop[ping] and do[ing] laundry.”
(Doc. 12-3, pp. 18, 33–34).
The ALJ found that Ms. Benford’s statements concerning the intensity,
persistence, and limiting effects of her symptoms were not credible to the extent
they were contradicted by the objective medical evidence. (Doc. 12-3, p. 17). Ms.
Benford testified that she experiences headaches every day and that approximately
eight to ten times per month the headaches last approximately ten hours. (Doc. 12-
3, pp. 17, 38, 42). She also stated at the hearing that she has constant left-sided
facial pain and naps three to four hours daily because of the side effects of her
medication. (Doc. 12-3, pp. 17, 43). The ALJ considered and gave little weight to
the March 23, 2011 opinion letter from Dr. Vanessa Ragland, Ms. Benford’s
treating physician. (Doc. 12-3, p. 18). Dr. Ragland listed Ms. Benford’s medical
problems and opined that Ms. Benford could not comfortably perform any gainful
employment. (Doc. 12-3, p. 18; Doc. 12-9, p. 98).
Ultimately, the ALJ found that Ms. Benford was capable of performing past
relevant work as a secretary, a semi-skilled position with a sedentary exertional
level. (Doc. 12-3, p. 19). The ALJ opined:
The above position meets the recency, duration, and substantial
gainful activity requirements to qualify as past relevant work.
Specifically, [Ms. Benford] has performed this position within the
past fifteen years; for a sufficient duration for [Ms. Benford] to learn
the responsibilities of the position and reach an average performance
level; and, above the level required to be classified as substantial
gainful activity. This past relevant work profile is consistent with the
testimony of the vocational expert.
(Doc. 12-3, p. 19). The ALJ relied on the testimony of Ms. Maurin, a vocational
expert, who testified that a person with Ms. Benford’s age, education, experience,
and skillset would be able to perform her past work. (Doc. 12-3, pp. 44–45).
Because Ms. Benford could perform past work, the ALJ found that Ms. Benford is
“not disabled” under sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act. (Doc.
12-3, p. 19).
On January 23, 2013, the ALJ’s decision became final when the Appeals
Council denied review of the ALJ’s decision.4
(Doc. 12-3, p. 2).
exhausted all administrative remedies, Ms. Benford appealed the ALJ’s decision to
this Court under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
The Social Security Act defines “disability” as 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).
A claimant “bears the burden of proving that he is
disabled, and, consequently, he is responsible for producing evidence in support of
his claim.” Ellison v. Barnhart, 355 F.3d 1272, 1276 (11th Cir. 2003).
To determine whether a claimant is disabled, the ALJ applies a sequential,
five-step sequential analysis:
This process includes a determination of whether the claimant (1) is
unable to engage in substantial gainful activity; (2) has a severe and
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 his past relevant work, in the light of
his residual functional capacity; and (5) can make an adjustment to
other work, in the light of his residual functional capacity, age,
education, and work experience.
The Court has reviewed the additional evidence submitted to the Appeals Council by Ms.
Benford’s attorney. (Doc. 12-3, p. 7).
Gaskin, 533 Fed. Appx. at 930 (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)).
claimant’s residual functional capacity is an assessment, based upon all relevant
evidence, of the claimant’s ability to do work despite his impairments.” Id. (citing
Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1440 (11th Cir. 1997)); 20 C.F.R. §
The ALJ found that Ms. Benford’s “vertebrobasilar insufficiency, status-post
stent and closure of carotid artery aneurysm, and peripartum cardiomyopathy”
were “severe impairments” that limit her ability to perform basic work activities.
(Doc. 12-3, p. 15). Nevertheless, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Benford is not
disabled because she is capable of performing past relevant work as a secretary.
(Doc. 12-3, p. 19). The ALJ based her decision on Dr. Paige-Hand’s physical and
RFC assessment, assessments by consultant physicians, and testimony by the
vocational expert, Ms. Maurin, that a person of Ms. Benford’s age, education,
work experience, and RFC would be capable of working as a secretary. (Doc. 123, p. 19).
Ms. Benford argues that “the ALJ is selectively choosing medical evidence
to support her contention and fails to properly credit the evidence as a whole which
overwhelmingly supports [Ms. Benford’s] allegations of debilitating symptoms.”
(Doc. 17, p. 6). Ms. Benford contends that “[t]he ALJ failed to properly credit
[Ms. Benford’s] testimony” of “debilitating dizziness, headaches, weakness and
fatigue.” (Doc. 17, pp. 3, 6). Ms. Benford cites evidence in the record that
corroborates her contentions about the intensity and persistence of her pain;
however, substantial evidence in the record supports the ALJ’s credibility
assessment and findings about the extent of Ms. Benford’s debilitating symptoms.
In Wilson v. Barnhart, the Court reaffirmed the pain standard set forth in
Holt v. Sullivan, stating:
[T]o establish a disability based on testimony of pain and other
symptoms, the claimant must satisfy two parts of a three-part test
showing: (1) evidence of an underlying medical condition; and (2)
either (a) objective medical evidence confirming the severity of the
alleged pain; or (b) that the objectively determined medical condition
can reasonably be expected to give rise to the claimed pain.
Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1225 (11th Cir. 2002) (citing Holt v. Sullivan,
921 F.2d 1221, 1223 (11th Cir. 1991)). Thus, a claimant “who can show that his
condition could reasonably be expected to give rise to the pain he alleges has
established a claim of disability and is not required to produce additional, objective
proof of the pain itself.” Elam v. R.R. Ret. Bd., 921 F.2d 1210, 1215 (11th Cir.
1991); See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1529 and 416.929.
Elaborating on the pain standard, the Wilson court stated that if the “ALJ
discredits subjective testimony, he must articulate explicit and adequate reasons for
Wilson, 284 F.3d at 1225.
“Failure to articulate the reasons for
discrediting subjective testimony requires, as a matter of law, that the testimony be
accepted as true.” Id. (citing Cannon v. Bowen, 858 F.2d 1541, 1545 (11th Cir.
1988)). In addition to testimony and medical records, the ALJ may consider the
claimant’s daily activities, the frequency of his symptoms, and the types and
dosages of his medications in determining the credibility of subjective pain
testimony. Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1209 (11th Cir. 2005) (holding that
the district court “improperly reweighed the evidence” by reversing the ALJ’s
decision after he found the claimant’s subjective complaints to be inconsistent with
her activities of daily living, frequency of symptoms, and the type and dosage of
The ALJ articulated reasons for discrediting Ms. Benford’s subjective pain
testimony to the extent that it conflicted with the RFC assessment and objective
medical evidence of record. (Doc. 12-3, pp. 17–18). The ALJ found that Ms.
Benford’s allegation that her dizziness and weakness were debilitating was
“inconsistent” with objective medical evidence. (Doc. 12-3, p. 18). Dr. Gomez’s
physical examinations in March 2010 and April 2010 show Ms. Benford had
“normal eye movement, attention, muscle strength, coordination, and ambulation
despite her complaints of dizziness.”
(Doc. 12-3, p. 18; Doc. 12-9, pp. 36–37).
Dr. Turner’s examination in October 2010 revealed that Ms. Benford’s complaints
of weakness amounted to ten percent weakness on her right-side, which is
considered within normal limits. (Doc. 12-3, p. 18; Doc. 12-9, p. 65).
The ALJ stated that Ms. Benford’s allegations of debilitating, ten-hour
headaches occurring eight to ten times a month, and debilitating fatigue due to
medication, were unsubstantiated by objective medical evidence in the record.
(Doc. 12-3, p. 18). Although medical evidence may not prove that pain exists, it
must substantiate that an impairment could reasonably be expected to cause the
pain Ms. Benford alleges. See Elam, 921 F.2d at 1215. After reviewing objective
evidence in the record, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Benford’s impairments could
not reasonably be expected to produce ten-hour-long headaches eight to ten times a
month. (Doc. 12-3, pp. 17–18).
While Ms. Benford supports her claim by citing portions of treatment notes
from Dr. Gomez, those treatment notes also support the ALJ’s decision. Ms.
Benford points to Dr. Gomez’s reports, which indicate that he was frustrated that
he could “not seem to be able to get [Ms. Benford] better control for her
headaches.” (Doc. 17, p. 11; Doc. 12-10, p. 27). But this note does not negate the
substantial evidence upon which the ALJ concluded that Ms. Benford’s
impairments were not causing her to have the debilitating headaches she alleged.
In fact, Dr. Gomez stated that Ms. Benford’s report of headaches “were
premorbid,” which suggests that Dr. Gomez believed that Ms. Benford’s headaches
did not result from her impairments of vertebrobasilar insufficiency, status-post
stent and closure of carotid artery aneurysm, and peripartum cardiomyopthy. (See
Doc. 12-9, p. 82). Dr. Gomez’s treatment notes show that he did not know what
caused Ms. Benford’s headaches or how to treat them effectively. (Doc. 12-9, pp.
84, 86). Dr. Gomez regarded her complaints as “strange” and was “somewhat
puzzled” by her symptoms since her “MRI does not show any evidence of
infarction of any kind.” (Doc. 12-9, pp. 84, 86).
Social Security Ruling 96-7P provides support for the ALJ’s decision. Ms.
Benford relies on Social Security Ruling 96-7P to argue that her documented
history of complaints and attempts for relief supports her argument that her pain
was debilitating. (Doc. 17, p. 6). See SSR 96-7P 1996 WL 374186 at *7 (stating
that a “longitudinal medical record demonstrating . . . attempts to seek medical
treatment for pain or other symptoms and to follow that treatment once it is
prescribed lends support to . . . allegations of intense and persistent pain . . . for the
purposes of judging the credibility of the individual’s statements”). On the other
hand, SSR 96-7P also states that the “individual’s statements may be less credible
if the level or frequency of treatment is inconsistent with the level of complaints.”
SSR 96-7P 1996 WL 374186 at *7. The ALJ found that Ms. Benford’s claim of
frequent headaches did not square with the evidence. The record shows that Ms.
Benford complained of headaches only eight times since her alleged onset date in
March 2010.5 (Doc. 12-3, p. 18). Other information in the medical record, such as
Ms. Benford’s follow-up visits being scheduled for five to eight weeks later,
supports the conclusion that her headaches were not as debilitating and severe as
she alleges. (Doc. 12-9, pp. 94, 96).
Ms. Benford argues that Dr. Bourge “endorsed left-sided headaches and was
concerned about memory loss.” (Doc. 17, p. 8). However, the medical record
shows that it was not Dr. Bourge but Ms. Benford who reported left-sided
headaches and concern for memory loss as subjective complaints before being
examined. (Doc. 12-10, p. 35). Mere complaints are not sufficient; there must be
a medical condition that could reasonably be expected to result in the alleged pain.
In determining that one did not exist, the ALJ properly assessed Ms. Benford’s
credibility by comparing her complaints to the objective evidence. (Doc. 12-3, p.
18); see also Arnold v. Heckler, 732 F.2d 881, 883–84 (11th Cir. 1984) (“[T]he
[ALJ] may properly challenge the credibility of a claimant who asserts he is
disabled by pain. . . . [T]he resolution of conflicting evidence is for the Secretary
and the [ALJ].”) (internal quotations and citations omitted).
As for Ms. Benford’s fatigue, the ALJ found that no medical records suggest
that Ms. Benford’s medications caused her alleged drowsiness. (See Doc. 12-3, p.
18). In October 2010, Dr. Gomez noted in his treatment record that Ms. Benford
This determination was made based on evidence submitted at the time of the hearing on
November 3, 2011, a year and seven months from the alleged onset date. (See Doc. 12-3, p. 48).
“has no side effects from the medication.” (Doc. 12-9, p. 81). The ALJ found that
the evidence did not support a medical need to take these naps during the day
because the reason for the naps—Ms. Benford’s debilitating pain and drowsiness—
was unsupported by the record. (Doc. 12-3, p. 18).
The ALJ relied on Ms. Benford’s testimony to conduct the RFC assessment,
crediting it to the extent it was consistent with the medical record. The ALJ
considered but gave little weight to Ms. Benford’s complaints that were “less than
fully credible” due to inconsistency with the medical evidence. (Doc. 12-3, p. 18).
The complaints of dizziness and headaches led the ALJ to limit Ms. Benford to
“work requiring no exposure to heights, dangerous machinery, or commercial
driving.” (Doc. 12-3, p. 17). Ms. Benford’s weakness due to reduced strength in
her upper right extremity and shortness of breath led the ALJ to limit her to light
work with frequent, but not constant use of her right, dominant upper extremity.
(Doc. 12-3, p. 17).
Ms. Benford argues that the ALJ ignored the severity of her heart condition,
which was classified by Dr. Bourge as between Class II and III according to the
New York Heart Association (NYHA) ranges. (Doc. 12-10, p. 17). Ms. Benford’s
most recent classification of record was Class II in August 2011. (Doc. 12-10, p.
Within this class, the NYHA represents that she may have a “slight
limitation” during ordinary physical activity. (Doc. 17, p. 7).
An ALJ commits reversible error “if complaints of subjective pain are
disregarded simply because they are not supported by objective clinical and
laboratory medical findings.” Gibson v. Heckler, 779 F.2d 619, 623 (11th Cir.
The ALJ must “necessarily review the medical evidence and make a
credibility determination in assessing the claimant’s disability on the basis of
pain.” Id. at 624. Here, as in Gibson, the ALJ considered Ms. Benford’s claims
but found them not fully credible based on all of the evidence in the record. The
ALJ concluded that Ms. Benford’s condition could not reasonably give rise to her
alleged pain. See id. at 623–24. (holding that the ALJ properly considered the
claimant’s testimony but still found that the ALJ “determined that the claims of
severe pain were not credible and that [claimant’s] pain was not sufficient to be
disabling”). Without satisfying the third prong of the pain standard, Ms. Benford
fails to show that her pain renders her disabled. Thus, the Court finds that the
ALJ’s credibility determination was supported by substantial evidence.
Ms. Benford argues that the ALJ “failed to properly articulate good cause for
according less weight to the opinion of [Ms. Benford’s] treating physician.” (Doc.
17, p. 13). The Court disagrees. The ALJ properly considered and decided to give
less weight to Dr. Ragland’s opinion that Ms. Benford could not work.
A medical source’s statement that a claimant is “unable to work” or
“disabled” does not bind the ALJ, who alone makes the ultimate determination as
to disability under the regulations. Miles v. Soc. Sec. Admin., Comm’r, 469 Fed.
Appx. 743, 745 (11th Cir. 2012) (See 20 C.F.R.
416.927(e)(1)). Nevertheless, the opinion of a treating physician “must be given
substantial or considerable weight unless ‘good cause’ is shown to the contrary.”
Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1240–41 (11th Cir. 2004). Good cause exists
when “(1) [the] treating physician’s opinion was not bolstered by the evidence; (2)
[the] evidence supported a contrary finding; or (3) [the] treating physician’s
opinion was conclusory or inconsistent with the doctor’s own medical records.”
Id.; see also Crawford, 363 F.3d at 1159. “The ALJ must clearly articulate the
reasons for giving less weight to a treating physician’s opinion, and the failure to
do so constitutes error. ‘Moreover, the ALJ must state with particularity the
weight given to different medical opinions and the reasons therefor.’” Gaskin, 533
Fed. Appx. at 931 (citing Lewis, 125 F.3d at 1440, and quoting Winschel v.
Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1179 (11th Cir. 2011)).
In this case, the ALJ articulated adequate reasons for according Dr.
Ragland’s opinion “little weight.” The ALJ found that Dr. Ragland’s statement
that Ms. Benford could not “comfortably perform any gainful employment” was
too vague because it did not offer specific work-related limits that Ms. Benford
would experience because of her impairments. (Doc. 12-3, p. 18; Doc. 12-9, p.
98). The statement that Ms. Benford cannot perform gainful employment is a
determination reserved for the ALJ.
Dr. Ragland offers no medical opinion
concerning the extent to which Ms. Benford is physically or mentally limited due
to her impairments. Dr. Ragland merely listed Ms. Benford’s medical problems
and stated that she has “an extreme medical history” to support Dr. Ragland’s
conclusion of disability. (Doc. 12-9, p. 98). Thus, Dr. Ragland’s medical opinion
is conclusory. See Osborn v. Barnhart, 194 Fed. Appx. 654, 667 (11th Cir. 2006)
(finding an ALJ’s decision supported by substantial evidence where the ALJ
accords a physician’s opinion letter less weight because the letter did not indicate
specific limitations that the claimant’s impairments might place on the claimant’s
ability to work).
Thus, the Court finds that the ALJ articulated good cause for according less
weight to the opinion of Ms. Benford’s treating physician, Dr. Ragland. The Court
finds that the ALJ’s decision rests on substantial evidence.
The Court concludes that the ALJ’s decision is based upon substantial
evidence and consistent with applicable legal standards.
reweigh the evidence.
The Court will not
Accordingly, the Court affirms the Commissioner’s
decision. The Court will enter a final judgment.
DONE and ORDERED this March 30, 2015.
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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