Welch v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Magistrate Judge Staci G Cornelius on 3/31/16. (MRR, )
2016 Mar-31 AM 09:04
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
DARONDA KAYE WELCH,
Case No.: 6:14-cv-02472-SGC
The plaintiff, Daronda Kaye Welch, appeals from the decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”)
denying her application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). Welch timely
pursued and exhausted her administrative remedies, and the Commissioner’s
decision is ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C § 1383(c)(3). For the reasons
discussed below, the Commissioner’s decision is due to be affirmed.
I. Procedural History
Welch did not complete high school or obtain a GED. (Tr. at 35-36). Her
last job was as a cashier at a restaurant when she was 16 years old. (Id. at 39, 191).
In her application for SSI as amended, Welch alleged she became disabled on May
The parties have consented to the exercise of full dispositive jurisdiction by a magistrate judge
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Doc. 16).
4, 2011, as a result of degenerative disc disease and restless leg syndrome. (Id. at
185, 190). After her claim was denied, Welch requested a hearing before an
administrative law judge (“ALJ”). (Id. at 69, 76). Following two hearings, the
ALJ denied Welch’s claims. (Id. at 9-15). Welch was 36 years old when the ALJ
issued his decision. (Id. at 15, 33, 169). After the Appeals Council declined to
review the ALJ’s decision (id. at 1-3), that decision became the final decision of
the Commissioner, see Frye v. Massanari, 209 F. Supp. 2d 1246, 1251 N.D. Ala.
2001) (citing Falge v. Apfel, 150 F.3d 1320, 1322 (11th Cir. 1998)). Thereafter,
Welch initiated this action. (Doc. 1).
II. Statutory and Regulatory Framework
To establish eligibility for disability benefits, 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 twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. § 416(i)(1)(A); see also id. at §
1382c(a)(3)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 416.905(a).
The Social Security Administration
employs a five-step sequential analysis to determine an individual’s eligibility for
disability benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4).
First, the Commissioner must determine whether the claimant is engaged in
“substantial gainful activity.” Id. at § 416.920(a)(4)(i). “Under the first step, the
claimant has the burden to show that [he] is not currently engaged in substantial
gainful activity.” Reynolds-Buckley v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 457 Fed. App’x 862,
863 (11th Cir. 2012). If the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, the
Commissioner will find the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(i)
and (b). At the first step, the ALJ determined Welch has not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since her amended alleged onset date of May 11, 2011. (Tr. at 10).
If the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the
Commissioner must next determine whether the claimant suffers from a severe
physical or mental impairment or combination of impairments that has lasted or is
expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months. 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4)(ii). An impairment “must result from anatomical, physiological, or
psychological abnormalities which can be shown by medically acceptable clinical
and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” Furthermore, it “must be established by
medical evidence consisting of signs, symptoms, and laboratory findings, not only
by [the claimant’s] statement of symptoms.” Id. at § 416.908; see also 42 U.S.C. §
1382c(a)(3)(D). An impairment is severe if it “significantly limits [the claimant’s]
physical or mental ability to do basic work activities . . . .”
20 C.F.R. §
416.920(c).2 “[A]n impairment can be considered as not severe only if it is a slight
Basic work activities include:
(1) [p]hysical functions such as walking, standing, sitting, lifting, pushing,
abnormality which has such a minimal effect on the individual that it would not be
expected to interfere with the individual’s ability to work, irrespective of age,
education, or work experience.” Brady v. Heckler, 724 F.2d 914, 920 (11th Cir.
1984); see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.921(a). A claimant may be found disabled based
on a combination of impairments, even though none of the individual impairments
alone is disabling. 20 C.F.R. § 416.923.
The claimant bears the burden of
providing medical evidence demonstrating an impairment and its severity. Id. at
§§ 416.912(a) and (c). If the claimant does not have a severe impairment or
combination of impairments, the Commissioner will find the claimant is not
Id. at §§ 416.920(a)(4)(ii) and (c).
At the second step, the ALJ
determined Welch’s morbid obesity constitutes a severe impairment. (Tr. at 10).
If the claimant has a severe impairment or combination of impairments, the
Commissioner must then determine whether the impairment meets or equals one of
the “Listings” found in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4)(iii); see also id. at §§ 416.925 and 416.926. The claimant bears the
burden of proving her impairment meets or equals one of the Listings. ReynoldsBuckley, 457 Fed. App’x at 863. If the claimant’s impairment meets or equals one
pulling, reaching, carrying, or handling; (2) [c]apacities for seeing, hearing, and
speaking; (3) [u]nderstanding, carrying out, and remembering simple instructions;
(4) [u]se of judgment; (5) [r]esponding appropriately to supervision, co-workers
and usual work situations; and (6) [d]ealing with changes in a routine work
20 C.F.R. § 416.921(b).
of the Listings, the Commissioner will find the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R §§
416.920(a)(4)(iii) and (d). At the third step, the ALJ determined Welch does not
have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals
the severity of one of the Listings. (Tr. at 11).
If the claimant’s impairment does not meet or equal one of the Listings, the
Commissioner must determine the claimant’s residual functional capacity (“RFC”)
before proceeding to the fourth step. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(e); see also id. at §
416.945. A claimant’s RFC is the most she can do despite her impairments. See
id. § 416.945(a)(1).
At the fourth step, the Commissioner will compare her
assessment of the claimant’s RFC with the physical and mental demands of the
claimant’s past relevant work. Id. at §§ 416.920(a)(4)(iv) and (e), 416.960(b).
“Past relevant work is work that [the claimant] [has] done within the past 15 years,
that was substantial gainful activity, and that lasted long enough for [the claimant]
to learn to do it.” Id. § 416.960(b)(1). The claimant bears the burden of proving
her impairment prevents her from performing her past relevant work. ReynoldsBuckley, 457 Fed. App’x at 863. If the claimant is capable of performing her past
relevant work, the Commissioner will find the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 416.920(a)(4)(iv), 416.960(b)(3). Before proceeding to the fourth step, the ALJ
determined Welch has the RFC to perform the full range of sedentary work as
defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(a).3 (Tr. at 12). At the fourth step, the ALJ
determined Welch had no past relevant work against which to compare her RFC.
(Id. at 14).
If the claimant is unable to perform her past relevant work, the
Commissioner must finally determine whether the claimant is capable of
performing other work that exists in substantial numbers in the national economy
in light of the claimant’s RFC, age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(v) and (g)(1), 404.1560(c)(1), 416.920(a)(4)(v) and (g)(1),
If the claimant is capable of performing other work, the
Commissioner will find the claimant is not disabled. Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v) and
(g)(1), 416.920(a)(4)(v) and (g)(1). If the claimant is not capable of performing
other work, the Commissioner will find the claimant is disabled. Id. At the fifth
step, considering Welch’s age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ
determined there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy
that Welch can perform, such as those of an installation worker, parts mounter, and
This section of the Code of Federal Regulations defines sedentary work as follows:
Sedentary work involves lifting no more than 10 pounds at a time and
occasionally lifting or carrying articles like docket files, ledgers, and small tools.
Although a sedentary job is defined as one which involves sitting, a certain
amount of walking and standing is often necessary in carrying out job duties.
Jobs are sedentary if walking and standing are required occasionally and other
sedentary criteria are met.
20 C.F.R. § 416.967(a).
parts screener/inspector. (Tr. at 14). Therefore, the ALJ concluded Welch is not
disabled. (Id. at 15).
III. Standard of Review
Review of the Commissioner’s decision is limited to a determination of
whether that decision is supported by substantial evidence and whether the
Commissioner applied correct legal standards. Crawford v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec.,
363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004).
A district court must review the
Commissioner’s findings of fact with deference and may not reconsider the facts,
reevaluate the evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner.
Ingram v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 496 F.3d 1253, 1260 (11th Cir. 2007); Dyer
v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005). Rather, a district court must
“scrutinize the record as a whole to determine if the decision reached is reasonable
and supported by substantial evidence.” Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233,
1239 (11th Cir. 1983) (internal citations omitted).
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. A
district court must uphold factual findings supported by substantial evidence, even
if the preponderance of the evidence is against those findings. Miles v. Chater, 84
F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996) (citing Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529
(11th Cir. 1990)).
A district court reviews the Commissioner’s legal conclusions de novo.
Davis v. Shalala, 985 F.2d 528, 531 (11th Cir. 1993). “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.
On appeal, Welch argues (1) the ALJ failed to address Listing 12.05(C),
which she satisfies, (2) the ALJ failed to account for her combination of
impairments, which render her disabled, and (3) the ALJ failed to assign proper
weight to her treating physician, Dr. Miller.
A. Listing 12.05(C)
A plaintiff is disabled if her impairment meets or equals a Listing. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii) and (d), 416.920(a)(4)(iii) and (d). “To ‘meet’ a Listing, a
claimant must have a diagnosis included in the Listings and must provide medical
reports documenting that the conditions meet the specific criteria of the Listings
and the duration requirement.” Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1224 (11th Cir.
2002) (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1525(a)-(d)); see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.925(a)-(d).
“To ‘equal’ a Listing, the medical findings must be ‘at least equal in severity and
duration to the listed findings.’” Wilson, 284 F.3d at 1224 (citing 20 C.F.R. §
404.1526(a)); see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.926(a). A claimant’s impairment must
meet or equal all of the specified medical criteria in a particular Listing for the
claimant to be found disabled at step three of the sequential evaluation. Sullivan v.
Zebley, 493 U.S. 521, 530-32 (1990). An impairment that manifests only some of
the criteria does not qualify, no matter how severe. Id. at 530. A claimant’s
burden of proving her impairment meets or equals a Listing is a heavy one because
“the [L]istings were designed to operate as a presumption of disability that makes
further inquiry unnecessary.” Id. at 532.
Listing 12.05 provides for an award of benefits based on intellectual
disability, which “refers to significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning
with deficits in adaptive functioning4 initially manifested during the developmental
period; i.e., the evidence demonstrates or supports onset of the impairment before
age 22.” 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App’x 1, § 12.05 (introductory paragraph
setting forth “diagnostic criteria”).
A claimant’s intellectual disability is
sufficiently severe to meet Listing 12.05 when she has “[a] valid verbal,
performance, or full scale IQ of 60 through 70 and a physical or other mental
impairment imposing an additional and significant work-related limitation of
function.” 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App’x 1, § 12.05(C).
“Adaptive functioning is defined as an ‘individual’s progress in acquiring mental, academic,
social and personal skills as compared with other unimpaired individuals of his/her same age.’”
Compton v. Colvin, 36 F. Supp. 3d 1263, 1267 (N.D. Ala. 2014) (quoting Programs Operation
Manual System DI 24515.056(D)(2)).
Although the ALJ did not discuss Listing 12.05(C) specifically at step three
of the sequential evaluation, he was not required to do so. See Flemming v.
Comm’r of the Soc. Sec. Admin., 2015 WL 8732364, at *2 (11th Cir. Dec. 15, 2015)
(ALJ not required to mechanically recite evidence or listings considered at step
three) (citing Hutchison v. Bowen, 787 F.2d 1461, 1463 (11th Cir. 1986)). “There
may be an implied finding that a claimant does not meet a listing.” Hutchison, 787
F.2d at 1463. “Therefore, in the absence of an explicit determination, we may
infer from the record that the ALJ implicitly considered and found that a claimant’s
disability did not meet a listing.” Flemming, 2015 WL 8732364, at *2. The record
in this case supports an implicit finding Welch’s impairments do not meet Listing
To meet Listing 12.05(C), a claimant must satisfy the diagnostic criteria set
out in the introductory paragraph and the severity requirement set out in subsection
(C). See Frame v. Comm’r Soc. Sec. Admin., 596 Fed. App’x 908, 910-11 (11th
Cir. 2015). “Generally, a claimant meets the criteria for presumptive disability
under section 12.05(C) when the claimant presents a valid I.Q. score of 60 to 70
inclusive, and evidence of an additional mental or physical impairment that has
more than ‘minimal effect’ on the claimant’s ability to perform basic work
activities.” Lowery v. Sullivan, 979 F.2d 835, 837 (11th Cir. 1992). See also
Hodges v. Barnhart, 276 F.3d 1265, 1269 (11th Cir. 2001). “Under [Eleventh
Circuit] precedent, a ‘severe’ impairment, for purposes of step two, has a
‘significant work-related limitation of function’ under 12.05(C).” Rodriguez v.
Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 2015 WL 9583485, at *2 (11th Cir. Dec. 31, 2015). Here, Dr.
Alan Blotchy, a clinical psychologist, administered an intelligence test to Welch
and determined she had a full scale IQ of 67. (Tr. at 422). Moreover, at step two
of the sequential analysis, the ALJ determined Welch’s morbid obesity constituted
a severe impairment. (Id. at 10-11).
However, the Eleventh Circuit “has recognized that a valid I.Q. score need
not be conclusive of [intellectual disability] where the I.Q. score is inconsistent
with other evidence in the record on the claimant’s daily activities and behavior.”
Lowery, 979 F.2d at 837 (citing Popp v. Heckler, 779 F.2d 1497, 1499 (11th Cir.
1986)). One court has noted discrediting an IQ score based on evidence of a
claimant’s daily activities and behavior under subsection (C) and requiring both
significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning and deficits in adaptive
functioning to satisfy the diagnostic criteria set out in the introductory paragraph of
Listing 12.05 are two sides of the same coin. See Monroe v. Astrue, 726 F. Supp.
2d 1349, 1355 (N.D. Fla. 2010).
The ALJ could have found that Welch’s IQ score as derived from the
intelligence test administered by Dr. Blotcky was inconsistent with other evidence
of Welch’s activities and behavior and, therefore, was not conclusive of intellectual
disability. Likewise, the ALJ could have found Welch did not demonstrate the
adaptive functioning deficit necessary to satisfy the diagnostic criteria. See Gray
ex rel. Whymss v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 454 Fed. App’x 748, 750 (11th Cir. 2011)
(holding ALJ could have found claimant’s IQ score of 66 was inconsistent with
other evidence of his activities and behavior and, therefore, was not conclusive,
and that claimant did not have adaptive functioning deficits). Welch reported her
daily activities include taking care of her children and husband, cleaning her house,
and cooking dinner. (Tr. at 197). More specifically, she wakes her children and
gets them ready for school; drives her husband to and from work and takes him
lunch; washes clothes, sweeps, mops, dusts, and does dishes; and prepares meals
consisting of several courses. (Id. at 197-99). Welch reported she also cares for a
dog and a cat with some assistance from her children and cares for herself with no
problem. (Id. at 198). She further reported she is able to go out alone, talks on the
phone with family and friends three or four times per day, regularly goes to church
on Wednesdays and Sundays, and regularly attends her children’s activities at
school. (Id. at 200-01). According to Welch, she has no problem getting along
with family, friends, neighbors, or other people; handles stress “OK;” and handles
changes in routine “alright.” (Id. at 202-03). Although Welch testified she reads
and writes with difficulty, she reported she reads a book each week. (Id. at 36,
201). She also reported she is able to pay bills, count change, handle a savings
account, use a checkbook and/or money orders, finish what she starts, pay attention
“pretty good,” follow written instructions with “no problem,” and follow spoken
instructions “good.” (Id. at 200, 202). Finally, in a statement submitted as part of
her file, Welch states, “It is my hope that I could possibly get some help to be able
to go to a doctor to hopefully try to work in some way.” (Id. at 545). The
foregoing capabilities, reported by Welch herself, together with Welch’s own
indication she believes she is capable of working, would have been sufficient to
discredit Welch’s purported IQ score and support a finding Welch did not
demonstrate the adaptive functioning deficits necessary to satisfy the diagnostic
criteria. See Hickel v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 539 Fed. App’x 980, 984 (11th Cir.
2013) (holding evidence claimant was high school graduate, worked part time at
nursery, drove herself to work, could prepare simple meals and dress and groom
herself, regularly attended church, and socialized with friends was sufficient to
support ALJ’s finding presumption of disability created by valid full scale IQ score
of 63 was rebutted by evidence claimant did not have adaptive functioning
deficits); Garrett v. Astrue, 244 Fed. App’x 937, 939 (11th Cir. 2007) (holding
record supported ALJ’s finding claimant with low IQ score did not have adaptive
functioning deficits where claimant was able to cook simple meals, perform chores
such as dishwashing and yard work, build model cars, and regularly attend church,
watch television, play cards, and walk to the mall, and where claimant testified that
with orientation and instruction, he believed he could return to a job as a stock
Welch notes one court has indicated “ ‘[t]he caselaw addressing the
“adaptive functioning” aspect of Listing 12.05(C) suggests that the adaptive
functioning must be significantly inconsistent with the I.Q. score,’” and that “ ‘[a]n
ability to do simple daily activities and simple jobs is not enough’” to demonstrate
an absence of adaptive functioning deficits. (Doc. 13 at 24) (quoting Monroe, 726
F. Supp. 2d at 1355). She relies heavily on this court’s decision in Compton v.
Colvin, 36 F. Supp. 3d 1263 (N.D. Ala. 2014), to support her argument she does
not have adaptive functioning capabilities sufficient to overcome the presumption
of disability created by her low IQ score and serious impairment. (See Doc. 13 at
24-25). However, Compton is inapposite. In that case, the claimant’s abilities
were limited to caring for her personal needs; performing minimal, light
housework; doing laundry with her husband’s help; cooking occasionally; grocery
shopping with her husband; going to church occasionally; and spending time with
family members. Compton, 36 F. Supp. 3d at 1275. Moreover, the claimant
testified she would be unable to manage her own financial affairs without
assistance. Id. at 1269. The court held “[s]ubstantial evidence does not support the
ALJ’s finding that the claimant has no deficits in adaptive functioning simply
because  she can be around her family and goes places occasionally.” Id. at
1275. By contrast, Welch reported she cares for herself and others in a variety of
ways without assistance; socializes both with family and with friends and attends
public gatherings; reads a book per week; and can handle financial matters. (Tr. at
197-01). Accordingly, the circumstances present here are less like those present in
Monroe and more like those present in Garrett.
B. Severity of Impairments
Welch argues the ALJ should have found her low IQ, migraines, and back,
right hip, lower extremity, and knee pain to be severe impairments or, at least, that
they constitute a severe impairment in combination. First, even if the ALJ erred in
not finding the foregoing impairments to be severe, the error was harmless.
The specific impairments listed in the step two finding do not affect
the outcome of the case. This is because the Commissioner is
obligated to continue with the remaining steps in the sequential
evaluation process after finding at least one severe impairment. Thus,
the Commissioner’s designation of a claimant’s other impairments as
“severe” or “non-severe” is of little consequence since all of these
impairments must be considered in combination [at step three] and in
the RFC determination.
Law v. Colvin, 2014 WL 4681188, at *4 (N.D. Ala. Sept. 19, 2014) (citing Heathy
v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 382 Fed. App’x 823, 824-25 (11th Cir. 2010)). At step two,
the ALJ determined Welch’s morbid obesity constituted a severe impairment, and
it is clear he considered not only this impairment but also Welch’s non-severe
impairments, including migraines, back pain, and depression at step three and in
assessing Welch’s RFC. (See Tr. at 11-14 (determining at step three that Welch’s
“obesity is not, by itself, or in conjunction with her other impairments, so severe as
to prevent her from working” and discussing Welch’s back and other pain, fatigue,
and depression in assessing her RFC)). Moreover, the evidence does not support
Welch’s contention her mental and other physical impairments are severe, alone or
The above discussion regarding Welch’s full scale IQ score
viewed in light of her adaptive functioning demonstrates the ALJ’s determination
Welch had no severe mental impairment is supported by substantial evidence. As
discussed below, the objective medical evidence does not support the degree of
limitation Welch alleges her migraines and back, right hip, lower extremity, and
knee pain cause but, rather, indicates her migraines and lower back pain were
controlled with medication, which allowed her to go about her daily activities.
To the extent Welch argues the ALJ improperly discredited her own
statements regarding her pain and its limiting effects, this argument is without
merit. An ALJ is permitted to discredit a claimant’s subjective testimony of pain
or other symptoms if she “clearly ‘articulate[s] explicit and adequate reasons’” for
doing so. Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005) (quoting Foote
v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1561-62 (11th Cir. 1995)).
“A clearly articulated
credibility finding with substantial supporting evidence will not be disturbed by a
reviewing court.” Foote, 67 F.3d at 1562. In determining credibility, an ALJ may
consider objective medical evidence, medical opinions, and a claimant’s reported
daily activities, amongst other things. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1529(c). Here, the ALJ
found Welch’s statements regarding the extent and limiting effects of her pain are
not fully credible because they are inconsistent with the evidence. (Tr. at 13). The
ALJ noted Welch reported a long list of activities she is capable of performing.
(Id.). Furthermore, as discussed below, Welch consistently reported to her treating
physician that her pain was controlled with prescription pain medications.
Accordingly, substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s sufficiently articulated
reason for discrediting Welch’s statements regarding her pain.
C. Weight Assigned to Medical Opinions
An ALJ may disregard a treating physician’s opinion if he articulates good
cause for doing so. Winschel v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1179 (11th
Cir. 2011). “Good cause exists ‘when the: (1) treating physician’s opinion was not
bolstered by the evidence; (2) evidence supported a contrary finding; or (3) treating
physician’s opinion was conclusory or inconsistent with the doctor’s own medical
records.’” Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1179 (quoting Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d
1232, 1241 (11th Cir. 2004)); see also Crawford v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d
1155, 1159 (11th Cir. 2004) (ALJ properly discounted treating physician’s opinion
claimant was disabled because, amongst other things, that opinion appeared to be
based primarily on claimant’s subjective complaints of pain).
The ALJ assigned little weight to three opinions offered by Dr. Lorn Miller,
Welch’s primary care physician. (Tr. at 13). He discredited Dr. Miller’s opinion
that Welch’s reported physical limitations—i.e., that she could sit for no more than
30 minutes at a time, stand for no more than 10-15 minutes at a time, etc.—were
consistent with Welch’s reports to him because the opinion is not supported by
objective medical evidence. (Id.). He discredited Dr. Miller’s opinion regarding
Welch’s mental health because Dr. Miller is a neurologist, not a mental health
professional. (Id.). Finally, he discredited Dr. Miller’s opinion Welch would miss
75-90 days of work per year because the opinion is not supported by the evidence
and, in fact, is inconsistent with Welch’s report of her daily activities. (Id.).
Substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s reasons for discrediting Dr. Miller’s
opinions. The record is lacking in objective medical evidence that would support
the degree of physical or psychiatric functional limitation alleged by Welch and
opined by Dr.Miller. Moreover, Dr. Miller’s opinions as to Welch’s functional
limitations are inconsistent with the improvement Welch reported to Dr. Miller.
Welch first presented to Dr. Miller in December 2007 with lower back pain she
attributed to a fall in 2006. (Id. at 336). A CT scan done at the time of her fall
showed degenerative disc disease and bulging discs at L2 and L5. (Id.). However,
Welch reported prescription pain medication made the pain tolerable.
Between February 2008 and May 2010, Welch consistently reported her lower
back pain had not increased or decreased in severity or frequency and was
controlled with prescription pain medication, which enabled her to take care of
herself and her household.
(Id. at 286, 293, 299, 305, 312, 318, 324, 330).
Although in September 2010, Welch reported her lower back pain as a little worse,
she also reported prescription pain medication made the pain tolerable. (Id. at
278). Between January 2011 and November 2012, Welch continued to report
prescription pain medication made her pain tolerable or at least controlled her pain
and allowed her to undertake activities such as cleaning her house. (Id. at 248,
256, 427, 433, 439, 445).
After Welch requested medication for restless leg
syndrome in September 2010, she consistently reported the medication controlled
her symptoms. (Id. at 248, 256, 278).
Contrary to Welch’s assertion, the ALJ did not substitute his own judgment
for that of Dr. Miller. Although an ALJ may not arbitrarily substitute his own
judgment for that of a medical professional, see Freeman v. Schweiker, 681 F.2d
727, 731 (11th Cir. 1982), that is not what the ALJ did in this case. Rather, the ALJ
considered Dr. Miller’s opinions and gave valid reasons for assigning them little
Welch makes a passing reference to the ALJ’s decision to discredit Dr.
Blotcky’s opinion. (See Doc. 13 at 35). The ALJ found Dr. Blotcky’s opinion
Welch has a Global Assessment of Functioning Score of 49, which represents a
serious impairment in mental functioning, was entitled to little weight because it is
inconsistent with Welch’s own report of her abilities to Dr. Blotcky, including that
she can perform light housework, prepare simple meals, watch television, drive a
car, visit with friends at her home, and visit her mother and sister on a regular
basis. (Tr. at 10-11). Because he articulated the weight given to Dr. Blotcky’s
opinion and the reason for assigning the opinion such weight, and because that
reason is supported by substantial evidence, the ALJ did not err in discrediting Dr.
Blotcky’s opinion. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c) (ALJ may consider examining
relationship, treatment relationship, supportability, and consistency when deciding
what weight to give to medical opinions).
Unlike Dr. Miller’s opinions, Dr.
Blotcky’s opinion was not entitled to controlling weight because Dr. Blotcky was
not one of Welch’s treating physicians.
See 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c) (2)
(“Generally, we give more weight to opinions from your treating sources . . . .”).
Rather, she was referred to Dr. Blotcky for a psychological evaluation by her
attorney. (Tr. at 421).
Having reviewed the administrative record and considered all of the
arguments presented by the parties, the undersigned finds the Commissioner’s
decision is supported by substantial evidence and in accordance with applicable
law. Therefore, that decision is due to be AFFIRMED. A separate order will be
DONE this 31st day of March, 2016.
STACI G. CORNELIUS
U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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