Vaughn v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Magistrate Judge John H England, III on 9/29/2016. (KEK)
2016 Sep-29 PM 01:16
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL
Case Number: 6:15-cv-00940-JHE
Plaintiff Charity Vaughn (“Vaughn”) seeks review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), §
205(g) of the Social Security Act, of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (“Commissioner”), denying her application for a period of disability and
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). Vaughn timely pursued and exhausted her administrative
remedies. This case is therefore ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).
The undersigned has carefully considered the record and, for the reasons stated below, the
Commissioner’s decision is AFFIRMED.
I. Factual and Procedural History
Vaughn filed her application for a period of disability and DIB in January 2013, alleging
she became unable to work beginning July 28, 2009. (Tr. 133-139). Vaughn was a forty year
old female on December 31, 2013, her date last insured (“DLI”). (Tr. 23). Vaughn has at least a
high school education and past relevant work as a cashier and licensed practical nurse (“LPN”).
In accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 73, the parties have voluntarily consented to have a United States Magistrate Judge
conduct any and all proceedings, including trial and the entry of final judgment. (Doc. 14).
The Agency initially denied Vaughn’s application, and Vaughn requested a hearing where she
appeared in December 2013. (Tr. 20 & 38-40). After the hearing, the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) denied Vaughn’s claims on March 17, 2014. (Tr. 34). Vaughn sought review by the
Appeals Council, but it declined her request on April 3, 2015. (See Doc. 1; Tr. 1-6). On that
date, the ALJ’s decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. On June 4, 2015,
Vaughn initiated this action. (See doc. 1).
II. Standard of Review2
The court’s review of the Commissioner’s decision is narrowly circumscribed. The
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. Richardson v. Perales,
402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971); Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002). This 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). 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.”
This Court must uphold factual findings supported by substantial evidence. However, it
reviews the ALJ’s legal conclusions de novo because no presumption of validity attaches to the
ALJ’s determination of the proper legal standards to be applied. Davis v. Shalala, 985 F.2d 528,
531 (11th Cir. 1993). If the court finds an error in the ALJ’s application of the law, or if the ALJ
In general, the legal standards applied are the same whether a claimant seeks DIB or
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). However, separate, parallel statutes and regulations
exist for DIB and SSI claims. Therefore, citations in this opinion should be considered to refer to
the appropriate parallel provision as context dictates. The same applies to citations for statutes or
regulations found in quoted court decisions.
fails to provide the court with sufficient reasoning for determining the proper legal analysis has
been conducted, it must reverse the ALJ’s decision. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 114546 (11th Cir. 1991).
III. Statutory and Regulatory Framework
To qualify for disability benefits and establish his or her entitlement for a period of
disability, a claimant must be disabled as defined by the Social Security Act and the Regulations
promulgated thereunder.3 The Regulations define “disabled” as “the inability to do 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 (12) months.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a). To
establish entitlement to disability benefits, a claimant must provide evidence of a “physical or
mental impairment” which “must result from anatomical, physiological, or psychological
abnormalities which can be shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic
techniques.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1508.
The Regulations provide a five-step process for determining whether a claimant is
disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i-v). The Commissioner must determine in sequence:
whether the claimant is currently employed;
whether the claimant has a severe impairment;
whether the claimant’s impairment meets or equals an impairment listed
by the [Commissioner];
whether the claimant can perform his or her past work; and
whether the claimant is capable of performing any work in the national
The “Regulations” promulgated under the Social Security Act are listed in 20 C.F.R.
Parts 400 to 499.
Pope v. Shalala, 998 F.2d 473, 477 (7th Cir. 1993) (citing to the formerly applicable C.F.R.
section), overruled on other grounds by Johnson v. Apfel, 189 F.3d 561, 562-63 (7th Cir. 1999);
accord McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir. 1986). “Once the claimant has
satisfied steps One and Two, she will automatically be found disabled if she suffers from a listed
impairment. If the claimant does not have a listed impairment but cannot perform her work, the
burden shifts to the [Commissioner] to show that the claimant can perform some other job.”
Pope, 998 F.2d at 477; accord Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1559 (11th Cir. 1995). The
Commissioner must further show such work exists in the national economy in significant
IV. Findings of the Administrative Law Judge
After consideration of the entire record and application of the sequential evaluation
process, the ALJ made the following findings:
At Step One, the ALJ found Vaughn last met the insured status requirements of the Social
Security Act through December 31, 2013, and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since July 28, 2009, the alleged onset date. (Tr. 23). At Step Two, the ALJ found Vaughn has
the following severe impairments: type II diabetes mellitus, congenital fusion of the cervical
spine, carpal tunnel syndrome bilaterally, history of bipolar disorder, history of
methamphetamine and prescription drug (Percocet) abuse, and obesity. (Id.). At Step Three, the
ALJ found Vaughn’s impairments, including the substance use disorders, met sections 12.04 and
12.08 of 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR § 404.1520(d)). (Id.). The ALJ
further found that if Vaughn stopped the substance use, the remaining limitations would cause
more than a minimal impact on her ability to perform basic work activities; therefore, she would
continue to have a severe impairment or combination of severe impairments, but would not have
an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled any of the
impairments listed in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR § 404.1520(d)). (Tr. 2425).
Before proceeding to Step Four, the ALJ determined Vaughn’s residual functioning
capacity (“RFC”), which is the most a claimant can do despite her impairments. See 20 C.F.R. §
404.1545(a)(1). The ALJ determined that, if Vaughn stopped the substance use, she would have
the following RFC:
[T]o occasionally lift and/or carry up to twenty pounds and frequently lift and/or
carry up to ten pounds. She can stand and or walk in combination, with normal
breaks, for at least six hours during an eight hour workday and sit, with normal
breaks, for up to eight hours during an eight-hour workday. The plaintiff can
frequently climb ramps and stairs and should never climb ladders, ropes or
scaffolds. The plaintiff can frequently balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl.
She should not be required to perform overhead work activities or reach above the
shoulder level on the right. She can frequently perform fine and gross
manipulation bilaterally. She should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme heat,
extreme cold, wetness, humidity, and working in areas of vibrations. The plaintiff
should avoid exposure to industrial hazards including working at unprotected
heights and working in close proximity to moving dangerous machinery. She can
perform simple routine tasks requiring no more than short simple instructions and
simple work related decision making with few workplace changes. She can have
occasional interactions with co-workers and supervisors and no interactions with
members of the general public.
At Step Four, the ALJ found that, if Vaughn stopped the substance use, she would be
unable to perform past relevant work. (Tr. 33). At Step Five, the ALJ determined, based on
Vaughn’s age, education, work experience, RFC, and if she stopped the substance use, jobs exist
in significant numbers in the national economy Vaughn could perform. (Id.). Therefore, the ALJ
determined Vaughn has not been under a disability and denied Vaughn’s claim. (Tr. 34).
This Court is limited in its review of the Commissioner’s decision in that the
Commissioner’s findings of fact must be reviewed with deference. See Martin v. Sullivan, 894
F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990) (citing Graham v. Bowen, 790 F.2d 1572, 1574-75 (11th Cir.
1986)). In contrast to factual findings, the Commissioner’s conclusions of law are subject to an
“exacting examination” or de novo review. See Martin, 894 F.2d at 1529 (citing Gibson v.
Heckler, 779 F.2d 619, 622 (11th Cir. 1986) (“The Secretary’s failure to apply the correct legal
standards or to provide the reviewing court with sufficient basis for a determination that proper
legal principles have been followed mandates reversal.”) (citations omitted). In particular, this
court has a “responsibility to scrutinize the record in its entirety to ascertain whether substantial
evidence supports each essential administrative finding.” Walden v. Schweiker, 672 F.2d 835,
838 (11th Cir. 1982) (citing Strickland v. Harris, 615 F.2d 1103, 1106 (5th Cir. 1980)).
However, the court “abstains from reweighing the evidence or substituting its own judgment for
that of the [Commissioner].” Id. (citation omitted).
Keeping in mind the scope of its review and having scrutinized the record before it, this
court finds substantial evidence to support the ALJ’s decision that Vaughn is not disabled within
the meaning of the Social Security Act. Vaughn’s substance abuse, the ALJ decided, contributed
and was material to a disability determination because Vaughn “would not be disabled if she
stopped the substance use.” (Tr. 34). Vaughn disagrees and argues her impairments are severe
and disabling irrespective of substance abuse. (Doc. 9 at 16). The court has carefully considered
Vaughn’s contentions, but is unpersuaded by her arguments for relief.
Vaughn urges her physical and mental impairments are so severe they are disabling
despite substance abuse.
In other words, if she stopped abusing methamphetamines and
prescription drugs, which she states she has done, then she still has disabling impairments
including diabetes, mood swings, neck problems, carpel tunnel problems, and obesity. In this
regard, Vaughn tries to distinguish her case from others where, for example, “the claimant
appeared to be ‘entirely normal’ when sober and did not have chronic physical impairments that
would remain if he quit drinking.” (Doc. 9 at 14) (citing Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1281
(11th Cir. 2001). And, she argues, her case is different from Deters v. Commissioner of Soc.
Sec., 301 F.App’x. 886 (11th Cir. 2008), where the claimant’s performance on memory tests
improved after he quit drinking and therefore validated the conclusion that alcohol use was a
contributing factor material to his disability determination. (Doc. 9 at p. 14). Unlike these cases,
Vaughn posits she is disabled, even if sober. (Id.).
In cases where a claimant is found disabled, but also there is a determination of substance
abuse, the ALJ “must determine whether [the claimant’s] drug addiction or alcoholism is a
contributing factor material to the determination of disability.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1535(b)(1),
416.935(b)(1). The ALJ is required to determine which of the plaintiff's physical and mental
limitations that supported the original disability determination would remain absent drug or
alcohol use. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1535(b)(3), 416.935(b)(3). If the plaintiff would no longer be
disabled if she stopped using drugs or alcohol, then the substance abuse is considered a
“contributing factor material to the determination of [his] disability,” and she has failed to meet
her burden of showing that he is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1535(b)(2)(i), 416.935(b)(2)(i); 42
U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(C), 1382c(a)(3)(J).
In its decision, the ALJ applied this analysis and
considered the precise issue Vaughn raises here – whether she is disabled absent substance
A. Substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s decision that, absent substance abuse,
Vaughn’s mental health impairments are not disabling as defined by the Social
Vaughn alleges disability due to several mental impairments, including bi-polar disorder,
anxiety, depression, and hallucinations. (Tr. 161). Regarding her mental impairments, the ALJ
found Vaughn would continue to have more than a minimal functional limitation in ability to do
work activity even if she stopped abusing drugs. (Tr. 24). But, the ALJ decided, the remaining
mental impairments, absent substance abuse, were not severe enough for a disability
determination. (Tr. 25). Specifically, the ALJ decided, “without substance abuse the claimant
has mild restrictions of daily living, moderate difficulties in maintaining social functioning,
moderate difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace, and no episodes of
decompensation, each of extended duration.” (Id.).
Medical records from 2012, when Vaughn was treated at Winfield Behavioral Health
Services, document Vaughn’s methamphetamine and opiate abuse. (Tr. 425). Significantly,
they also document her improved mental health when she abstained from substance abuse. (Id.).
When Vaughn presented to Winfield Behavioral Health Services in June 2012, she had not been
seen in the clinic in eight months. (Tr. 426). She complained of depression, anxiety, and
paranoia. (Id.). She initially denied drug use, but when “challenged” admitted opiate abuse and
regular use of methamphetamine two years prior. (Id.). She was assessed as having fair
judgment, poor insight, impaired concentration, and orientation as to person, place, and thing.
Her speech was appropriate, her mood was depressed and anxious, her affect was
appropriate, her behavior cooperative, and her thought was logical. (Tr. 425). Vaughn did not
return for her follow-up visit in July 2012. (Id.). When she did return in August 2012, she
reported two weeks sobriety. (Id.). Notably, Vaughn was “doing better” and felt her prescribed
medications were helpful. (Id.). The clinical assessment indicated Vaughn exhibited good
judgment, good insight, good concentration, orientation as to person, place, and thing with a
memory impairment of “none.”
It also noted adequate grooming, euthymic (normal, non-
depressed) mood, appropriate affect, cooperative behavior and logical thought. (Id.). Further,
Vaughn received a Global Assessment Functioning (“GAF”) rating of 60, indicating only mild to
moderate symptoms.4 (Id.).
Vaughn’s treatment at Winfield Behavioral Health was sporadic. She did not seek
treatment between February 2008 and October 2011. (Tr. 427). In 2011 and 2012, Vaughn did
not show for three appointments. (Tr. 425-427). In 2011, she was seen once and then twice in
2012. (Id.). These records substantiate the ALJ’s finding that “the objective evidence of record
indicates the claimant has not been in mental health treatment for a consistent and ongoing basis
for ‘years’ as alleged.” (Tr. 28-29).
Records from a 2013 psychiatric assessment at Northwest Alabama MHC (“MHC”)
document Vaughn’s history of methamphetamine and prescription drug abuse. (Tr. 498). And
the records further substantiate Vaughn’s substance abuse as exacerbating her mental health
impairments. For example, in June 2013, Vaughn reported elevated anxiety and depression, but
it was due to shame and guilt from abusing Percocet. (Tr. 495). Later that year Vaughn was
reassessed. (Tr. 493). At that time, she was sober, “totally clean,” and “working the program.”
(Id.). She reported doing much better. (Id.). Significantly, she denied hallucinations, suicidal
ideations, and mood instability. (Id.).
By contrast, Vaughn was assigned a GAF rating of 37 in April 2013, indicating an
inability to function in almost all areas of life, and a GAF rating of 45 in June 2013, indicating
serious mental impairment. (Tr. 30). These GAF ratings were assigned in connection with
Vaughn’s treatment of substance use. (Tr. 473, 481).
The MHC records also indicate that prior to her 2013 assessment Vaughn was prescribed
several different medications to treat her mental health impairments. (Tr. 498). The efficacy of
those medications is unclear, however, because Vaughn admitted to being “on drugs” while
On assessment, Vaughn stated that she thought Risperdal helped her
hallucinations, but she was “on drugs” when she took it. (Id.). She stated Trazadone was not
“extremely effective” but she was “on drugs” when it was prescribed as well. (Id.). The court
views these records as further supporting the ALJ in finding Vaughn’s substance abuse as a
contributing factor material to her disability determination.
Based on Vaughn’s mental health records, including those cited above, the ALJ
concluded Vaughn “has a substantial history of substance abuse that exacerbated her mental
symptoms.” (Tr. 30). While the record indicates severe difficulties with depression, anxiety,
mood swings, and hallucinations, the ALJ found Vaughn’s substance abuse contributed to those
mental impairments in a material way such that the “resulting symptoms were exacerbated by her
substance abuse rising to marked limitations in social functioning and concentration, persistence,
The court finds substantial evidence in the record to support this
conclusion. Indeed, the medical records document improved mental health when Vaughn is
sober and her complaints of depression, anxiety, hallucinations, and paranoia are improved, if
not completely alleviated, when she is clean. Moreover, absent substance abuse, the remaining
mental impairments are not corroborated by the record as severe enough to cause the marked
limitations in ability necessary for a disability determination.
If Vaughn stopped the substance use, the ALJ found that she would have “mild
restrictions of daily living, moderate difficulties in maintaining social functioning, moderate
difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace, and no episodes of
decompensation, each of extended duration.” (Tr. 25). The record supports this conclusion.
Specifically, the record indicates that Vaughn could get her 10 year old son ready for school,
help prepare meals, help her son with homework, independently perform personal care items, do
laundry, make beds, sweep, drive when necessary, shop in a store with her husband, count
change, spend time with others, use social networking sites and play games on the computer.
(Tr. 175-182). The record also indicates Vaughn went to watch all of her son’s baseball games
and would visit the school if he was participating in a program or play. (Tr. 64). Vaughn also
attends church regularly. (Tr. 63). Given this record, the court finds substantial evidence to
support the ALJ’s conclusion that Vaughn’s mental impairments, absent substance abuse, lack
the requisite severity for a disability determination.
B. Absent substance abuse, Vaughn’s physical impairments are not disabling as
defined by the Social Security Act.
As far as Vaughn’s mental health impairments are concerned, there is ample evidence to
support the ALJ’s decision that substance abuse is what renders those impairments disabling –
remove the abuse and remaining impairments exist, but they lack the requisite severity for a
disability determination. Having scrutinized the record, this court finds the record also supports
the ALJ’s decision regarding Vaughn’s physical impairments. Vaughn argues her impairments
are “still severe and disabling without the substance abuse,” and she points to her diabetes,
chronic neck/back pain, obesity, and carpal tunnel syndrome as evidencing the same. (Doc. 9 at
16). While there is no dispute that Vaughn suffers from several physical ailments irrespective of
her substance abuse, the ALJ found the limiting effects of pain or other symptoms associated
with those impairments questionable and unsubstantiated by the objective medical evidence.
Regarding Vaughn’s diabetes and obesity, the ALJ decided those impairments “do not
restrict her ability to perform routine movement and necessary physical activity within a light
exertional work environment.” (Tr. 27). The record supports this decision. Vaughn’s medical
records document her diabetes as controlled with medication; specifically, the record evidences
her AIC scores were in normal ranges with medications. (Tr. 274, 278, 283, 465-66) (5.7 in
October 2009, and March 2010; 5.5 in December 2010; and 5.4 in May 2013).
disorders controlled with medications cannot be considered disabilities, the ALJ decided
Vaughn’s diabetes was not disabling under the law. See Fraga v. Bowen, 810 F.2d 1296, 1305
(5th Cir. 1987); see also Dawkins v. Bowen, 848 F.2d 702, 706 (11th Cir. 1988) (quoting
Lovelace v. Bowen, 813 F.2d 55, 59 (5th Cir. 1987) in stating a condition that is reasonably
remedied with medication is not disabling). As far as Vaughn’s obesity is concerned, the ALJ
was required to consider obesity as an impairment when evaluating her disability. Sanders v.
Astrue, 2011 WL 5118808, at *3 (M.D.Ala. 2011) (“An ALJ must consider obesity as an
impairment when evaluating disability.”). The ALJ did so and also considered Vaughn’s obesity
in combination with her other impairments. (Tr. 27). Vaughn did not establish her obesity
resulted in functional limitations to prove her obesity as disabling under the Social Security Act.
Sanders, 2011 WL 55118808 at *3 (“Plaintiff must establish that her obesity results in functional
limitations and that she was ‘disabled’ under the Social Security Act) (citing 20 C.F.R. §
404.1512(a) & (c) (2011)). While treatment notes document Vaughn’s obesity, the record does
not reveal any obesity-related limitations in functioning. Nor does Vaughn allege any functional
limitations or difficulties due to her weight. At the hearing, Vaughn testified to how much she
weighed, but she did not articulate any physical limitations associated with her obesity. (Tr. 4546). Given this record, the court finds substantial support for the ALJ deciding Vaughn’s
diabetes and obesity were not disabling as defined by the Social Security Act.
Vaughn also claims disability due to carpal tunnel disease. In August 2006, Vaughn
underwent a nerve conduction study. (Tr. 302). That study noted possible subtle bilateral carpel
tunnel syndrome. (Id.). Since that study Vaughn has not undergone any type of carpal tunnel
release surgery. Moreover, a March 2013 clinical examination shows she has normal bilateral
dexterity in her fingers and thumb. (Tr. at 444). A range of motion assessment from March 2013
also indicates normal dexterity and normal grip strength. (Tr. 448-49). The ALJ’s conclusion
that Vaughn’s carpel tunnel pain was not disabling is based on substantial evidence and
limitations from carpel tunnel syndrome were properly considered in the RFC. (Tr.
25).Additionally, Vaughn claims disability from a congenital defect where she says there is no
cartilage between four of her vertebrae. (Tr. 45) At her December 2013 hearing, Vaughn
testified she experienced 7/10 pain levels, she could not raise her arm overhead, and she could
only lift a gallon of milk due to pain associated with this defect. (Tr. 47-48). The ALJ
considered Vaughn’s testimony and the objective medical evidence, finding Vaughn less than
credible. (Tr. 26-28). In doing so, the ALJ decided:
the course of medical treatment and the use of medication in this case are not
consistent with disabling levels of pain and other subjective complaints. In spite
of what she described as disabling levels of pain so severe they disrupt her
concentration and sleep, treatment records show the claimant sought consistent
medication refills from treating physicians and reported her pain and diabetes
were well controlled with no side effects from prescribed medication (Exhibits
2F, 3F, and 8F). In fact, there is little to any indication in treatment notes that the
claimant requested frequent changes to her medication regimen or sought an
alternative treatment modality, such as, biofeedback, a TENS unit, or physical
therapy, if the prescribed medications were not effective. Additionally, the
undersigned notes the record shows the claimant abused prescription pain
medication and the record also shows the claimant had drug screens that were
inconsistent with the claimant’s prescribed medications that were suggestive of
the claimant not taking pain medication as prescribed (Exhibit 3F). As such, the
claimant’s complaints of pain are of questionable validity due to her drug
(Tr. 27). Based on the discrepancy between Vaughn’s allegations of disabling pain and the
objective medical evidence, the ALJ questioned Vaughn’s credibility. Her abuse of pain
medications further undermined the credibility of her complaints. Because the ALJ clearly
articulated her credibility finding and supported her finding with substantial evidence, this court
will not disturb that finding here.5 Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1561–62 (11th Cir.1995)
(“[A] clearly articulated credibility finding with substantial supporting evidence in the record
will not be disturbed by a reviewing court.”).
C. Vocational Expert testimony was properly considered in the ALJ’s decision.
Finally, the court is unpersuaded Vaughn is entitled to any relief on the basis of
hypotheticals raised in the Vocational Expert’s (“VE”) testimony.
At the December 2013
hearing, the ALJ questioned VE Barbara Assam with two hypotheticals. (Tr. 71-73). The first
hypothetical included Vaughn’s impairments and the assumption that she could stand and/or
walk with normal breaks for at least six hours during an eight-hour workday and that she can sit
with normal breaks for eight hours during an eight-hour workday. (Tr. 71-72). Using this
hypothetical, the VE testified available jobs existed in the regional and national economy
including photocopy operator and mail sorter. (Tr. 72). The second hypothetical was based on
The court notes that in addition to the above-quoted portion of the ALJ’s decision, other
parts of the record substantiate the ALJ’s credibility finding. For example, the ALJ found
Vaughn’s daily activities inconsistent (getting her son ready for school, helping prepare meals,
doing laundry, making beds, sweeping, shopping in stores with her husband, using social
networking sites, and playing games on the computer) with disabling levels of pain. (Tr. 28).
The ALJ relied on a disability determination examination by Dr. Robert Estock which found
Vaughn only partially credible due to lack of corroboration from the medical records regarding
her limitations. (Tr. 88). In the context of assessing credibility, the ALJ also compared
Vaughn’s testimony against medical records. For example, she considered Vaughn’s testimony
her first marriage ended in divorce due to her hallucinations and mental problems, as compared
to treatment notes contemporaneous to that divorce indicating the marriage ended because of
infidelity. (Tr. 52; Tr. 365).
the same assumptions, but also included the limitations that the hypothetical individual would be
unable to complete an eight-hour workday and a 40 hour work week on a regular basis. (Tr. 7273) With the additional limitations, the VE testified all work was precluded. (Tr. 73). Because
the second hypothetical included limitations ultimately belied by the record, the ALJ relied on
the VE’s testimony to the first hypothetical in her final decision. In doing so, this court finds no
error. See Adams v. Commissioner of Social Security, 542 Fed.Appx. 854, 855 (11th Cir. 2013)
(“Because the ALJ found that Adams’s testimony supporting the hypothetical absences was not
credible and because substantial evidence supports that determination, the ALJ did not err in
disregarding the vocational expert’s testimony that two absences per month [an additional
limitation to initial hypothetical] would render Adams unable to work.”).
At the hearing, Vaughn’s counsel questioned the VE about her alleged problems with
carpal tunnel syndrome. (Tr. 74). The VE testified there would not be a significant number of
light or sedentary jobs if the claimant had only occasional use of her hands. (Id.). Counsel’s
question, however, was predicated on finding credible Vaughn’s testimony about carpal tunnel
pain. (Id.). As discussed before, the record substantiates the ALJ’s credibility finding, and in the
absence of objective medical evidence to corroborate Vaughn’s subjective complaints, there is
no error in the ALJ’s disregard of this portion of VE’s testimony. Accordingly, the court finds
the ALJ’s decision not to determine Vaughn disabled under the Social Security Act is supported
by substantial evidence.
For the reasons set forth herein, and upon careful consideration of the administrative
record and memoranda of the parties, the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
denying Vaughn’s claim for a period of disability and DIB is AFFIRMED, and this action
DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
DONE this 29th day of September, 2016.
JOHN H. ENGLAND, III
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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