Watts v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION and ORDER DISMISSING CASE that the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED and costs are taxed against claimant; as more fully set out in order. Signed by Judge C Lynwood Smith, Jr on 5/8/2012. (AHI )
2012 May-08 AM 08:05
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
EVA HINES MILEY WATTS,
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE,
Commissioner, Social Security
Case No. 7:11-cv-2882-CLS
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Claimant Eva Hines Miley Watts commenced this action on August 18, 2011,
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final adverse decision of
the Commissioner, affirming the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”),
and thereby denying her claim for a period of disability and disability insurance
benefits. For the reasons stated herein, the court finds that the Commissioner’s ruling
is due to be affirmed.
The court’s role in reviewing claims brought under the Social Security Act is
a narrow one. The scope of review is limited to determining whether there is
substantial evidence in the record as a whole to support the findings of the
Commissioner, and whether correct legal standards were applied. See Lamb v.
Bowen, 847 F.2d 698, 701 (11th Cir. 1988); Tieniber v. Heckler, 720 F.2d 1251, 1253
(11th Cir. 1983).
Claimant contends that the Commissioner’s decision is neither supported by
substantial evidence nor in accordance with applicable legal standards. Specifically,
claimant asserts that the Commissioner erred by failing to remand the case for
consideration of new evidence, and by failing to fully and fairly develop the record
regarding her cognitive functioning and residual functional capacity. Upon review
of the record, the court concludes that these contentions lack merit.
Claimant first asserts that the ALJ should have remanded the case to the
Commissioner for further consideration of new evidence that was submitted for the
first time to the Appeals Council.
When a claimant submits new evidence to the [Appeals Council], the
district court must consider the entire record, including the evidence
submitted to the AC, to determine whether the denial of benefits was
erroneous. Ingram, 496 F.3d at 1262. Remand is appropriate when a
district court fails to consider the record as a whole, including evidence
submitted for the first time to the AC, in determining whether the
Commissioner’s final decision is supported by substantial evidence. Id.
at 1266-67. The new evidence must relate back to the time period on or
before the date of the ALJ’s decision. 20 C.F.R. § 404.970(b).
Smith v. Astrue, 272 Fed. Appx. 789, 802 (11th Cir. 2008) (emphasis supplied).
The new evidence in this case included updated treatment records and a
medical source opinion from Dr. Travis, a psychological evaluation and medical
source statement from Dr. John Goff, and updated medical records from West
Alabama Health Center.1 The Appeals Council reviewed the additional evidence, but
nonetheless denied claimant’s request for review, stating:
In looking at your case, we considered the reasons you disagree
with the decision and the additional evidence listed on the enclosed
Order of Appeals Council.
We found that this information does not provide a basis for
changing the Administrative Law Judge’s decision.
In connection with the request for review, you submitted
additional medical evidence in the form of progress notes. Many of the
notes contain either no or illegible dates. Therefore, we are unable to
ascertain whether they are for the period at issue. However, assuming
they are for the period at issue, they, along with those notes that have
dates[,] are cumulative notes which merely reiterate your statements and
complaints; document referrals for appointments regarding other
impairments; and document requests for medication refills. Also
submitted was a report of “Confidential Psychological Evaluation” and
an assessment of ability to perform work duties (physical) which contain
assessments which equate to opinions of “disability.” The evidence of
record supports neither opinion inasmuch as they are both inconsistent
with all other opinions and the record as a whole. Therefore, neither the
additional evidence nor your representative’s contentions provide a
basis for the [sic] disturbing the hearing decision.2
This court agrees with the Appeals Council’s decision. Even considering the
additional evidence presented for the first time to the Appeals Council, the ALJ’s
decision was supported by substantial evidence. Consequently, remand is not
required for additional consideration of any new evidence, and the Commissioner did
See Tr. 365-421.
not err in finding claimant not disabled.
Claimant also argues that the ALJ erred by failing to fully and fairly develop
the record regarding her cognitive functioning and residual functional capacity. More
specifically, claimant asserts that the ALJ should have ordered additional consultative
examinations. It is true that the ALJ
has an obligation to develop a full and fair record, even if the claimant
is represented by counsel. Cowart v. Schweiker, 662 F.2d 731, 735
(11th Cir. 1981). The ALJ is not required to seek additional
independent expert medical testimony before making a disability
determination if the record is sufficient and additional expert testimony
is not necessary for an informed decision. Wilson v. Apfel, 179 F.3d
1276, 1278 (11th Cir. 1999) (holding the record, which included the
opinion of several physicians, was sufficient for the ALJ to arrive at a
decision); Holladay v. Bowen, 848 F.2d 1206, 1209-10 (11th Cir. 1988)
(holding the ALJ must order a consultative exam when it is necessary
for an informed decision).
Nation v. Barnhart, 153 Fed. Appx. 597, 598 (11th Cir. 2005) (emphasis supplied).
Furthermore, claimant bears the ultimate burden of producing evidence to support her
disability claim. See Ellison v. Barnhart, 355 F.3d 1272, 1276 (11th Cir. 2003)
(citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.912(a), (c)). In this case, the ALJ relied on reports of
claimant’s physical and mental limitations from multiple consultative examiners that
already were in the record at the time of the ALJ’s decision. The extensive medical
record already generated at the time of the ALJ’s decision was sufficient to give
substantial support to the decision, and the ALJ was not required to order any
additional consultative examinations.
In summary, the court concludes the ALJ’s decision was based upon substantial
evidence and in accordance with applicable legal standards. Accordingly, the
decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED. Costs are taxed against claimant. The
Clerk is directed to close this file.
DONE this 8th day of May, 2012.
United States District Judge
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