Atchinson v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Magistrate Judge Staci G Cornelius on 9/4/15. (MRR )
2015 Sep-04 AM 10:17
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
MICHAEL ALLEN ATCHINSON,
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION,
Case No.: 7:14-cv-01214-SGC
The plaintiff, Michael Allen Atchinson, appeals from the decision of the Commissioner
of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) denying his application for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”).
Atchinson timely pursued and exhausted his
administrative remedies, and the Commissioner’s decision is ripe for review pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner’s decision is due to be
I. Procedural History
Atchinson has a high school education and has previously worked as a driver for a
wrecker company and a wet out technican. (Tr. at 201). In his application for DIB, he claimed
that he became disabled on March 31, 2010, due to a shattered right femur, depression, arthritis,
a knee injury, a leg injury, hip damage, nerve damage, and a loss of concentration. (Id. at 68-69,
After his claims were denied, Atchinson requested a hearing before an
administrative law judge (“ALJ”). (Id. at 69-72, 75-76). Following a hearing, the ALJ denied
In accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Rule 72 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the
parties have voluntarily consented to the exercise of full dispositive jurisdiction by the undersigned magistrate
judge. (Doc. 13).
Atchinson’s claims. (Id. at 15-29). Atchinson was 44 years old when the ALJ issued his
decision. (Id. at 38). After the Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ’s decision (id. at 13), 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, Atchinson initiated this action. (Doc. 1).
II. Statutory and Regulatory Framework
To establish his 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), 423(d)(1)(A); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a). Furthermore, a claimant must
show that he was disabled between his alleged initial onset date and his date last insured. Mason
v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 430 Fed. App’x 830, 831 (11th Cir. 2011) (citing Moore v. Barnhart, 405
F.3d 1209, 1211 (11th Cir. 2005); Demandre v. Califano, 591 F.2d 1088, 1090 (5th Cir. 1979)).
The Social Security Administration employs a five-step sequential analysis to determine an
individual’s eligibility for disability benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4).
First, the Commissioner must determine whether the claimant is engaged in “substantial
gainful activity.” Id. at § 404.1520(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 determine the claimant is not disabled. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i) and (b). At the first step, the ALJ determined Atchinson met the
Social Security Administration’s insured status requirements through March 31, 2015 and had
not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date of March 31, 2010. (Tr. at
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. § 404.1520(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.” Id. at § 404.1508. 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.; see also 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(3). An impairment is severe if it “significantly limits [the claimant’s] physical or mental
ability to do basic work activities . . . .” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). 2 “[A]n impairment can be
considered as not severe only if it is a slight 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. § 404.1521(a). A claimant may be found disabled based on a
combination of impairments, even though none of her individual impairments alone is disabling.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1523.
The claimant bears the burden of providing medical evidence
demonstrating an impairment and its severity. Id. at § 404.1512(a) and (c). If the claimant does
Basic work activities include:
(1) [p]hysical functions such as walking, standing, sitting, lifting, pushing, pulling, reaching,
carrying, or handling; (2) [c]apacities for seeking, 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 setting.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1521(b).
not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments, the Commissioner will determine
the claimant is not disabled. Id. at § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii) and (c).
At the second step, the ALJ determined Atchinson had the following severe impairments:
status post fracture of the right femur with open reduction and internal fixation, right knee
adhesive capsulitis, right trochanteric bursitis, hypertension, depression, and anxiety disorder.
(Tr. at 20-21).
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. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii);
see also id. at § 404.1525-26. The claimant bears the burden of proving that his impairment
meets or equals one of the Listings. Reynolds-Buckley, 457 Fed. App’x at 863. If the claimant’s
impairment meets or equals one of the Listings, the Commissioner will determine the claimant is
20 C.F.R § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii) and (d).
At the third step, the ALJ determined
Atchinson did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically
equaled the severity of one of the Listings. (Tr. at 21-23).
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. § 404.1520(e); see also id. at § 404.1545. A claimant’s
RFC is the most he can do despite his impairment. See id. at § 404.1545(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 § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv) and (e),
404.1560(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. § 404.1560(b)(1). The claimant bears the burden of proving that his impairment prevents
him from performing his past relevant work. Reynolds-Buckley, 457 Fed. App’x at 863. If the
claimant is capable of performing his past relevant work, the Commissioner will determine the
claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 404.1560(b)(3).
Before proceeding to the fourth step, the ALJ determined that Atchinson had the RFC to
perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a)3 with a number of restrictions.
(Tr. at 23-27). Specifically, the ALJ found that Atchinson is limited to occasional pushing and
pulling with the upper extremities bilaterally; can do no foot control operations bilaterally; can
never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; can occasionally climb ramps and stairs; can
occasionally kneel, stoop, crouch, crawl, and balance with a hand held assistive device; can
sustain no more than occasional exposure to extreme heat and cold and, therefore, needs a
temperature controlled environment; must avoid excessive vibration and exposure to hazardous,
moving machinery and unprotected heights; can have occasional exposure to irritants such as
odors, fumes, dusts, and gases; can understand, remember, and carry out simple but not complex
or detailed instructions; can have occasional work place changes that are gradually introduced
and well explained; should have interaction with the public, co-workers, and supervisors that is
casual and non-intense; requires a well-spaced environment without a need to complete tandem
tasks; and should be supervised in a supportive and non-confrontational manner. (Id.). At the
involves lifting no more than 10 pounds at a time and occasionally lifting or carrying articles like
docket files, ledges, 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
20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a).
fourth step, the ALJ determined Atchinson was not capable of performing any of his past
relevant work. (Id. at 27-28).
If the claimant is unable to perform his 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). If the claimant is
capable of performing other work, the Commissioner will determine the claimant is not disabled.
Id. at §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v) and (g)(1). If the claimant is not capable of performing other work,
the Commissioner will determine the claimant is disabled. Id. At the fifth step, considering
Atchinson’s age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ determined there are jobs that
exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Atchinson can perform, such as those
of an assembler, a pharmaceutical packer, and an optical goods assembler. (Tr. at 28-29).
Therefore, the ALJ concluded Atchinson was not disabled. (Id.).
III. Standard of Review
Review of the Commissioner’s decision is limited to a determination 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 whether 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.
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. 1991).
On appeal, Atchinson argues that the ALJ did not apply the correct legal standard in
determining his RFC, and that the ALJ’s assessment of his RFC is not supported by substantial
evidence. (Doc. 10 at 6-8). More specifically, he argues that the ALJ improperly rejected the
findings of Jack Zaremba, M.D., failed to develop the record in light of a new MRI of his right
knee performed in October of 2011, and substituted his judgment for that of both Dr. Zaremba
and Robert Heilpern, M.D. (Id. at 7-8). Atchinson further argues that the ALJ’s method of
assessing his RFC was inconsistent with SSR 96-9p. (Id. at 8-9). Finally, Atchinson suggests
that to the extent the ALJ believed there were inconsistencies in the medical evidence of record,
he should have clarified the record by re-contacting the source or obtaining the opinion of a
medical expert. (Id. at 9).
Atchinson’s medical records reveal the following: In April of 2008, Atchinson
established care with a primary care physician, to whom he complained of lower back pain and
heel pain. (Id. at 296). Shortly thereafter, he was involved in a workplace accident, as a result of
which he fractured his right femur. (Id. at 245). He underwent surgery to repair the fracture.
(Id. at 241-42). Thereafter, he participated in physical therapy with limited success. (Id. at 265277). In September of 2008, Atchinson underwent a manipulation of his right knee to treat the
adhesive capsulitis that had developed. (Id. at 285). Atchinson continued to complain of severe
pain. (Id. at 291-93). In May of 2009, he underwent another manipulation of his right knee, at
which time hardware was removed from his right distal femur. (Id. at 283-84). In September of
2009, an MRI of Atchinson’s right knee revealed a probable degenerative tear of the anterior
horn lateral meniscus, suspected adjacent osteochondral defects of a severely degenerated lateral
femoral condyle, and concern for at least three intra-articular loose bodies. (Id. at 281-82). That
same month, Atchinson underwent another procedure on his right knee.
(Id. at 279-80).
Thereafter, he participated in another course of physical therapy, again with limited success. (Id.
at 335-356). Atchinson’s subsequent medical records document reports of shoulder, thigh, knee,
and hip pain, as well as numbness in his left arm and hand. (Id. at 288-90, 362-63). Atchinson
also began to suffer from anxiety and depression after his workplace accident, as documented in
records of visits to his primary care physician. (Id. at 292-95).
Brian Peterson, M.D. performed a consultative exam of Atchinson in May of 2011. (Id.
at 314-18). In connection with that exam, Dr. Peterson reviewed the MRI of Atchinson’s right
knee performed in September of 2009, as well as operative reports for that knee. (Id. at 314).
He found that Atchinson had chronic post-traumatic right knee pain with subsequent left knee
pain caused by an abnormal gait, chronic right trochanteric bursitis that was the likely source of
his chronic hip pain, and chronic musculoskeletal back pain that did not appear to be radicular
and was likely caused by his abnormal gait. (Id. at 314-18).
In June of 2011, Robert Heilpern, M.D. completed Atchinson’s physical RFC assessment
after reviewing Atchinson’s medical records and the consultative exam performed by Dr.
Peterson. (Id. at 390-96). Dr. Heilpern found that Atchinson could occasionally lift and/or carry
20 pounds, frequently lift and/or carry 10 pounds, stand and/or walk for a total of at least two
hours in an eight-hour work day, and sit for a total of at least six hours in an eight-hour work
day. (Id. at 390). He further found that Atchinson had limited ability to push and/or pull with
his lower extremities; had some postural limitations; had no limitations as to extreme cold or
heat, wetness, humidity, noise, vibration, or fumes, odors, gases, poor ventilation, etc.; and
should avoid all exposure to hazards such as machinery and heights. (Id. at 390-91, 393).
In October of 2011, another MRI was performed on Atchinson’s right knee. (Id. at 36061). Comparing that MRI to the September 2009 MRI of Atchinson’s right knee, the radiologist
found an abnormal increased signal in the anterior horn of the lateral meniscus showing
irregularity in the anterior attachment, noting this was similar in appearance to that seen in the
earlier MRI. (Id. at 360). He further found several intra-articular bodies as were seen in the
earlier MRI. (Id.). Finally, he found a chronic tear of the ACL with laxity of a few intact fibers.
According to Atchinson, he obtained an updated consultative exam from Jack Zaremba,
M.D. in September of 2012 because Dr. Heilpern’s physical RFC assessment was based on Dr.
Peterson’s consultative exam, which did not include a medical source opinion. (Id. at 7).
Atchinson further claims that an updated consultative exam was warranted by significant
findings of the second MRI of his right knee performed after the consultative exam performed by
Dr. Peterson and physical RFC assessment completed by Dr. Heilpern. (Id.).
Dr. Zaremba completed a physical capacities evaluation of Atchinson, finding as follows:
Atchinson could lift and/or carry 10 pounds occasionally or less frequently, sit for a total of six
hours during an eight-hour work day, and stand and/or walk for a combined total of one hour
during an eight-hour work day. (Id. at 379). Dr. Zaremba further found that Atchinson’s pain
was present to such an extent as to be distracting to adequate performance of daily activities or
work, and that physical activity, including prolonged sitting, would greatly increase his pain and
to such a adegree as to cause distraction from, or total abandonment of, tasks. (Id. at 379). Dr.
Zaremba also completed a clinical assessment of Atchinson’s fatigue/weakness, finding that
Atchinson’s fatigue/weakness was present to such an extent as to negatively affect adequate
performance of daily activities or work, and that physical activity would greatly increase
Atchinson’s fatigue/weakness and to such a degree as to cause total abandonment of tasks. (Id.
“The ALJ must state with particularity the weight given to different medical opinions and
the reasons for doing so.” Forrester v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 455 Fed. App’x 899, 902 (11th Cir.
2012) (citing Sharfarz v. Bowen, 825 F.2d 278, 279 (11th Cir. 1987)). “ ‘Medical opinions are
statements from physicians and psychologists or other acceptable medical sources that reflect
judgments about the nature and severity of [the claimant’s] impairment(s), including [the
claimant’s] symptoms, diagnosis and prognosis, what [the claimant] can still do despite
impairment(s), and [the claimant’s] physical or mental restrictions.’” Winschel v. Comm’r of
Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178-79 (11th Cir. 2011) (quoting 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(a)(2),
“The ALJ may consider many factors when weighing medical evidence,
including the claimant’s relationship with the examining or treating physician, whether a medical
opinion is well-supported, whether a medical opinion is consistent with the claimant’s records,
and a doctor’s specialization.” Wilcox v. Comm’r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 442 Fed. App’x 438, 439
(11th Cir. 2011) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)). “[T]he ALJ may reject any medical opinion, if
the evidence supports a contrary finding.” Forrester, 455 Fed. App’x at 901-02 (citing Sryock v.
Heckler, 764 F.2d 834, 835 (11th Cir. 1985)).
Here, the ALJ articulated the weight given to the medical opinions of Drs. Heilpern and
Zaremba based on the factors set out in the social security regulations. He gave the medical
opinions of Dr. Heilpern partial weight, noting that while Dr. Heilpern found that Atchinson
could perform work at the light level of exertion, Atchinson’s consistent complaints of lower
extremity pain and the need to prevent exacerbation of Atchinson’s current impairments
warranted further limiting Atchinson to sedentary work. (Id. at 27). The ALJ’s decision to give
partial weight to Dr. Heilpern’s medical opinions is supported by substantial evidence. As noted
by the ALJ, Atchinson’s medical records document consistent complaints of lower extremity
pain. (Id. at 288-93, 362-63).
The ALJ gave the medical opinions of Dr. Zaremba little weight because they were
inconsistent with Atchinson’s history or treatment by his primary care physician, appeared to be
based primarily on Atchinson’s subjective reports of his symptoms, and were obtained not to
seek treatment, but rather through attorney referral for purposes of generating evidence for
Atchinson’s appeal. (Id.). The reasons given by the ALJ for assigning Dr. Zaremba’s medical
opinions little weight constitute substantial evidence supporting that decision. See 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(c) (ALJ may consider examining relationship, treatment relationship, supportability,
and consistency when deciding what weight to give to medical opinions).
Contrary to Atchinson’s assertion, the ALJ did not substitute his own judgment for that of
Drs. Heilpern and Zaremba. 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 the medical opinions of
Drs. Heilpern and Zaremba and gave valid reasons for assigning them partial and little weight,
respectively.4 Furthermore, opinions on some issues, such as a claimant’s RFC and whether he
is disabled, are not medical opinions, but rather opinions on issues reserved to the
Commissioner. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d).
Atchinson suggests that to the extent the ALJ believed Dr. Zaremba’s findings were
inconsistent with those of Dr. Peterson and Dr. Heilpern, he should have clarified the record by
re-contacting the source or obtaining the opinion of a medical expert. (Doc. 10 at 9). “[T]he
ALJ has a duty to develop the record fully and fairly.” Wilson v. Apfel, 179 F.3d 1276, 1278
(11th Cir. 1999).
An ALJ is not required to re-contact a medical source to clarify an
inconsistency if the ALJ determines other evidence is sufficient to determine whether a claimant
is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. § 1520(b); Osborn v. Barnhart, 194 Fed. App’x 654, 668 (11th Cir.
2006) (ALJ did not err by failing to re-contact medical professional for clarification of report
because substantial evidence supported ALJ’s determination claimant was not disabled and, thus,
As noted above, Atchinson also argues that the ALJ’s method of assessing his RFC was inconsistent with SSR 969p. (Doc. 10 at 8-9). It is not clear how Atchinson believes the ALJ’s assessment of his RFC contravenes SSR 969p, which provides guidelines for evaluating a claimant’s ability to do less than a full range of sedentary work.
Specifically, SSR 96-9p provides:
An accurate accounting of an individual’s abilities, limitations, and restrictions is necessary to
determine the extent of erosion of the occupational base, the types of sedentary occupations an
individual might still be able to do, and whether it will be necessary to make use of a vocational
resource. The RFC assessment must be sufficiently complete to allow an adjudicator to make an
informed judgment regarding these issues.
Because the ALJ assessed Atchinson’s abilities, limitations, and restrictions in detail and retained a vocational
expert to aid in the determination of sedentary occupations Atchinson might perform, the ALJ complied with SSR
there was no need for additional information or clarification). Likewise, “[a]n ALJ is not
required to seek the independent testimony of a medical expert where the record is sufficient to
determine whether the claimant is disabled and additional medical expert testimony would be
unnecessary.” Prince v. Comm’r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 551 Fed. App’x 967, 972 (11th Cir. 2014).
Here, the ALJ sufficiently developed the record to make a decision regarding Atchinson’s
DIB claim. In making that decision, he had the benefit of following: (1) medical records from
Atchinson’s primary care physician, (2) medical records from the surgeon who performed the
procedures on Atchinson’s right femur and knee, (3) Dr. Peterson’s consultative exam, (4) a
psychological evaluation performed by Cynthia Neville, Ph.D., (5) Dr. Zaremba’s independent
exam, (6) Dr. Heilpern’s physical RFC assessment, (7) a psychiatric review and mental RFC
assessment completed by Robert Estock, M.D., (8) activities-of-daily-living questionnaires
completed by Atchinson and his father, and (9) Atchinson’s testimony. The ALJ considered this
evidence, as well as Atchinson’s symptoms and the extent to which they were consistent with the
objective medical evidence and other evidence, in assessing Atchinson’s RFC.
consistent with the social security regulations’ instruction that a claimant’s RFC should be
“based on all the relevant evidence in [the claimant’s] case record.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1).
Within the record is substantial evidence to support the ALJ’s determination of Atchinson’s
RFC. This is so even in light of the second MRI of Atchinson’s right knee performed in October
of 2011. As the Commissioner notes, that MRI was markedly similar to the MRI of the same
knee performed in September of 2009, with the exception that the later MRI showed a chronic
tear of the ACL. (Doc. 11 at 11). Accordingly, the ALJ was not required to re-contact any
medical source or retain a medical expert. The substantial evidence supporting Atchinson’s RFC
as determined by the ALJ is as follows:
Dr. Heilpern found that Atchinson could perform work at the light level of exertion (Tr.
at 390-96), so certainly he could perform sedentary work. The ALJ’s determination Atchinson
can perform sedentary work with certain restrictions is also supported by Dr. Neville’s
psychological evaluation and Dr. Estock’s psychiatric review and mental RFC assessment. Dr.
Neville found that Atchinson suffered from anxiety and depression that might interfere with his
ability to follow through to a mild to moderate degree, and that his ability to interact
appropriately with co-workers and supervisors or to handle typical work pressures would also
likely be negatively impacted by his psychiatric issues to a mild to moderate degree. (Id. at 312).
The ALJ gave Dr. Neville’s medical opinions partial weight. (Id. at 27).
Dr. Estock completed a psychiatric review of Atchinson after reviewing Atchinson’s
medical records, the consultative psychological evaluation performed by Dr. Neville, and
Atchinson’s activities of daily living as reported by himself and his father. (Id. at 319-332). Dr.
Estock found that Atchinson’s anxiety and depression moderately restricted his activities of daily
living, made it moderately difficult for him to maintain social functioning, and made it
moderately difficult for him to maintain concentration, persistence, or pace. (Id. at 329). He
further found that Atchinson was partially credible, noting that while Atchinson alleged a lack of
concentration, he was able to perform several tests of concentration or memory correctly. (Id. at
331). Dr. Estock also completed Atchinson’s mental RFC assessment. (Id. at 385-88). He
found that Atchinson could understand, remember, and complete simple tasks.
specifically, although his concentration for detailed tasks would be limited at times by emotional
factors, he could maintain attention sufficient to complete simple, one-to-two step tasks for
periods of at least two hours. (Id. at 387). Dr. Estock further found that Atchinson appeared able
to complete an eight-hour work day with all customary breaks, would function best with a
flexible work schedule in a well-spaced work setting, and could tolerate casual, non-intense
interaction with co-workers and the general public.
Finally, Dr. Estock found that
supervision of Atchinson should be supportive and non-confrontational, and that changes in his
work environment and as to his expectations should be infrequent and introduced gradually.
(Id.). The ALJ gave Dr. Estock’s medical opinions great weight. (Id. at 27).
Although Atchinson testified to limited activities of daily living, as noted by the ALJ, he
also testified that two of his children lived with him during the summer and that he was able to
spend time with them on a daily basis. (Id. at 26, 58-60). Accordingly, as further noted by the
ALJ, Atchinson’s limitation to sedentary work with additional restrictions accommodates his
minimal activities of daily living. (Id. at 26). The ALJ accounted for possible symptoms
associated with Atchinson’s hypertension by finding that he can never climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds and should avoid exposure to hazardous, moving machinery and unprotected heights.
(Id. at 25). Finally, as noted by the ALJ, there is no evidence Atchinson experiences side effects
from the medications he takes on a daily basis—Xanax, Prozac, Zanaflex, and Metoprolol—that
would interfere with his ability to perform sedentary work with certain restrictions, or that his
non-severe impairments of left knee pain and lumbago would impair his ability to perform that
work. (Id. at 24, 26).
For the foregoing reasons, the ALJ applied the correct legal standard in determining
Atchinson’s RFC, and that determination is supported by substantial evidence.
Having reviewed the administrative record and considered all of the arguments presented
by the parties, the undersigned find 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 entered.
DONE this 4th day of September, 2015.
STACI G. CORNELIUS
U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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