Green v. Astrue
MEMORANDUM OPINION and ORDER entered. Upon consideration of the administrative record and the memoranda of the parties, it is ORDERED that the decision of the Commissioner be AFFIRMED and that this action be DISMISSED, as further set out. Signed by Magistrate Judge Bert W. Milling, Jr on 10/8/2013. (clr)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
GWENDOLYN JOHNSON GREEN,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,
Commission of Social Security,
CIVIL ACTION 13-0048-M
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
In this action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3),
Plaintiff seeks judicial review of an adverse social security
ruling which denied claims for disability benefits and
Supplemental Security Income (hereinafter SSI) (Docs. 1, 14).
The parties filed written consent and this action has been
referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge to conduct all
proceedings and order the entry of judgment in accordance with
28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73 (see Doc. 23).
argument was waived in this action (Doc. 24).
consideration of the administrative record and the memoranda of
the parties, it is ORDERED that the decision of the Commissioner
be AFFIRMED and that this action be DISMISSED.
This Court is not free to reweigh the evidence or
substitute its judgment for that of the Secretary of Health and
Human Services, Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th
Cir. 1983), which must be supported by substantial evidence.
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).
substantial evidence test requires “that the decision under
review be supported by evidence sufficient to justify a
reasoning mind in accepting it; it is more than a scintilla, but
less than a preponderance.”
Brady v. Heckler, 724 F.2d 914, 918
(11th Cir. 1984), quoting Jones v. Schweiker, 551 F.Supp. 205 (D.
At the time of the administrative hearing, Plaintiff was
forty-seven years old, had completed one year of college (Tr.
175), and had previous work experience as a dishwasher and
waitress (see Tr. 62-63).
In claiming benefits, Plaintiff
alleges disability due to obesity, hypertension, headaches,
gout, diabetes mellitus, facet arthropathy of the lumbar spine,
bursitis, and depression (Doc. 14 Fact Sheet).
The Plaintiff filed applications for disability benefits
and SSI on September 20, 2010 (Tr. 150-64; see also Tr. 18).
Benefits were denied following a hearing by an Administrative
Law Judge (ALJ) who determined that although she could not
return to her past relevant work, there were specific light
exertional jobs that she could do (Tr. 18-30).
requested review of the hearing decision (Tr. 14) by the Appeals
Council, but it was denied (Tr. 1-5).
Plaintiff claims that the opinion of the ALJ is not
supported by substantial evidence.
Specifically, Green alleges
(1) The ALJ improperly found that her cervical disc
disease was a non-severe impairment; (2) the ALJ did not
properly consider her complaints of pain; and (3) the ALJ did
not develop a full and fair record (Doc. 14).
responded to—and denies—these claims (Doc. 19).
evidence of record follows.1
On March 18, 2007, Green was seen at Memorial Hermann
Hospital following a motor vehicle accident (Tr. 263-91).
admission to the emergency room, Plaintiff complained of
clavicle, neck, abdominal and right foot pain for which she was
given morphine and a prescription for hydrocodone.2
full range of motion (hereinafter ROM) in all extremities (Tr.
X-rays and CT scans were negative, but Plaintiff was
encouraged to take it easy for a few days (Tr. 268).
notes that some degenerative changes, with anterior osteophytes,
were noted in the C5-6, C6-7, and C7-T1 (Tr. 278); facet
arthritis of the lower spine was noted (Tr. 282).
The Court notes that Plaintiff’s asserted date of disability,
according to the ALJ, is August 31, 2005 (Tr. 18, 39), though the
applications clearly assert a date of July 1, 2008 (Tr. 150, 159).
Though confused by this discrepancy, the Court will presume that the
ALJ’s statement is correct. However, no evidence preceding August 31,
2005 will be considered.
Only.Hydrocodone is used “for the relief of
moderate to moderately severe pain.” Physician's Desk Reference 292627 (52nd ed. 1998).
Records from the HmH Medical Clinic show that Plaintiff was
seen on July 13, 2006 for a mammogram after being battered by
her ex-boyfriend (Tr. 307; see generally Tr. 293-307).
August 11, Green complained of a summer cold and dry cough (Tr.
On October 13, she complained of a sore throat and cough;
Plaintiff was noted to have hypertension and obesity (Tr. 305).
On Valentine’s Day 2007, Green had a head cold, dry cough, and
ringing in her left ear (Tr. 304).
Six weeks later, nine days
after her motor vehicle accident, Plaintiff was seen for neck
pain, dizziness, soreness in the right shoulder blade, chest,
and abdomen, and right ankle and foot pain; Green was noted to
have multiple bruises and contusions in her abdomen and legs
Flexeril3 was prescribed.
On April 9, Plaintiff was
seen for head and neck pain and dizziness; she described the
pain as a dull ache with occasional sharp pain with associated
headaches and muscle spasms (Tr. 302).
Green’s back was noted to be tender along the
superior trapezius muscle to where it attached to the cranium;
the abdomen was soft with pain on rotation to the left.
encouraged to start doing slow stretching exercises and to use
heat for the soreness; Flexeril was continued.
On May 10,
3Error! Main Document Only.Flexeril is used along with “rest and
physical therapy for relief of muscle spasm associated with acute,
painful musculoskeletal conditions.” Physician's Desk Reference 145557 (48th ed. 1994).
Plaintiff complained of back pain, especially after sitting for
a while; the doctor noted minimal back tenderness (Tr. 301).
Hypertension was well controlled.
On June 27, 2007, Green was
still having back spasms; she was told to keep exercising and to
take over-the-counter medications (Tr. 300).
The doctor also
noted that Plaintiff was non-compliant with her hypertension
medications and that she was morbidly obese.
At the next
examination, Plaintiff complained of a cold and a migraine
headache and asked for a muscle relaxer; the doctor noted a
negative straight leg raise (Tr. 299).
for her back; weight loss was stressed.
Robaxin4 was prescribed
On March 20, 2008,
Green was seen for chronic frontal headaches and neck pain;
Naproxyn5 and Flexeril were prescribed (Tr. 298).
She was put on
a low salt, 1800 calorie diet and told to walk an hour a day.
On May 2, Plaintiff’s left foot was hurting for which she was
told to take an over the counter medication; she had gained
weight and was encouraged to diet and exercise (Tr. 297).
days later, Green’s left foot was still hurting, though she said
the Motrin helped; gout was diagnosed and medications were
Only.Robaxin “is indicated as an adjunct to
rest, physical therapy, and other measures for the relief of
discomforts associated with acute, painful musculoskeletal
conditions.” Physician's Desk Reference 2428 (52nd ed. 1998).
Only.Naprosyn, or Naproxyn, “is a nonsteroidal
anti-inflammatory drug with analgesic and antipyretic properties”
used, inter alia, for the relief of mild to moderate pain.
Physician's Desk Reference 2458 (52nd ed. 1998).
prescribed (Tr. 296).
Various prescriptions were tried over the
next month to treat the gout (Tr. 293-95).
Records from the Alabama Free Clinic show that Green was
seen on May 12, 2009 at which time she characterized her health
as fair; she reported a past medical history of hypertension,
gout, chronic sinusitis, obesity, borderline diabetes mellitus,
and anemia (Tr. 341, 356; see generally Tr. 312-63).
problem at that time was chronic fluid retention.
On June 2,
Plaintiff complained of pain in her right shoulder (Tr. 340).
On July 7, Green again complained of right shoulder pain,
causing an inability to lift her shoulder; hypertension
medications were prescribed (Tr. 339).
On October 6, Plaintiff
was treated for a sore throat and bad cough and her continuing
problems of hypertension and obesity; the doctor noted that she
was morbidly obese (Tr. 353-54).
Two days later, Green was seen again for her sore
throat and cough for which she was given an anti-bacterial
prescription and an inhaler (Tr. 351-52).
On February 2, 2010,
Plaintiff complained of coughing with some wheezing; she was
told to gargle with apple cider vinegar diluted with water (Tr.
On February 23, she was having a difficult time sleeping
On March 23, Green was still coughing and wheezing;
lungs were noted to be clear (Tr. 346).
On April 6, Plaintiff
was seen for congestion and a cough (Tr. 344, 349-50).
6, Green complained of edema in her legs and feet; the physical
exam was within normal limits (Tr. 347-49).
encouraged to lose weight.
On October 19, 2010, Plaintiff was
seen for follow-up and to get prescriptions filled; her abdomen
was noted to be soft, but non-tender (Tr. 337-38).
given a prescription for Prozac.6
On November 30, 2010,
Plaintiff complained of having a lot of migraines recently and
not sleeping well; her knees had been bothering her (Tr. 33536).
Green was noted to have gained eight pounds and had back
pain; Amitriptyline7 was prescribed and the prescription for
Naproxen was continued.
On March 29, 2011, Green was seen for
head and back pain; the physical exam was described as being
within normal limits (Tr. 329-31).
On May 31, Plaintiff went to
the Clinic with complaints of a headache, pain in the back, hip,
and right arm; she was noted to be obese, to have full ROM in
all extremities, but without chest pain or shortness of breath
On October 25, Green had complaints of a rash, a
backache, and right knee pain; she was unable to lift her right
arm very high (Tr. 317-19).
She was noted to have a rash on her
abdomen and breast, thought to be a reaction to her hypertension
medication; Plaintiff was told to cut back on her carbohydrates,
Only.Prozac is used for the treatment of
depression. Physician's Desk Reference 859-60 (52nd ed. 1998).
Only.Amitriptyline, marketed as Elavil, is used
to treat the symptoms of depression. Physician's Desk Reference 3163
(52nd ed. 1998).
weighing in at 395 pounds.
the pre-diabetic range.
The doctor noted that Green was in
On November 22, Plaintiff complained of
depression and not feeling well; several prescriptions were
refilled (Tr. 313-16).
At the hearing before the ALJ, Plaintiff testified that she
was depressed, leading to weight gain (Tr. 40-).
She also had
constant headaches every day for which she took Naproxen;
sometimes they are dull while others have sharp, shooting pain
She had worked part-time but had to quit because of
back and knee pain.
Green was involved in motor vehicle
collisions in 1995 and 2007 from which she had back and knee
pain; pain was constant and sharp in the lower back.
arm hurt and was hard to lift.
Plaintiff was borderline
diabetic and had high blood pressure.
had any problems for about a year.
She had gout, but had not
Green took muscle relaxers.
She could walk for only about half a block before her hips and
right knee gave out; she could only stand for a few minutes.
Plaintiff could sit for about thirty minutes.
headaches, she could not concentrate.
Green drove, but it hurt
her lower back to get in and out of the truck.
during the day.
Because of the
Plaintiff rated her back pain as six on a ten-
point scale; her headaches were a six or seven.
She could not
lift five pounds because of her right arm pain.
Green could not
sleep at night because of back pain.
This concludes the relevant evidence of record.
In bringing this action, Plaintiff first claims that the
ALJ improperly found that her cervical disc disease was a nonsevere impairment.
In Brady v. Heckler, 724 F.2d 914, 920 (11th
Cir. 1984), the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that
"[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
Brady v. Heckler, 724 F.2d 914, 920 (11th
Cir. 1984); Flynn v. Heckler, 768 F.2d 1273 (11th Cir. 1985);
cf. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521(a) (2013).8
The Court of Appeals has
gone on to say that "[t]he 'severity' of a medically ascertained
disability must be measured in terms of its effect upon ability
to work, and not simply in terms of deviation from purely
medical standards of bodily perfection or normality."
v. Bowen, 791 F.2d 1544, 1547 (11th Cir. 1986).
It is also
noted that, under SSR 96-3p, “evidence about the functionally
limiting effects of an individual’s impairment(s) must be
evaluated in order to assess the effect of the impairment(s) on
the individual’s ability to do basic work activities.”
A CT of the cervical spine, on March 18, 2007, revealed
"An impairment or combination of impairments is not severe if it
does not significantly limit your physical or mental ability to do
basic work activities."
“[n]o fracture, malalignment, or other acute bony abnormality”
There were “[d]egenerative changes with anterior
osteophytes of C5/6, C6/7, and C7/T1 [but n]o soft tissue
Green had full ROM in all extremities (Tr.
This was the last occasion in the record that Plaintiff
was encouraged to take it easy for a few days (Tr. 268).
months later, although she was still complaining of back spasms,
Green was told to keep exercising and taking over-the-counter
medications (Tr. 300).
In March 2011, though Plaintiff
complained of back pain, her physical exam was described as
being within normal limits (Tr. 329-31); two months later, she
again complained of back pain, but was found to have full ROM in
all extremities (Tr. 325-27).
The Court notes that no doctor
has asserted that Plaintiff’s cervical spine degeneration would
impair her ability to work in any way; furthermore, there is no
objective medical evidence demonstrating this inability.
such, Green’s claim that this impairment is severe is
unsupported by the evidence.
Green next claims that the ALJ did not properly consider
her complaints of pain (Doc. 14, pp. 12-17).
The standard by
which the Plaintiff's complaints of pain are to be evaluated
requires "(1) evidence of an underlying medical condition and
either (2) objective medical evidence that confirms the severity
of the alleged pain arising from that condition or (3) that the
objectively determined medical condition is of such a severity
that it can be reasonably expected to give rise to the alleged
Holt v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d 1221, 1223 (11th Cir. 1991)
(citing Landry v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1551, 1553 (11th Cir.
The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has also held
that the determination of whether objective medical impairments
could reasonably be expected to produce the pain was a factual
question to be made by the Secretary and, therefore, "subject
only to limited review in the courts to ensure that the finding
is supported by substantial evidence."
Hand v. Heckler, 761
F.2d 1545, 1549 (11th Cir.), vacated for rehearing en banc, 774
F.2d 428 (1985), reinstated sub nom. Hand v. Bowen, 793 F.2d 275
(11th Cir. 1986).
Furthermore, the Social Security regulations
specifically state the following:
statements about your pain or other symptoms
will not alone establish that you are
disabled; there must be medical signs and
laboratory findings which show that you have
a medical impairment(s) which could
reasonably be expected to produce the pain
or other symptoms alleged and which, when
considered with all of the other evidence
(including statements about the intensity
and persistence of your pain or other
symptoms which may reasonably be accepted as
consistent with the medical signs and
laboratory findings), would lead to a
conclusion that you are disabled.
20 C.F.R. 404.1529(a) (2013).
In her determination, the ALJ first summarized the medical
evidence and then Plaintiff’s statements about her impairments
The ALJ then found that although she had
impairments, Green’s statements were not credible.
She did this
by pointing out that Plaintiff’s complaints to her treatment
providers were inconsistent with the statements that she made at
the hearing (Tr. 24).
The ALJ noted that Green did not seek
treatment regularly and that her complaints did not consistently
concern the same ailments; it was also noted that she had been
treated very conservatively as it was generally “limited to
medication management and lifestyle advice” (Tr. 25).
the ALJ specifically pointed out that Green’s allegations
regarding medication side effects were not supported by office
treatment notes (Tr. 27).
The Court notes that the ALJ took Plaintiff’s testimony into
account in finding that she had the residual functional capacity
to stand and walk for no more than fifteen minutes and sit for
more than thirty minutes at a time; she further found Green
unable to reach overhead, climb, kneel, and crawl and was limited
in other abilities as well (Tr. 23).
Nevertheless, Plaintiff has
brought forth no objective medical evidence, as required in Holt,
to support her claims of incapacitating pain and limitation.
Court finds substantial support for the ALJ’s conclusions.
Finally, Green has claimed that the ALJ did not develop a
full and fair record (Doc. 14, pp. 9-12).
specifically asserts that the ALJ should have ordered a
consultative examination to provide a residual functional
capacity (hereinafter RFC) evaluation.
The Eleventh Circuit
Court of Appeals has required that "a full and fair record" be
developed by the Administrative Law Judge even if the claimant
is represented by counsel.
Cowart v. Schweiker, 662 F.2d 731,
735 (11th Cir. 1981).
The Court notes that the ALJ is responsible for determining
a claimant’s RFC.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1546 (2013).
The Court also
notes that the social security regulations state that Plaintiff
is responsible for providing evidence from which the ALJ can
make an RFC determination.
20 C.F.R. § 416.945(a)(3) (2013).
The evidence in this record is scant.
Though it spans more
than five years, the only impairment that is consistently
referenced is Plaintiff’s obesity.
Treatment for all
impairments has been sporadic and rarely references a particular
malady over a continuing period of time.
The Court finds that
it was unnecessary for the ALJ to have embellished this record
in any respect.
Plaintiff’s claim otherwise is without merit.
Green has raised three claims in bringing this action.
are without merit.
Upon consideration of the entire record, the
Court finds "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion."
Perales, 402 U.S.
Therefore, it is ORDERED that the Secretary's decision
be AFFIRMED, see Fortenberry v. Harris, 612 F.2d 947, 950 (5th
Cir. 1980), and that this action be DISMISSED.
Judgment will be
entered by separate Order.
DONE this 8th day of October, 2013.
s/BERT W. MILLING, JR.
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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