Fields v. Colvin
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 in Order. Signed by Magistrate Judge Bert W. Milling, Jr on 1/21/2015. (clr)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
ELLA W. FIELDS,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,
Social Security Commissioner,
CIVIL ACTION 14-0291-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 insurance benefits and
Supplemental Security Income (hereinafter SSI) (Docs. 1, 13).
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. 18).
argument was waived (Doc. 19).
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.
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, Fields was
forty-eight years old, had a high school education1 (Tr. 189),
and had previous work experience as an internal combustion
engine assembler helper, front desk receptionist, and sales
representative (see Tr. 29).
In claiming benefits, Plaintiff
alleges disability due to cervical disc disease with
cervicalgia, epicondylitis, major depressive disorder, pain
disorder, and personality disorder (Tr. 21; see also Doc. 13
The Plaintiff filed protective applications for disability
benefits and SSI on April 5, 2011 (Tr. 116-28; see also Tr. 18).
Benefits were denied following a hearing by an Administrative
Law Judge (ALJ) who determined that although Fields was unable
Only.Plaintiff stated on a Social Security
Administration form that she had received a Graduate Equivalency
Degree (Tr. 189).
to perform her past relevant work, she was capable of performing
specified light exertion jobs (Tr. 18-31).
review of the hearing decision (Tr. 9-12) by the Appeals
Council, but it was denied (Tr. 1-5).
In bringing this action, Fields claims that the opinion of
the ALJ is not supported by substantial evidence.
Plaintiff alleges the following:
(1) The ALJ did not properly
consider the evidence rendered by a consultative Psychologist;
and (2) the ALJ did not properly develop the record (Doc. 13).
Defendant has responded to—and denies—these claims (Doc. 14).
The relevant evidence of record follows.2
On July 13, 2011, Psychologist Nina E. Tocci examined
Fields for a psychological evaluation at the request of the
Social Security Administration (hereinafter SSA) (Tr. 423-47).
When Tocci asked Plaintiff her reason for seeking disability,
she responded by stating:
“‘My arms, wrist, neck, back [sic] my
whole body just aches;’” she denied having ever received
treatment for mental health issues (Tr. 423).
noted uncontrollable crying at times; affect was appropriate
while her mood was not good.
Plaintiff was oriented in four
spheres, had focused attention and concentration, and
demonstrated a fair fund of information and comprehension;
Plaintiff’s claims require the Court to evaluate only evidence
concerning her mental impairments.
thought content was logical and organized.
Fields had some
insight into her behavior and evinced fair social judgment;
Tocci indicated that she was functioning within the average
range of intellectual ability.
The Psychologist’s impression
was Major Depressive Disorder, Recurrent Pain Disorder, and
Personality Disorder, NOS; she indicated that the prognosis was
In summarizing her findings, Tocci stated as follows:
Currently she experiences chronic pain,
crying spells, feelings of worthlessness,
isolation, cognitive clouding, impaired
appetite and sleep. She would benefit from
intensive psychotherapy with a psychologist.
With appropriate and intensive therapy she
could also benefit from referral to Adult
Vocational Rehabilitation for career
retraining and employment support. She
should be re-evaluated after a year of
psychotherapy to determine her emotional
stability and work suitability. Currently,
she would have difficulty remembering,
learning, performing, and completing tasks
to specification in a timely manner.
On July 25, 2011, Joanna Koulianos, a non-examining State
Psychologist reviewed the record medical evidence and completed
a Psychiatric Review Technique form in which she found that
Fields had a Major Depressive Disorder, Recurrent, Pain
Disorder, and a Personality Disorder, NOS (Tr. 428-41).
Psychologist determined that Plaintiff suffered mild restriction
of activities of daily living, moderate difficulties in
maintaining social functioning, and moderate difficulties in
maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace.
Koulianos also completed a mental residual functional capacity
assessment in which she indicated that Fields was moderately
limited in her ability to do the following:
remember, and carry out detailed instructions; maintain
attention and concentration for extended periods; interact
appropriately with the general public; accept instructions and
respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors; and respond
appropriately to changes in the work setting (Tr. 442-45).
Psychologist went on to indicate that Fields could understand,
remember, and carry out short, simple instructions and could
concentrate for two-hour periods (Tr. 444).
This concludes the relevant evidence of record.
In bringing this action, Fields first claims that the ALJ
did not properly consider the evidence rendered by a
consultative Psychologist; Plaintiff references the exam by
Psychologist Tocci (Doc 13, pp. 4-6).
The Court notes that
"although the opinion of an examining physician is generally
entitled to more weight than the opinion of a non-examining
physician, the ALJ is free to reject the opinion of any
physician when the evidence supports a contrary conclusion."
Oldham v. Schweiker, 660 F.2d 1078, 1084 (5th Cir. 1981);3 see
also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527 (2014).
The Court further notes that
the ALJ is required to "state specifically the weight accorded
to each item of evidence and why he reached that decision."
Cowart v. Schweiker, 662 F.2d 731, 735 (11th Cir. 1981).
security regulations provide the following instruction:
It is not sufficient for the
adjudicator to make a single, conclusory
statement that “the individual's allegations
have been considered” or that “the
allegations are (or are not) credible.” It
is also not enough for the adjudicator
simply to recite the factors that are
described in the regulations for evaluating
symptoms. The determination or decision
must contain specific reasons for the
finding on credibility, supported by the
evidence in the case record, and must be
sufficiently specific to make clear to the
individual and to any subsequent reviewers
the weight the adjudicator gave to the
individual's statements and the reasons for
SSR 96-7p (Policy Interpretation Ruling Titles II and XVI:
Evaluation of Symptoms in Disability Claims:
Credibility of an Individual’s Statements).
In his determination, the ALJ summarized all of the medical
evidence before stating the value he gave that evidence (Tr. 20
3The Eleventh Circuit, in the en banc decision Bonner v. City of
Prichard, 661 F.2d 1206, 1209 (11th Cir. 1981), adopted as precedent
decisions of the former Fifth Circuit rendered prior to October 1,
He discounted Fields’s testimony, finding that she was not
a credible witness (Tr. 25, 28-29), a finding that goes
unchallenged in this action.
The ALJ gave Psychologist Tocci’s
opinions little weight, stating two particular reasons:
First, [the] opinion lacks specificity as to
the Claimant’s actual functional
limitations; it does not expound on whether
“would have difficulty” means the Claimant
has mild, moderate, or marked limitations in
these areas and whether she is otherwise
employable. Second, Dr. Tocci’s opinion is
contrary to the record demonstrating no
current psychological or psychiatric
treatment. The Claimant testified she takes
no depression or anxiety medication. The
claimant testified she has sought no
inpatient care. She is aware of low-cost/
no-cost mental health clinic in her area,
yet she has chosen not to seek treatment.
The ALJ gave Psychologist Koulianos’s opinions
significant weight (Tr. 26-27).
The Court finds substantial support for the ALJ’s
determination that Tocci’s opinions deserved little weight.
While the ALJ correctly notes that the Psychologist did not set
out precisely her conclusions regarding Fields’s abilities, the
more relevant reason for rejecting them is the total lack of
support for her conclusions anywhere else in the record.
only evidence of any mental health issues comes from Dr. Tocci
following a one-time examination.
There is no evidence that
Fields complained of mental health issues to her treating
sources; there is also no evidence that she took medications or
sought out any sort of treatment for these impairments (see Tr.
Dr. Tocci’s conclusions cannot be reconciled with the
failure of any other evidence.
Fields also claims that the ALJ did not properly develop
More specifically, Plaintiff argues that because
the ALJ rejected Tocci’s opinions for failing to be specific, he
should have sought additional evidence to complete the record
(Doc. 13, pp. 7-8).
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
Cowart v. Schweiker, 662 F.2d 731, 735 (11th Cir.
However, the Court notes that the burden is on the claimant
to prove that she is disabled.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1512(a)
(2014); see also Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir.
Plaintiff has not met this burden.
conclusions, considered in a light most favorable to Fields, do
not support a finding of disability.
Clarification from Tocci
about the degree of difficulty Plaintiff experienced would have
enjoyed no more support than is already in the record; the ALJ’s
finding that Fields was able to work would have remained intact.
This claim is of no merit.
Fields has raised two different claims in bringing this
Both 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
Perales, 402 U.S. at 401.
Therefore, it ORDERED
that the Secretary's decision be AFFIRMED, see Fortenberry v.
Harris, 612 F.2d 947, 950 (5th Cir. 1980), and that this action
Judgment will be entered by separate Order.
DONE this 21st day of January, 2015.
s/BERT W. MILLING, JR.
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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