Cawood v. SSA
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER: 1. Plaintiff Lois Jane Cawood's Motion for Summary Judgment [Record No. 13 ] is GRANTED, in part, to the extent that she seeks a remand for further administrative proceedings. To the extent she seeks an award of benefits, the motion is DENIED. 2. Commissioner Carolyn W. Colvins Motion for Summary Judgment [Record No. 14 ] is DENIED. 3. This decision of Administrative Law Judge Tommye C. Mangus is REMANDED for further administrative proceedings consistent with this opinion and pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. 405(g). Case Terminated. Signed by Judge Danny C. Reeves on 1/6/2017.(RBB)cc: COR
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF KENTUCKY
LOIS JANE CAWOOD,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting
Commissioner of Social Security,
Civil Action No. 6: 16-079-DCR
*** *** *** ***
This matter is pending for consideration of cross-motions for summary judgment filed
by Plaintiff Lois Jane Cawood (hereafter, “the plaintiff” or “Cawood”) and Defendant Carolyn
W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“the Commissioner.”)
[Record Nos. 13, 14] Cawood argues that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in
concluding that she was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act.
Specifically, she asserts that the ALJ failed to properly consider the opinion of her treating
physician and to properly evaluate her credibility. Cawood requests an award of benefits in
her favor or, alternatively, that the matter be remanded for further administrative proceedings.
The Commissioner contends the ALJ properly evaluated the evidence of record and that the
ALJ’s decision should be affirmed. She further contends that the ALJ’s decision is supported
by substantial evidence.
For the reasons that follow, the plaintiff’s motion will be granted and this matter will
be remanded for further proceedings.
Cawood filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance
benefits, (“DIB”) on October 26, 2012, alleging an onset of disability of December 30, 2011.
[Administrative Transcript, hereinafter “Tr.,” 21] After being denied benefits initially and on
reconsideration in 2013, Cawood requested an administrative hearing before an ALJ. Id. On
October 7, 2014, Cawood appeared before ALJ Tommye C. Mangus in London, Kentucky.
Id. ALJ Mangus found that Cawood had severe impairments of fibromyalgia, prolapsed
bladder, major depressive disorder (chronic, mild), dysthymic disorder, and anxiety disorder.
Id. at 23. ALJ Mangus determined, however, that Cawood did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of a listed impairment.
Id. at 24 (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526).
After considering the entire record, the ALJ determined that Cawood had the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b),
except she could not climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds and could perform no more than
occasional kneeling, crouching, crawling or climbing of ramps and stairs. The ALJ also
determined that Cawood should avoid concentrated exposure to vibration and workplace
hazards. Next, the ALJ found that Cawood was able to understand, remember and carry out
simple instructions and tasks, and tolerate occasional, gradually introduced changes in the
workplace. Id. at 26. The ALJ determined that, although Cawood was unable to perform her
past relevant work as a bookkeeper or accounts clerk, there were jobs existing in significant
numbers in the national economy that Cawood was able to perform. Id. at 29. Specifically,
the ALJ found that Cawood could work as a ticket taker, an office helper, and a mailroom
clerk. Id. at 30. Accordingly, the ALJ determined that she had not been under a disability
through December 30, 2011. Id.
Under the Social Security Act, a “disability” is defined as “the inability to engage in
‘substantial gainful activity’ because of a medically determinable physical or mental
impairment of at least one year’s expected duration.” Cruse v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 502 F.3d
532, 539 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)). A claimant’s Social Security
disability determination is made by an ALJ in accordance with “a five-step ‘sequential
evaluation process.’” Combs v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 459 F.3d 640, 642 (6th Cir. 2006) (en
banc). If the claimant satisfies the first four steps of the process, the burden shifts to the
Commissioner with respect to the fifth step. See Jones v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469,
474 (6th Cir. 2003).
A claimant must first demonstrate that she is not engaged in substantial gainful
employment at the time of the disability application. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). Second, the
claimant must show that she suffers from a severe impairment or a combination of
impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). Third, if the claimant is not engaged in substantial
gainful employment and has a severe impairment which is expected to last for at least twelve
months and which meets or equals a listed impairment, she will be considered disabled without
regard to age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). Fourth, if the
claimant has a severe impairment but the Commissioner cannot make a determination of the
disability based on medical evaluations and current work activity, the Commissioner will
review the claimant’s residual functional activity (“RFC”) and relevant past work to determine
whether she can perform her past work. If she can, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
Under the fifth step of the analysis, if the claimant’s impairments prevent her from
doing past work, the Commissioner will consider her RFC, age, education, and past work
experience to determine whether she can perform other work. If she cannot perform other
work, the Commissioner will find the claimant disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g). “The
Commissioner has the burden of proof only on ‘the fifth step, proving that there is work
available in the economy that the claimant can perform.’” White v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 312
F. App’x 779, 785 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Her v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 203 F.3d 388, 391 (6th
A court reviewing a denial of Social Security benefits must only determine whether the
ALJ’s findings were supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct legal standards
were applied. Rogers v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007). Substantial
evidence is such relevant evidence as reasonable minds might accept as sufficient to support
the conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Bass v. McMahon, 499 F.3d
506, 509 (6th Cir. 2007). The Commissioner’s findings are conclusive if they are supported
by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Although the plaintiff alleged some psychological impairments, her appeal focuses on
the ALJ’s disposition regarding her claims of physical pain and disability. The pertinent
medical evidence of record is summarized as follows:
Dr. Naushad Haziq performed a consultative examination on February 7, 2013. [Tr.
328] Dr. Haziq noted that Cawood appeared comfortable while seated and supine. While
Cawood had no movement limitation, she reported pain during all movements.
examination was otherwise unremarkable, except that Cawood demonstrated “eight paired
points and four control point tenderness for fibromyalgia.” Id. at 331. Dr. Haziq did not
provide an opinion regarding Cawood’s functional capacity.
Dr. Paul Saranga reviewed Cawood’s file on September 3, 2013. [Tr. 74] He opined
that, despite Dr. Haziq’s findings, Cawood’s impairments did not significantly impact her
ability to perform basic work activities. Id. In support, Dr. Saranga cited the fact that
Cawood’s strength and range of motion were normal, and that she was able to stand on one leg
without difficulty. Id. Further, Cawood was able to complete self-care independently and
performed light house work with little or no assistance. Id.
Dr. Jackie Maxey, Cawood’s treating physician of more than ten years, submitted a
“residual functional capacity questionnaire” on July 28, 2014. [Tr. at 443–45] Maxey reported
that Cawood had fibromyalgia and that, due to the resultant generalized muscular pain, her
ability to sit, stand, and walk was significantly limited. See id. He believed Cawood would
need to take unscheduled breaks every 10 to 15 minutes during an eight-hour workday. Id.
Maxey opined that Cawood could occasionally lift less than 10 pounds, but her ability to
handle and reach were severely limited. See id. Finally, Maxey concluded that Cawood was
not physically capable of working eight hours per day, five days per week, on a sustained basis.
Id. at 445.
An ALJ must give a treating source’s opinion controlling weight if it is “well-supported
by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques” and is not inconsistent
with other substantial evidence in the record. Cole v. Astrue, 661 F.3d 931, 937 (6th Cir.
2011). If the ALJ declines to give controlling weight to the opinion of a treating source, he
must balance the following factors in determining what weight to give it: “the length of the
treatment relationship and the frequency of examination; the nature and extent of the treatment
relationship; supportability of the opinion; consistency of the opinion with the record as a
whole; and specialization of the treating source.” Wilson v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d
541, 544 (6th Cir. 2004) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(2)).
Here, it appears that the ALJ rejected Dr. Maxey’s opinion entirely, having concluded
that it was unsupported by the record and Dr. Maxey’s “generally benign clinical records.”
[Tr. 28] ALJ Mangus noted that Dr. Maxey had treated Cawood only with various medications
such as Lyrica, Lortab, and Lunesta and that there was no evidence of specialist treatment.
[Tr. 23] The ALJ also pointed to the lack of neurological deficits and the normal results upon
objective testing. Id. The Sixth Circuit has acknowledged, however, that fibromyalgia patients
typically “manifest normal muscle strength and neurological reactions and have a full range of
motion.” Rogers, 486 F.3d at 244. “The process of diagnosing fibromyalgia includes (1) the
testing of a series of focal points for tenderness and (2) the ruling out of other possible
conditions through objective medical and clinical trials.” Id.
Even when inconsistent with other evidence, a treating source’s medical opinion is not
automatically rejected and should be weighed using the factors in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527. See
Wilson v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d 541, 545 (6th Cir. 2004). Further, while the ALJ
considered Dr. Haziq’s evaluation and Dr. Saranga’s opinion, it is unclear what weight, if any,
the ALJ gave to these reports. [See Tr. 28] ALJ Mangus commented that, based on Cawood’s
treatment for fibromyalgia and history of prolapsed bladder, he “depart[ed] from the state
agency” and limited Cawood to a restricted range of light work. Id.
Based on the ALJ’s written opinion, it is unclear how the ALJ relied on the medical
evidence of record in forming Cawood’s RFC. Although it is permissible, under certain
circumstances, to give more weight to the opinions of agency physicians than those of treating
physicians, the ALJ did not state the amount of weight he gave to the opinion of any physician
when it came to Cawood’s physical abilities. Accordingly, this portion of his decision is not
supported by substantial evidence.
The ALJ compared Cawood’s allegations of disabling pain and reported daily activities
to the objective medical evidence and concluded that her statements “concerning the intensity,
persistence, and limiting effects of her symptoms were not entirely credible.” [Tr. 28]
Specifically, the ALJ noted that Cawood had not sought out specialist treatment or palliative
measures such as physical therapy for her fibromyalgia. Further, the ALJ found that Dr.
Maxey’s treatment notes were inconsistent with Cawood’s claims that her condition had
significantly deteriorated. Id. The ALJ further relied on Cawood’s hearing testimony that she
was able to perform light chores and enjoyed watching television and reading. Id. Although
Cawood previously claimed that she rarely left the house, she testified that she maintained her
driver’s license and drove about once per week. [Tr. 42]
“Credibility determinations with respect to subjective complaints of pain rest with the
ALJ.” Allen v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 561 F.3d 646, 652 (6th Cir. 2009). This deference is
necessary because the ALJ is charged with observing the claimant’s demeanor. Vance v.
Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 260 F. App’x 801, 806 (6th Cir. 2008). It is within the province of the
ALJ—not the reviewing court—to make credibility determinations. Rogers, 486 F.3d at 247.
The ALJ engaged in a significant review of the record with respect to Cawood’s allegations of
pain and concluded that her hearing testimony and other evidence simply was inconsistent with
her allegations of disabling pain. [Tr. 27–28] The Court defers to the ALJ’s assessment of the
plaintiff’s credibility, as it is supported by substantial evidence in the administrative record.
See Rogers, 486 F.3d at 249.
Based on the foregoing analysis, it is hereby
ORDERED as follows:
Plaintiff Lois Jane Cawood’s Motion for Summary Judgment [Record No. 13]
is GRANTED, in part, to the extent that she seeks a remand for further administrative
proceedings. To the extent she seeks an award of benefits, the motion is DENIED.
Commissioner Carolyn W. Colvin’s Motion for Summary Judgment [Record
No. 14] is DENIED.
This decision of Administrative Law Judge Tommye C. Mangus is
REMANDED for further administrative proceedings consistent with this opinion and pursuant
to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. 405(g).
This 6th day of January, 2017.
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?