Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Clark v. Colvin

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

February 8, 2018




         Plaintiff John Clark filed a complaint challenging the Commissioner of Social Security's denial of his application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental income. Doc. [1]. Plaintiff alleged disability beginning July 14, 2012, due to asthma depression, anxiety, and neurological problems. Doc. [10] at 148, 219. Plaintiff was 51 years old at the alleged date of onset, with two years of college education and certification in radio and TV repair. Id. at 68, 148. Plaintiff's previous work includes a composite job at a casino, where he maintained slot machines and reupholstered gaming tables. Id. at 108-10. He also has worked as a quality control technician, furniture assembler, maintenance mechanic, and lawn sprinkler installer. Id. at 110. Plaintiff's application was denied at the initial level and on reconsideration. Id. at 188-205. Plaintiff requested and was granted a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Id. at 62-117, 206-08.

         On March 31, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's application for benefits. Id. at 12-36. The ALJ found that Plaintiff had severe impairments of degenerative disc disease, obesity, and essential hypertension. Id. at 17. Of particular relevance to the issues before the undersigned, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have any severe mental impairments. Id. at 18-19. The ALJ further concluded that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet any of the requirements for presumptive disability. Id. at 19-20. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work, including restrictions of no climbing ladders, ropes, scaffolds, occasional climbing ramps/stairs; and no exposure to unprotected heights/hazardous machinery. Id. at 20. Based on Plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could not perform any past relevant work. Id. However, relying on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. Id. at 30. Specifically, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could perform the occupations of bench assembler and electrical worker. Id. Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. Id. at 5-10. Plaintiff then filed the instant complaint.

         In his motion for summary judgment, Plaintiff raises the following issues: (1) whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision that Plaintiff's mental impairment is not severe and does not affect his ability to work; (2) whether the ALJ failed to properly evaluate the medical opinion evidence from Plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Doug Perry; and (3) whether the ALJ properly assessed Plaintiff's credibility. Doc. [11] [12]. The Commissioner has filed a motion to affirm and accompanying memorandum. Doc. [13] [14].

         Law and Analysis

         The federal district court reviews the Commissioner's decision only to determine whether the final decision is supported by substantial evidence and whether the Commissioner used the proper legal standards to evaluate the evidence. Brown v. Apfel, 192 F.3d 492, 496 (5th Cir. 1999); Martinez v. Chater, 64 F.3d 172, 173 (5th Cir. 1995). If the court determines the Commissioner's decision to be supported by substantial evidence, then the findings are conclusive and the court must affirm the decision. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971). See also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). This standard requires supporting evidence that is “‘more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401 (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). The court is not permitted to “reweigh the evidence in the record, nor try any issues de novo, nor substitute our judgment for the judgment of the [Commissioner], even if the evidence preponderates against the [Commissioner's] decision.” Johnson v. Bowen, 864 F.2d 340, 343 (5th Cir. 1988). “‘Conflicts in the evidence are for the [Commissioner] and not the courts to resolve.'” Brown, 192 F.3d at 496 (quoting Selders v. Sullivan, 914 F.2d 614, 617 (5th Cir. 1990)). While the court may alter the Commissioner's decision if based upon faulty legal analysis, the court should defer to the Commissioner's legal conclusions if they are within a permissible meaning of the statutory or regulatory language. Chevron, U.S.A., Inc. v. National Resources Defense Council, 467 U.S. 837, 843-44 (1984).

         A claimant bears the burden of proving the existence of a medically determinable impairment that has prevented the claimant from engaging in substantial gainful employment. 42 U.S.C. § 423 (d)(1)(A); 42 U.S.C. § 423 (d)(5). The Social Security Administration (SSA) utilizes a five-step sequential process to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a), § 404.920(a). Under this analysis, the ALJ may decide a claimant is disabled if he finds that (1) the claimant is not employed in substantial gainful activity; (2) the claimant has a severe, medically determinable impairment; (3) the claimant's impairment meets or equals one of the listings in appendix 1 to subpart P of § 404; (4) the impairment prevents the claimant from performing any past relevant work; and (5) the impairment prevents the claimant's ability to adjust to performing any other work. Id.

         The claimant initially bears the burden of proving disability under the first four steps, but the burden shifts to the SSA for the fifth step. Chapparo v. Bowen, 815 F.2d 1008, 1010 (5th Cir. 1987). Therefore, if the claimant proves that he is unable to perform past relevant work, the SSA must demonstrate that the claimant can perform another occupation that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. The burden then shifts back to the claimant to establish that he cannot perform this alternative employment. Id.

         Mental Impairments

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ did not properly determine that his ability to work is not affected by a mental or emotional impairment. In essence, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's decision regarding mental impairments is not supported by substantial evidence. Plaintiff points out that Joseph Dunn, Ph.D., a psychological consultative examiner concluded that Plaintiff has symptoms of anxiety and depression and that a personality disorder should be considered. Doc. [10] at 370. Furthermore, state agency consultants diagnosed Plaintiff with affective/mood disorders and anxiety related disorders. Id. at 142-43, 180-81. Plaintiff also relies heavily on the report of Bryman Williams, Ph.D. who concluded that Plaintiff has limitations with respect to sustained concentration and persistence. Id. at 154. According to Dr. Williams, Plaintiff is moderately limited in his ability to carry out detailed instructions and in his ability to maintain attention and concentration for extended periods. Id. Plaintiff argues that mental limitations should have been included in the RFC based on the diagnoses and functional limitations contained in the record.

         The regulations define a severe impairment as “any impairment or combination of impairments which significantly limits [one's] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). A “slight abnormality” is non-severe when it has “such minimal effect on that individual that it would not be expected to interfere with the individual's ability to work.” Stone v. Heckler, 752 F.2d 1099, 1101 (5th Cir. 1985). In determining whether a claimant's physical or mental impairments are of a sufficient medical severity as could be the basis of eligibility under the law, the ALJ is required to consider the combined effects of all impairments without regard to whether any such impairment, if considered separately, would be of sufficient severity. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1523; Loza v. Apfel, 219 F.3d 378, 393 (5th Cir. 2000). If the ALJ finds a medically severe combination of impairments, “the combined impact of the impairments will be considered throughout the disability determination process.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1523. Finally, it is clear that the ALJ must consider all the record evidence and cannot “pick and choose” only the evidence that supports his position. Loza, 219 F.3d at 393-94 (citing Switzer v. Heckler, 742 F.2d 382, 385-86 (7th Cir.1984); Garfield v. Schweiker, 732 F.2d 605, 609 (7th Cir.1984); Green v. Shalala, 852 F.Supp. 558, 568 (N.D.Tex.1994); Armstrong v. Sullivan, 814 F.Supp. 1364, 1373 (W.D.Tex.1993)).

         When considering Plaintiff's mental conditions at step two, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has only mild limitation in the functional area of concentrations, persistence or pace. Id. at 19. In support of this conclusion, the ALJ relied on Dr. Dunn, who reported that Plaintiff's memory appeared to be intact and that Plaintiff could perform addition and subtraction.[2] Id. at 370. The ALJ further relied on Dr. Williams' conclusion that Plaintiff's mental impairment was not severe. Id. at 152. The ALJ noted that Dr. Williams inconsistently documented a moderate limitation in concentration, persistence and pace. Id. at 19. Based on this internal inconsistency, the ALJ accorded only partial weight to Dr. Williams' opinion. Id.

         In assessing Plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ also considered whether Plaintiff had any non-exertional limitations due to mental impairment. Id. at 27. The ALJ again noted that Dr. Williams' assessment is internally inconsistent. Id. The ALJ further found that the limitations in concentration, persistence, and pace are not supported by other corroborating evidence. Id. According to the ALJ, the opinions of Dr. Williams and Dr. Dunn rely heavily on Plaintiff's subjective complaints, which are not reliable. Id.

         A more detailed examination of Dr. Williams' report reveals even more support for Plaintiff's position than was discussed by the ALJ. Dr. Williams found that Plaintiff has moderate difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence or pace. Id. at 153. Dr. Williams further indicated that Plaintiff's impairments can reasonably be expected to produce Plaintiff's symptoms. Id. at 154. Moreover, Dr. Williams indicated that Plaintiff's statements about the intensity, persistence, and functionally limiting effects of the symptoms are substantiated by the objective medical evidence alone. Id. According to Dr. Williams, Plaintiff is moderately limited in his ability to carry out detailed instructions, and moderately limited in his ability to maintain attention and concentration for extended periods of time. Id. Plaintiff also is moderately limited in his ability to work in coordination with or in proximity to others without being distracted by them. Id. at 155. Dr. Williams ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.