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Clarke v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division

March 8, 2018

ANGIEANNIA K. CLARKE, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          GREGORY J. KELLY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Angieannia K. Clarke (the “Claimant”), appeals to the District Court from a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the “Commissioner”) denying her application for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. Doc. No. 1. Claimant alleges a disability onset date of August 1, 2010. R. 312. Claimant argues that the Administrative Law Judge (the “ALJ”) erred in assessing Claimant's credibility and failing to state the weight given several medical opinions. Doc. No. 24 at 16-23, 35-37. It is recommended that the ALJ's final decision be REVERSED and these proceedings REMANDED.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Commissioner's findings of fact are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2010). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla - i.e., the evidence must do more than merely create a suspicion of the existence of a fact and must include such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support the conclusion. Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1995) (citing Walden v. Schweiker, 672 F.2d 835, 838 (11th Cir. 1982) and Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). Where the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, the District Court will affirm, even if the reviewer would have reached a contrary result as finder of fact, and even if the reviewer finds that the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's decision. Edwards v. Sullivan, 937 F.2d 580, 584 n.3 (11th Cir. 1991); Barnes v. Sullivan, 932 F.2d 1356, 1358 (11th Cir. 1991). The Court must view the evidence as a whole, considering evidence that is favorable as well as unfavorable to the decision. Foote, 67 F.3d at 1560. The District Court “‘may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the [Commissioner].'” Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1240 n.8 (11th Cir. 2004) (quoting Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983)).

         II. ANALYSIS

         The two issues Claimant raises in this appeal are that the ALJ erred in assessing Claimant's credibility and in failing to state the weight given several medical opinions. Doc. No. 24 at 16-23, 35-37.

         A. ALJ's Credibility Determination

         Claimant contends that the ALJ “fail[ed] to adequately assess the claimant's credibility when she suffered from pain caused from frequent migraine headaches.” Doc. No. 24 at 16-17. Claimant argues that the ALJ did not make a particular finding regarding her credibility in relation to her headaches. Id. at 19. The ALJ stated the following regarding Claimant's credibility:

In terms of her headaches, the claimant has essentially alleged that she is incapable of doing anything because of this issue. When asked at hearing about her daily activities, she indicated that she would get her kids ready for school, with help, she would sometimes take them to school and then more or less she would spend the rest of her day at home resting. What she failed to mention at hearing however, was that she would also go to the gym 3 days a week, she volunteered at her children's school and she attended church once a week. The medical evidence does not support the frequency, severity and the effect the claimant's alleged headaches have on her overall functioning and in fact, the most recent medical evidence shows that the claimant's headaches are stable and they have lessened in severity. The claimant's activities of daily living are self-restricted, as no treating source has advised the claimant to stay home all day, lie down during the day, or to restrict activities of daily living in any manner. Nor has the claimant been advised to refrain from performing all gainful work activity.

R. 749.

         Claimant argues that the ALJ did not cite evidence supporting his conclusions that Claimant volunteered at her children's school and attended church, and “that engaging in activities of daily living of short duration . . . standing alone are not a sufficient basis to find a claimant's subjective statements not credible.” Doc. No. 24 at 23. There is evidence supporting these findings in the record, however. In Claimant's Function Report, dated May 8, 2011, it was reported that Claimant goes to “church most Sundays.” R. 374, 377. In the progress note from Central Florida Heart Associates, PA, dated February 2, 2016, it states that Claimant “continues to volunteer at her child's school . . . .” R. 1100. Thus, there is substantial evidence supporting the ALJ discrediting Claimant's allegations regarding her headaches because of the inconsistencies between her hearing testimony regarding her daily activities and the evidence that she volunteered at her children's school and attended church once a week.

         More problematic is the ALJ's assertion that “[t]he medical evidence does not support the frequency, severity and the effect the claimant's alleged headaches have on her overall functioning and in fact, the most recent medical evidence shows that the claimant's headaches are stable and they have lessened in severity.” R. 749. Although the ALJ extensively recounts Claimant's medical history in his decision and provides record citations supporting same prior to explaining the credibility determination, R. 736-47, he does not articulate how all or any of this medical evidence fails to support Claimant's claims regarding the frequency, severity, and the effect of her headaches or provide any record citations to support such a finding. R. 748-49. He also does not specify “the most recent medical evidence show[ing] that the claimant's headaches are stable and they have lessened in severity.” R. 749.

         “If the ALJ decides not to credit a claimant's testimony as to her pain, he must articulate explicit and adequate reasons for doing so.” Foote, 67 F.3d at 1561-62; see also Social Security Ruling 96-7p, 1996 WL 374186, at *2 (July 2, 1996) (“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.'”). In Tauber v. Barnhart, 438 F.Supp.2d 1366, 1380 (N.D.Ga. 2006), the ALJ discounted the claimant's credibility, but did not explain the conflict between the claimant's testimony and the medical evidence. For the court to evaluate whether the ALJ's credibility determination was supported by substantial evidence:

[T]he ALJ must, at least, provide a record that indicates what the conflict is and how that conflict affected his credibility determination. Simply stating that the subjective complaints of pain “suggest a greater severity of impairment than can be shown by the objective medical evidence” does not adequately apprise the Court, or the Claimant, of the weight with which the ...

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