United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Savannah Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
CHRISTOPHER L. EAY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Kerry Lynn Chappell seeks judicial review of the Social
Security Administration's denial of her application for
Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB).
social security cases, courts
. . . review the Commissioner's decision for substantial
evidence. Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631
F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011). “Substantial evidence
is more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a
reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Id. (quotation omitted). . . .
“We may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the
evidence, or substitute our judgment for that of the
Commissioner.” Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178
(quotation and brackets omitted). “If the
Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial
evidence, this Court must affirm, even if the proof
preponderates against it.” Dyer v. Barnhart,
395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005) (quotation omitted).
Mitchell v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 771 F.3d
780, 782 (11th Cir. 2014).
burden of proving disability lies with the claimant.
Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211 (11th Cir.
2005). The ALJ applies
. . . a five-step, “sequential” process for
determining whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(1). If an ALJ finds a claimant disabled or not
disabled at any given step, the ALJ does not go on to the
next step. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4). At the first
step, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant is
currently engaged in substantial gainful activity.
Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). At the second step,
the ALJ must determine whether the impairment or combination
of impairments for which the claimant allegedly suffers is
“severe.” Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii).
At the third step, the ALJ must decide whether the
claimant's severe impairments meet or medically equal a
listed impairment. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii).
If not, the ALJ must then determine at step four whether the
claimant has the RFC to perform her past relevant work.
Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant
cannot perform her past relevant work, the ALJ must determine
at step five whether the claimant can make an adjustment to
other work, considering the claimant's RFC, age,
education, and work experience. An ALJ may make this
determination either by applying the Medical Vocational
Guidelines or by obtaining the testimony of a [Vocational
Stone v. Comm'r. of Soc. Sec. Admin., 596 F.
App'x, 878, 879 (11th Cir. 2015) (footnote added).
who was 46 years old when her DIB claim was denied, alleges
disability beginning on January 27, 2012. Tr. 16. She has a
tenth grade education, a GED, and past job experience as a
parking lot attendant and waitress. Tr. 37, 39 & 150.
After a hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. Tr.
16-25. He found that Chappell's bipolar disorder and
“depression/anxiety” constituted severe
impairments but did not meet or medically equal a Listing.
Tr. 18-21. The ALJ thus found that Chappell retained the RFC
for light work except she could only perform work with an
of 1-2 that is routine in nature with few changes, and while
Chappell can tolerate occasional interactions with the
public, co-workers, and supervisors, she is “better
off” working alone. Tr. 21. Plaintiff, he determined,
could not perform her past relevant work but could perform
the requirements of representative work such as cafeteria
attendant and stock checker, both light work with an SVP of
2. Tr. 25. Chappell disagrees, arguing that the ALJ erred in
his evaluation of the medical testimony and plaintiff's
credibility. Docs. 10 & 12.
is entitled to formulate an RFC and resolve any ambiguity or
inconsistency in the medical evidence, 20 C.F.R. §§
416.927(d)(2), 946(c), based on the entire record, 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520a (evaluation of mental impairments),
416.945(a)(3) (the RFC is based on all the relevant evidence,
including diagnoses, treatment, observations, and opinions of
medical sources, as well as witness testimony). The RFC
represents the most a claimant can do despite her
limitations, SSR 96-8p, and it is the ALJ's
responsibility (and not any doctor's) to assess the RFC
based on the record as a whole. Robinson v. Astrue,
365 Fed.Appx. 993, 999 (11th Cir. 2010) (“the task of
determining a claimant's [RFC] and ability to work is
within the province of the ALJ, not of doctor's.”);
see 20 C.F.R. § 416.945(a)(3) (“We will
assess your residual functional capacity based on all of the
relevant medical and other evidence.”); 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1546(c) (the ALJ has the responsibility for
determining a claimant's RFC). And the ALJ can distill a
claimant's RFC from an amalgamation of the record as a
whole, without requiring a specific medical opinion to
articulate a specific functional limitation. See Chapo v.
Astrue, 682 F.3d 1285, 1288 (10th Cir. 2012)
(“[T]here is no requirement in the regulations for a
direct correspondence between an RFC finding and a specific
medical opinion on the functional capacity in question”
because “the ALJ, not a physician, is charged with
determining a claimant's RFC from the medical
Chappell's Subjective Testimony
found Chappell less than fully credible because her treatment
regimen (group therapy) did not comport with her alleged
symptoms, she was irregular with her medication regimen, her
presentation at the hearing was at odds with her alleged
symptoms, her statements were internally inconsistent, and,
having testified to experiencing many of her symptoms since
childhood, nothing supported a worsening of her mental
functioning “that would warrant a new inability to be
employed.” Tr. 22. Of course, plaintiff's inability
to afford her medication, resulting in her “stretching
out” her medication to last between appointments or
forgoing prescriptions (e.g., tr. 333, 536), cannot
be considered discrediting. See SSR 16-03p;
Dawkins v. Bowen, 848 F.2d 1211, 1213 (11th Cir.
1988). And a reluctance to participate in group therapy is
not noncompliance, particularly given plaintiff's
considerable record of attendance at therapy sessions.
See tr. 448-51. Her ability to function on
relatively little (self-reported) sleep each night since
childhood (see tr. 467) and to work at less-than
substantial gainful activity levels for several years ...