Argued: September 15, 2017
from the United States District Court for the Western
District of North Carolina, at Statesville. Max O. Cogburn,
Jr., District Judge. (5:15-cv-00053-MOC)
F. Furgiuele, Jr., Boone, North Carolina, for Appellant.
Rufino Montenegro, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Baltimore,
Maryland, for Appellee.
Stuart Bruce, Acting United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE
UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Raleigh, North Carolina, for
NIEMEYER, KING, and HARRIS, Circuit Judges.
by published opinion. Judge Niemeyer wrote the opinion, in
which Judge King and Judge Harris joined.
NIEMEYER, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
Sizemore applied for disability benefits from the Social
Security Administration in July 2011, claiming that he was
disabled due to diabetes and bipolar disorder. After his
application was denied by an administrative law judge
("ALJ"), who found that Sizemore was not disabled,
and review was denied by the Appeals Council, he commenced
this action in the district court. The district court
affirmed the ALJ, and Sizemore filed this appeal, contending
that the ALJ's analysis was flawed. He argues: (1) that
when assessing his residual functioning capacity, the ALJ
failed to assess properly Sizemore's mental abilities -
particularly his deficiencies in concentration, persistence,
and pace - and improperly ignored certain limitations
recognized by the State agency psychologist, despite
purporting to give that psychologist's report
"significant weight"; (2) that the ALJ erred by
failing to treat as opinion evidence the "Global
Assessments of Functioning" scores given by doctors and
other professionals and by "cherry-picking" higher
scores, thereby presenting a distorted view of Sizemore's
level of functioning; and (3) that "the ALJ
misinterpreted evidence, mischaracterized testimony, and
'cherry-picked' facts, " particularly in
assessing Sizemore's credibility.
reviewing the record and considering the arguments of counsel
on appeal, we affirm. In addition to rejecting Sizemore's
arguments claiming deficiencies in the ALJ's opinion, we
note that, even though the ALJ found no need to make such a
finding, the record indicates, with strong evidence, that
Sizemore would have much increased functioning were he to
stop abusing alcohol and follow the treatment prescribed for
Sizemore was born in 1977 and attended a couple of years of
high school before leaving school. He obtained his commercial
driver's license and worked for about 10 years as a truck
driver. He stopped working, however, on December 27, 2010,
when he was 33 years old because, as he later claimed, he was
suffering from worsening diabetes, depression, and anxiety.
medical records from the period when he was still working
showed that he was admitted to the hospital for two days in
early March 2008 for his third episode of acute pancreatitis.
He admitted to binge drinking on the weekends, and a
physician diagnosed him with "alcohol induced
pancreatitis" and hyperglycemia, noting that "[h]e
may be developing diabetes from his pancreatitis."
During a psychiatric consultation, Sizemore reported a
history of anxiety attacks, depression, and insomnia but
denied any current problems with depression or anxiety.
Sizemore was readmitted to the hospital later the same month
and was diagnosed with new onset diabetes. After his
discharge, he received treatment for hyperglycemia and
diabetes from Steven Chapman, a family nurse practitioner
("NP") and Sizemore's primary care provider.
December 27, 2010 - the date Sizemore stopped working and the
date he claims to have become disabled - NP Chapman treated
Sizemore for lower back pain and a urinary tract infection.
Chapman's notes from that visit indicate that Sizemore
had been prescribed with insulin and other medications for
weeks later, on January 17, 2011, Sizemore was involuntarily
hospitalized for alcohol dependence, reporting that he had
been drinking a "half gallon [of] Vodka per day since
Christmas" and had been hearing murmuring voices inside
his head when he tried to sleep. After Sizemore's
discharge a week later, he visited NP Chapman, who noted that
Sizemore's "[e]levated blood sugar [was] difficult
to control due to likely continued drinking, although he
states little to none." Chapman recommended an eye exam
based on Sizemore's report of blurred vision, but
Sizemore indicated that he could not afford the exam.
February 2011, Sizemore underwent a mental health assessment
during which he reported feeling paranoid, depressed, and
anxious "about everything and everybody." He also
reported difficulty sleeping and experiencing panic attacks
up to two times per week that lasted 15-20 minutes. A
licensed professional counselor diagnosed him with alcohol
dependence (primary); major depressive disorder (recurrent,
moderate); and panic disorder without agoraphobia, indicating
that Sizemore's current Global Assessment of Functioning
("GAF") score was 45. When he was evaluated by a
psychiatrist later that month, she indicated that
Sizemore's GAF score was 55 and similarly diagnosed
alcohol dependence in brief remission, panic disorder,
attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, possible bipolar