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Agnello v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Florida, Pensacola Division

February 7, 2017

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         This case is before the court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for review of the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying Leonard Agnello's application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (“Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-34. The parties consented to Magistrate Judge jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73 for all proceedings in this case, including entry of final judgment. Upon review of the record before the court, I conclude the findings of fact and determinations of the Commissioner are supported by substantial evidence. The decision of the Commissioner, therefore, will be affirmed and the application for DIB will be denied.


         Mr. Agnello, who will be referred to as claimant, plaintiff, or by name, raises one issue. He claims the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred by discounting the opinion of treating physician Charles R. Thompson, M.D.[1] (Doc. 9).


         On October 18, 2011, plaintiff protectively filed an application for DIB, claiming disability beginning May 15, 2011. T. 87.[2] The Commissioner denied the application initially and on reconsideration. T. 86, 98. Claimant appeared before the ALJ for hearings on August 14, 2013, and March 3, 2014. T. 20, 44. After the second hearing, the ALJ found claimant was not disabled under the Act. T. 71-81. The Appeals Council denied a request for further review and, as a result, the ALJ's decision became the final determination of the Commissioner. T. 1-3. The determination of the Commissioner is now before the court for review.


         In his written decision, the ALJ made a number of findings relative to the issues raised in this appeal:

• Claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 15, 2011, the alleged onset date. T. 73.
• Claimant has the following severe impairments: orthostatic hypotension, dysautonomia, sinus bradycardia with sinus arrhythmia, and obesity. T. 73.
• Claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a) except as follows. He can lift and/or carry 10 pounds occasionally and items of negligible weight frequently. He can stand and/or walk for 2 hours of an 8-hour workday, no more than 20 minutes at a time, and sit for 6 hours of an 8-hour workday, no more than 45 minutes at a time. He can perform occasional pushing and/or pulling with the upper and lower extremities, bilaterally. He can perform no balancing, occasional stooping, occasional kneeling, occasional crouching, occasional crawling, and occasional climbing of ramps and stairs. He can perform no climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He can perform occasional overhead reaching, bilaterally; frequent reaching in other directions, bilaterally; frequent handling, bilaterally; continuous fingering, bilaterally; and continuous feeling, bilaterally. He can tolerate occasional exposure to extreme heat and occasional exposure to vibration. He must avoid all exposure to unprotected heights and dangerous machinery. He can perform occasional operation of motor vehicles. He would have one unplanned absence per month. He can sustain concentration and attention for 2-hour periods with customary breaks. T. 75.
• Claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work. T. 79.
• Considering claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that claimant can perform. T. 80.
• Claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Act, from May 15, 2011, through May 21, 2014. T. 81.


         A federal court reviews the “Commissioner's decision to determine if it is supported by substantial evidence and based upon proper legal standards.” Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1439 (11th Cir. 1997); see also Carnes v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1215, 1218 (11th Cir. 1991) (“[T]his Court may reverse the decision of the [Commissioner] only when convinced that it is not supported by substantial evidence or that proper legal standards were not applied.”). Substantial evidence is “‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229, 59 S.Ct. 206, 83 L.Ed. 126 (1938)). “Substantial evidence is something ‘more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance.'” Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005) (quoting Hale v. Bowen, 831 F.2d 1007, 1011 (11th Cir. 1987)). Even if the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's decision, the decision must be affirmed if supported by substantial evidence. See Sewell v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 1065, 1067 (11th Cir. 1986)

         When reviewing a Social Security disability case, the court “‘may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the [Commissioner.]'” Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990) (quoting Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983)); see also Hunter v. Soc. Sec. Admin., Comm'r, 808 F.3d 818, 822 (11th Cir. 2015) (“In determining whether substantial evidence supports a decision, we give great deference to the ALJ's factfindings.”) (citing Black Diamond Coal Min. Co. v. Dir., OWCP, 95 F.3d 1079, 1082 (11th Cir. 1996)). The reviewing court, however, may not look “only to those parts of the record which support the ALJ[, ]” but instead “must view the entire record and take account of evidence in the record which detracts from the evidence relied on by the ALJ.” Tieniber v. Heckler, 720 F.2d 1251, 1253 (11th Cir. 1983). Review is deferential to a point, but the reviewing court conducts what has been referred to as “an independent review of the record.” Flynn v. Heckler, 768 F.2d 1273, 1273 (11th Cir. 1985).

         The Social Security Act defines disability as an “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). To qualify as a disability, the physical or mental impairment must be so severe that the plaintiff not only is unable to do his previous work, “but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy[.]” Id. § 423(d)(2)(A).

         Pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4), the Commissioner analyzes a ...

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