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DeCaro v. Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration

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

March 27, 2017

PATRICK DECARO, Plaintiff,
v.
ACTING COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER [1]

          MONTE C. RICHARDSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         THIS CAUSE is before the Court on Plaintiff's appeal of an administrative decision denying his application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). Plaintiff alleges he became disabled on July 3, 2012. (Tr. 238.) The assigned Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held hearings on October 30, 2014 and June 29, 2015, at which Plaintiff was represented by an attorney. (Tr. 43-79.) The ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled from July 3, 2012 through July 20, 2015, the date of the decision.[2] (Tr. 21-35.)

         In reaching the decision, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had “the following severe impairments: a history of explosive personality disorder with bad temper, depression and anxiety.” (Tr. 23.) The ALJ then found that Plaintiff had moderate difficulties in activities of daily living, in social functioning, and in concentration, persistence, or pace, and no episodes of decompensation throughout the relevant period. (Tr. 24-25.) Further, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform “a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: no contact with the public and only occasional contact with co-workers and supervisors, simple and repetitive tasks involving one and two step processes to completion.” (Tr. 25.) After finding that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work, the ALJ determined that there were jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 34.)

         Plaintiff is appealing the Commissioner's decision that he was not disabled from July 3, 2012 through July 20, 2015. Plaintiff has exhausted his available administrative remedies and the case is properly before the Court. The Court has reviewed the record, the briefs, and the applicable law. For the reasons stated herein, the Commissioner's decision is REVERSED and REMANDED.

         I. Standard

         The scope of this Court's review is limited to determining whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards, McRoberts v. Bowen, 841 F.2d 1077, 1080 (11th Cir. 1988), and whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence, Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971). “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004). 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 district court must view the evidence as a whole, taking into account evidence favorable as well as unfavorable to the decision. Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1995); accord Lowery v. Sullivan, 979 F.2d 835, 837 (11th Cir. 1992) (stating the court must scrutinize the entire record to determine the reasonableness of the Commissioner's factual findings).

         II. Discussion

         Plaintiff raises three issues on appeal. First, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to articulate good cause for not crediting the treating opinions of Dr. Yasir Ahmad, Plaintiff's treating psychiatrist. Second, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ made internally inconsistent findings throughout the decision regarding Plaintiff's social functioning limitations. Finally, Plaintiff argues that the new and material evidence submitted to the Appeals Council from Dr. Ahmad and Dr. Dano Leli, who performed a neuropsychological assessment on July 30, 2015, demonstrate that the Commissioner's decision is not supported by substantial evidence.

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff was capable of performing “a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: no contact with the public and only occasional contact with co-workers and supervisors, simple and repetitive tasks involving one and two step processes to completion.” (Tr. 25.) In making this finding, the ALJ discussed, inter alia, Plaintiff's and his wife's testimony, the records of Plaintiff's hospitalizations, the treatment notes and opinions of Dr. Ahmad, and the opinions of the State agency non-examining consultants. (Tr. 25-34.) With respect to Dr. Ahmad's opinions, the ALJ stated:

I have given little weight to the broad statements by Dr. Ahmad at Exhibits 3F and 11F, finding that the claimant's mental impairments met listings 12.04 and 12.06, because they are completely contrary to the objective medical evidence and Dr. Ahmad's treatment notes as a whole. Although I find that the claimant is not capable of unrestricted work at all exertional levels, the record as a whole does not substantiate the restrictive assessment by Dr. Ahmad finding that the claimant was markedly limited in his abilities to do activities of daily living, social functioning, and concentration, persistence and pace at Exhibits 3F and 11F. I note that in a separate report completed by Dr. Ahmad in August 2013, Dr. Ahmad noted no limitations with understanding or remembering. The doctor also noted no problems with activities of daily living (Exhibit 6F). . . .
I find that Dr. Ahmad's assessment of disability and the claimant's inability to work are unsupported and involve an issue reserved for the Commissioner.

(Tr. 33.)

         Turning to the first issue, the Court agrees with Plaintiff that the ALJ erred in his evaluation of Dr. Ahmad's opinions. Although an ALJ may discount a treating physician's opinions if there is good cause to do so, in the present case, there was no good cause to discount Dr. Ahmad's opinions because the ALJ's reasons for giving those opinions little weight are overly general and not supported by substantial evidence.

         In a Mental Health Assessment: Form 12.04 (Affective Disorders), dated March 20, 2013, Dr. Ahmad opined that Plaintiff had a depressive syndrome, characterized by anhedonia, sleep disturbance, psychomotor agitation or retardation, decreased energy, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, and difficulty concentrating or thinking; marked limitations in activities of daily living, in social functioning, and in maintaining concentration, persistence or pace; and three or four episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration, resulting in complete inability to function outside of one's home. (Tr. 450-51.) On the same day, Dr. Ahmad also completed a Mental Health Assessment: Form 12.06 (Anxiety Related Disorders), stating that Plaintiff suffered from generalized persistent anxiety accompanied by motor tension, a persistent irrational fear of a specific object, activity, or situation, and recurrent severe panic attacks. (Tr. 452.) He opined that Plaintiff had marked limitations in activities of daily living, in social functioning, and in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace; had three or four episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration; had a residual disease ...


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