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Ross v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

March 30, 2017

PATRICIA A. ROSS, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUMOFDECISION

          DANIEL C. IRICK, UNITES STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Patricia A. Ross (the Claimant) appeals the Commissioner of Social Security's (the Commissioner) final decision denying her applications for disability benefits. Doc. 1. Claimant argues that the Administrative Law Judge (the ALJ) erred by: 1) assigning little weight to Dr. Alyn Benezette's opinion; 2) assigning some weight to Dr. Monivirin Son's opinions; 3) assigning little weight to Dr. Anuranjan Bist's opinion; 4) assigning great weight to the opinions of two non-examining state agency physicians; and 5) finding her testimony concerning her pain and limitations not credible. Doc. 16 at 22-35. Claimant argues that the matter should be reversed and remanded for an award of benefits. Id. at 35. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's final decision is REVERSED and REMANDED for further proceedings.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY.

         On September 18, 2009, Claimant filed an application for disability insurance benefits, alleging a disability onset date of June 1, 2008. R. 141-42. On June 6, 2011, the ALJ entered a decision finding that Claimant was not disabled. R. 33-48. This decision ultimately became the Commissioner's final decision. R. 1-3.

         On November 13, 2012, Claimant appealed the Commissioner's final decision to this Court. Claimant argued that the ALJ erred by: 1) rejecting Drs. Benezette's, Son's and Bist's opinions; 2) failing to properly evaluate her credibility; and 3) relying exclusively on the Medical-Vocational Guidelines (the Grids) at step five. R. 1246-47. On September 18, 2013, the Magistrate Judge entered a report finding that the ALJ did not err in rejecting Dr. Son's opinions or finding Claimant's testimony concerning her pain and limitations not credible. R. 1251-52, 1254-55. The Magistrate Judge, however, found that the ALJ failed to articulate sufficient good cause to reject Drs. Benezette's and Bist's opinions, and erred by exclusively relying on the Grids at step five. R. 1249-57. On October 3, 2013, the Court entered an order adopting the report, and reversing and remanding the case for further proceedings. R. 1243.

         Claimant filed applications for supplemental security income while the case was pending before this Court, alleging the same disability onset date as before, June 1, 2008. R. 1346-72. On December 9, 2013, the Appeals Council, in light of the Court's order remanding the case, entered an order vacating its final decision, consolidating Claimant's applications for disability, and remanded the case to the ALJ for further proceedings consistent with the Court's order remanding the case. R. 1261.

         On December 17, 2014, the ALJ entered a decision again finding that Claimant was not disabled. R. 1137-52. This decision ultimately became the Commissioner's final decision. R. 1117-20. This appeal followed.

         II. THE ALJ'S DECISION.

         The ALJ found that Claimant suffered from the following severe impairments: obesity; coronary artery disease; lumbar degenerative disc disease; bipolar disorder; and posttraumatic stress disorder. R. 1140. The ALJ also found that Claimant suffered from the following non- severe impairments: status post wrist surgery; tachycardia; and vertigo. Id. The ALJ found that Claimant did not meet or equal any listed impairment. R. 1140-41. The ALJ found that Claimant had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work as defined by 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), [1] with the following specific limitations:

[T]he claimant requires the option to alternate between sitting and standing every 30 minutes. She can never climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. She can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, stoop, kneel, crouch, and/or crawl. She can occasionally reach overhead and frequently handle and finger. She must avoid concentrated exposure to vibrations, moving mechanical parts, and unprotected heights. The claimant is limited to performing simple tasks with little variation, which take a short period of time to learn (up to and including 30 days). She can relate adequately to supervisors, but is limited to occasional contact with co-workers and no contact with the general public. She is able [to] deal with changes in a routine work setting and must avoid production-paced work.

R. 1141-42. The ALJ found that Claimant was not capable of performing her past relevant work. R. 1150. The ALJ, however, found that Claimant was capable of performing other work in the national economy, such as route clerk, blade balancer and paper pattern folder. R. 1150-51. The ALJ, consequently, found that Claimant was not disabled from her alleged onset date, June 1, 2008, through the date of his decision, December 17, 2014. R. 1151-52.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW.

         The Commissioner's findings of fact are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). 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, taking into account evidence 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)).

         IV. ANALYSIS.

         This appeal primarily centers on the ALJ's consideration of Drs. Benezette's, Son's and Bist's opinions. Doc. 16 at 22-31. Claimant argues that the ALJ erred by assigning some weight to Dr. Son's opinion, and assigning little weight to Drs. Benezette's and Bist's opinions. Id.[2] The Commissioner argues that the ALJ articulated good cause, supported by substantial evidence, for the weight assigned to each of the challenged opinions. Doc. 17 at 4-23.

         At step four, the ALJ assesses the claimant's RFC and ability to perform past relevant work. Phillips, 357 F.3d at 1238. The RFC “is an assessment, based upon all of the relevant evidence, of a claimant's remaining ability to do work despite his impairments.” Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1440 (11th Cir. 1997). The ALJ is responsible for determining the claimant's RFC. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1546(c), 416.946(c). In doing so, the ALJ must consider all relevant evidence, including, but not limited to, the medical opinions of treating, examining and non-examining medical sources. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545(a)(3), 416.945(a)(3); see also Rosario v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 490 F.App'x 192, 194 (11th Cir. 2012).[3]

         The ALJ must consider a number of factors in determining how much weight to give each medical opinion, including: 1) whether the physician has examined the claimant; 2) the length, nature, and extent of the physician's relationship with the claimant; 3) the medical evidence and explanation supporting the physician's opinion; 4) how consistent the physician's opinion is with the ...


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