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Ellis v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, M.D. Florida

April 6, 2017

RAHEEM ELLIS, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

          GREGORY J. KELLY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Raheem Ellis (the “Claimant”) appeals to the District Court a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the “Commissioner”) denying his application of Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). Doc. No. 1. Claimant argues that the Administrative Law Judge (the “ALJ”) erred in his treatment of: 1) the opinions of Claimant's treating psychiatrist; and 2) a disability determination by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (the “VA”). Doc. No. 18 at 10-14, 17-19. Claimant requests that the Commissioner's decision be reversed and remanded for further proceedings. Id. at 20. For the reasons set forth below, it is ORDERED that the Commissioner's final decision be REVERSED and REMANDED for further proceedings.

         I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On June 4, 2013, Claimant applied for DIB. R. 220. Claimant alleges a disability onset date of May 31, 2009. R. 216. On August 9, 2013, the Commissioner denied Claimant's application. R. 152. On September 4, 2013, Claimant filed a request for reconsideration. R. 156. On October 2, 2013, the Commissioner denied Claimant's request for reconsideration. R. 158. On October 16, 2013, Claimant filed a request for a hearing before the ALJ. R. 164. On November 12, 2014, Claimant attended a video hearing before the ALJ. R. 17, 41-74. On February 24, 2014, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. R. 17-35. On April 6, 2015, Claimant filed his request for review of the ALJ's decision. R. 8. On June 14, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Claimant's request. R. 1-6. On August 2, 2016, Claimant filed his appeal. Doc. No. 1.

         II. 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].'” See 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)).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Central to Claimant's appeal is the ALJ's treatment of two opinions from Dr. Lantie Quinones, a VA psychiatrist. R. 634, 640-43. Claimant argues that the ALJ erred by not providing good cause for giving little weight Dr. Quinones' opinions. Doc. No. 18 at 10-14. The Commissioner argues that the ALJ provided good cause reasons for the same. Id. at 16-17.

         On March 16, 2011, Claimant underwent an initial mental health evaluation with Dr. Quinones. R. 429-33. The record shows Claimant visiting Dr. Quinones multiple times between his initial evaluation and July 31, 2013. Doc. No. 18 at 2-7, R. 621. On March 13, 2014, Dr. Quinones sent correspondence to the VA regarding Claimant's mental condition (the “March Opinion”). R. 634. Dr. Quinones states that as of March 13, 2014, Claimant was still under his care at a VA outpatient clinic and is followed monthly due to his severe anxiety disorder and panic attacks. Id. The March Opinion also notes that Claimant “continues to struggle with day to day life…has difficulties with cognition[, ]and has at times endorsed difficulty with using familiar tools.” Id. Claimant also has trouble concentrating and has difficulty leaving the house due to mood and anxiety problems. Id. Based on the foregoing, Dr. Quinones found that “it would be very difficult for him to participate safely in a work setting due to his illnesses and symptoms…” Id.

         On April 2, 2014, Dr. Quinones completed a Mental Impairment Questionnaire (the “April Opinion”). R. 640-43. In the April Opinion, Dr. Quinones states that he has treated Claimant for three years and sees him every three months. R. 640. Dr. Quinones diagnosed Claimant with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia, Depression not otherwise specified, social isolation, and chronic migraine headaches. Id. The April Opinion notes that Claimant has intermittent panic attacks and short term memory problems. Id. The April Opinion also states that Claimant has: 1) moderate restrictions in daily living activities; 2) extreme difficulties in maintaining social functioning; and 3) marked difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace. R. 642. Dr. Quinones believes that Claimant's impairments would cause Claimant to be absent from work more than four days per month. R. 643.

         At the hearing, the Claimant stated that he has been visiting Dr. Quinones since 2011:

Q: Is there anything else or any other behavior that you exhibit during one of these episodes? Aside from the physical things you just talked about[?]
A: Focusing, thinking pattern-thinking pattern can be ...

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