United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION
GREGORY J. KELLY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Caballero (the “Claimant”), appeals to the
District Court a final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security (the “Commissioner”) determining that
Claimant was not disabled prior to November 20, 2015. Doc.
No. 1. Claimant argues that the Administrative Law Judge (the
“ALJ”) erred in: 1) not consulting a medical
expert when determining Claimant's disability onset date;
and 2) applying incorrect legal standards to the opinions of
Dr. Frank J. Yanez. Doc. No. 21 at 14-17, 19-22. Claimant
requests that the Commissioner's decision be reversed and
remanded for further proceedings. Id. at 28. For the
reasons set forth below, it is ORDERED that
the Commissioner's final decision be
I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
June 1, 2011, Claimant filed an application (the “First
Application”) for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”). R. 168. In the First Application,
Claimant alleges an onset date of January 31, 2011.
Id. On June 21, 2011, the First Application was
initially denied. R. 69. On October 3, 2011, the First
Application was denied upon reconsideration. R. 79. On
October 28, 2011, Claimant filed a request for hearing before
the ALJ. R. 85. On November 28, 2012, Claimant attended a
hearing before the ALJ. R. 27-44. On January 9, 2013, the ALJ
issued an unfavorable decision. R. 10-21. On March 7, 2013,
Claimant filed a request for review of the ALJ's
decision. R. 7-9. On May 29, 2014, the Appeals Council denied
Claimant's request for review. R. 1-6. On July 10, 2014,
Claimant appealed the Commissioner's decision to this
Court. See Caballero v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec,
6:14-cv-1110-DAB (Doc. No. 1). On July 30, 2015, U.S.
Magistrate Judge David A. Baker ordered that the case be
reversed and remanded for further proceedings. Id.
(Doc. No. 19).
August 11, 2014, while Claimant's appeal was pending with
Judge Baker, Claimant filed a separate application (the
“Second Application”) for DIB and Supplemental
Security Income (“SSI”). R. 681. In the Second
Application, Claimant alleges an onset date of October 29,
2011. Id. On November 4, 2014, the Second
Application was initially denied. R. 607, 613. On April 3,
2015, the Second Application was denied upon reconsideration.
R. 617, 623. On September 1, 2015, the Appeals Council
remanded the First Application to the ALJ for further
proceedings, pursuant to Judge Baker's order. R. 598. The
Appeals Council recognized the pendency of the Second
Application, and ordered the ALJ to consolidate the First and
Second Applications. R. 600.
March 10, 2016, Claimant attended a second hearing before the
ALJ. R. 457-485. On April 12, 2016, the ALJ issued a
partially favorable decision finding Claimant became disabled
on November 20, 2015. R. 432-448. On June 17, 2016, Claimant
filed this appeal. Doc. No. 1.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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)).
THE ALJ'S DECISION
January 12, 2016 treatment note, Dr. Joseph Kavanagh found
that Claimant was injured in a motor vehicle accident on
November 20, 2015 (the “Accident Date”). R. 977.
Dr. Kavanagh's finding is central to the ALJ's
determined that January 31, 2011 was Claimant's alleged
onset date. R. 432. At step one of the sequential
evaluation process, the ALJ found that Claimant has not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged
onset date. R. 435. At step two, the ALJ made two
findings. Id. First, the ALJ found that since
Claimant's alleged onset date, she has had a single
severe impairment, a back disorder. Id. Second, the
ALJ found that since the Accident Date, Claimant has had the
following severe impairments: a back disorder and a history
of a motor vehicle accident. Id. At step three, the
ALJ found that since Claimant's alleged onset date, she
has not had an impairment (or combination thereof) that meets
or medically equals the severity of one of the listed
impairments. R. 437.
four, the ALJ made two findings as to Claimant's residual
functional capacity (“RFC”), one pre-Accident
Date and one post-Accident Date. R. 437, 445. First, the ALJ
found that before the Accident Date Claimant had the RFC to
perform light work with certain exertional and nonexertional
limitations. R. 437. In making such a finding, the ALJ made
detailed findings regarding the medical evidence before the
Accident Date. R. 438-445. For example, the ALJ recognized a
May 9, 2011 treatment note from Dr. Marc Gerber finding that
Claimant was able to sit, stand, and transfer without
difficulty. R. 312, 440. The ALJ gave significant weight to a
May 2011 medical source statement of Dr. Gerber, finding that
Claimant reached maximum medical improvement and was capable
of light duty work. R. 310, 440. The ALJ also gave
significant weight to an October 2014 medical source
statement from Dr. Carol Grant, noting Claimant's full
range of motion in the shoulders and ambulation without an
assistive device. R. 442, 873-874. The ALJ also considered
evidence (and the conditions stated therein) given after the
January 9, 2013 unfavorable decision on the First
Application, finding that “the record does not support
a finding that these conditions have presented the [Claimant]
with even minimal limitations …” R. 440.
second half of the ALJ's step four analysis, the ALJ
found that post-Accident Date the Claimant had the RFC to
perform light work with certain exertional and non-exertional
limitations. In making this finding, the ALJ cited an
opinion from Dr. Kavanagh, noting Claimant's loss of
normal curvature of the cervical spine. R. 445, 977. The ALJ
also noted Dr. Kavanagh's finding that Claimant had
“disc bulging at [the] ¶ 3-4 and C4-5” areas
of the spine. Id. The ALJ cited a December 2015
treatment note from the Infinite Health and Spine Center
indicating that Claimant's prognosis was guarded and
uncertain. R. 445, 985.
four, the ALJ found that Claimant has been unable to perform
any past relevant work since her alleged onset date. R. 446.
At step five, the ALJ found that pre-Accident Date, there
were a significant number of jobs in the national economy
that Claimant could have performed. R. 447. The ALJ found
that post-Accident Date, there are no jobs existing in
significant numbers in the national economy that the Claimant
can perform. R. 447-448. Accordingly, the ALJ found that
Claimant was not disabled pre-Accident Date, but was disabled
post-Accident Date. R. 448.
Failure to ...