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Pulice v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

May 11, 2017

JOHN R. PULICE, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY Defendant

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION [1]

          PHILIP R. LAMMENS United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff appeals the administrative decision denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). Upon a review of the record, the memoranda, and the applicable law, I submit that the Commissioner's decision should be AFFIRMED.

         Background

         On October 21, 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB benefits, alleging disability beginning September 9, 2010. The claim was denied initially, and upon reconsideration. At plaintiffs request, a hearing was held on August 18, 2014. (Tr.39-66). On November 20, 2014, 2014, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued a notice of unfavorable decision, finding Plaintiff not disabled. (Tr. 18-34). Plaintiffs request for review was denied by the Appeals Council (Tr. 1-4), and Plaintiff initiated this action on June 14, 2016. (Doc. 1). Plaintiff has exhausted his administrative remedies, and the final decision of the Commissioner is ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         Based on a review of the record, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: status post myocardial infarction, anxiety, and depression. (Tr. 20).

         The ALJ found that the Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform less than the full range of light work. (Tr. 24). The ALJ found that Plaintiff is limited to no more than occasional stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling and climbing, but never climbing ladders, ropes and scaffolds. Avoid constant pushing/pulling with his upper extremities, overhead lifting, work at heights, work with dangerous machinery, concentrated exposure to temperature extremes, concentrated exposure to dust, fumes, odors, gases and other pulmonary irritants, as well as constant and direct contact with vibration. Finally, he is limited to performing simple, 1-5 step tasks that be learned with 30 days' training.

         Based upon the RFC, the ALJ found that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform, such as cashier II, advertising material distributor, and ticket seller. (Tr. 33). The ALJ's finding includes his consideration of Plaintiff s limitations that erode the light unskilled occupational base, and the vocational expert's testimony regarding what functions Plaintiff could perform in light of his limitations. (Tr. 33). Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff is not disabled.

         II. Standard of Review

         A claimant is entitled to disability benefits when he or she is unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to either result in death or last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months. 42 U.S.C. §§416(i)(1), 423(d)(1)(A); 20 C.F.R. §404.1505(a).

         The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential analysis for evaluating a claim of disability, which is by now well-known and otherwise set forth in the ALJ's decision. See 20 CFR §§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a); see also Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001). The claimant, of course, bears the burden of persuasion through step four and, at step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n. 5 (1987).

         The scope of this Court's review is limited to a determination of whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and whether the findings are supported by substantial evidence. McRoberts v. Bowen, 841 F.2d 1077, 1080 (11th Cir. 1988)(citing Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971)). Indeed, 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)); accord Edwards v. Sullivan, 937 F.2d 580, 584 n.3 (11th Cir. 1991). 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, 937 F.2d at 584 n.3; Barnes v. Sullivan, 932 F.2d 1356, 1358 (11th Cir. 1991). This is clearly a deferential standard.

         III. Discussion

         On appeal, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to properly evaluate the opinions of two treating physicians - Carols G. Govantes, M.D. and Parmanand Gurnani, M.D. Plaintiff simply contends - without any discussion - that the ALJ failed to comply with the requirements of 20 CFR § 404.1527(d)(2), when she decided not to give controlling weight to the treating physicians' opinions that Plaintiff was incapable of full time gainful employment. For the reasons discussed below, I submit that the ALJ properly considered these opinions and articulated reasons supported by substantial evidence for discrediting them.

         The ALJ must state with particularity the weight given to different medical opinions, including non-examining state agency physicians, and the reasons therefor. Winschel v Comm 'r of Social Sec,631 F.3d 1176, 1179 (11th Cir. 2011). The opinions of treating physicians are entitled to substantial or considerable weight unless "good cause" is shown to the contrary. Crawford v. Commissioner of Social Security,363 F.3d 1155, 1159 (11th Cir. 2004) (citing Lewis v. Callahan,125 F.3d 1436, 1440 (11th Cir.1997)). Good cause exists "when the: (1) treating physician's opinion was not bolstered by the evidence; (2) evidence supported a contrary finding; or (3) treating physician's opinion was conclusory or inconsistent with the doctor's own medical records." Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1241 (11th Cir. 2004). With good cause, an ALJ may disregard a treating physician's opinion, but he "must clearly articulate [the] reasons" for doing so. Id. at ...


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