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Coad v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

June 8, 2017

MARIAN COAD, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

          DANIEL C. IRICK UNITES STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Marian Coad (Claimant) appeals to the District Court from a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her application for disability insurance benefits. Doc. 1; R. 1-4, 162-65. Claimant argued that the Administrative Law Judge (the ALJ) erred by: 1) failing to apply the correct legal standards to the opinion of Bryan H. Heath, M.D.; and 2) failing to apply the correct legal standards to the opinion of Michael D. Kohen, M.D. Doc. 16 at 16-19, 22-25. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's final decision is AFFIRMED.

         I. THE ALJ'S DECISION

         In October 2012, Claimant filed an application for disability insurance benefits. R. 162-65. Claimant alleged a disability onset date of March 25, 2008. R. 13, 162. Claimant's date last insured was December 31, 2013. R. 15.

         The ALJ issued her decision on February 27, 2015. R. 13-22. In her decision, the ALJ found that Claimant had the following severe impairments: disorders of the spine, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, obesity, history of fibromyalgia, HLA-B27, and right ankle tendinosis/tenosynovitis. R. 15. The ALJ also found that Claimant had the following non-severe impairments: irritable bowel syndrome, history of left ankle surgery, affective disorder, and anxiety related disorders. Id.

         The ALJ found that Claimant had a residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform less than a full range of light work as defined by 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b).[1] R. 17. Specifically, the ALJ found as follows:

[T]hrough the date last insured, the claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except with no more than frequent climbing of ramps and stairs, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling; no more than occasional climbing of ladders, ropes and scaffolds; and no concentrated exposure to vibration or hazards (machinery, heights, etc.).

R. 17. The ALJ posed a hypothetical question to the vocational expert (VE) that was consistent with the foregoing RFC determination, and the VE testified that Claimant was capable of performing jobs in the national economy. R. 45-46. The ALJ thus found that Claimant was capable of performing jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy. R. 21-22. Therefore, the ALJ found that Claimant was not disabled between the alleged onset date and the date last insured. R. 22.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         “In Social Security appeals, [the court] must determine whether the Commissioner's decision is ‘supported by substantial evidence and based on proper legal standards.'” Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (citations omitted). 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)).

         III. ANALYSIS

         At step four of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ assesses the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC) and ability to perform past relevant work. Phillips, 357 F.3d at 1238. “The residual functional capacity 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). 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. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1), (3); Rosario v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 877 F.Supp.2d 1254, 1265 (M.D. Fla. 2012).

         The weighing of treating, examining, and non-examining physicians' opinions is an integral part of steps four and five of the sequential evaluation process. In Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176 (11th Cir. 2011), the Eleventh Circuit stated that “‘Medical opinions are statements from physicians and psychologists or other acceptable medical sources that reflect judgments about the nature and severity of [the claimant's] impairment(s), including [the claimant's] symptoms, diagnosis and prognosis, what [the claimant] can still do despite impairment(s), and [the claimant's] physical or mental restrictions.'” Id. at 1178-79 (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(a)(2)) (alterations in original). “[T]he ALJ must state with particularity the weight given to different medical opinions and the reasons therefor.” Id. at 1179 (citing Sharfarz v. Bowen, 825 F.2d 278, 279 (11th Cir. 1987)). “In the absence of such a statement, it is impossible for a reviewing court to determine whether the ultimate decision on the merits of the claim is rational and supported by substantial evidence.” Id. (quoting Cowart v. Schwieker, 662 F.2d 731, 735 (11th Cir. 1981)).

         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 record as a whole; and 5) the physician's specialization. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c). A treating physician's opinion must be given substantial or considerable weight, unless good cause is shown to the contrary. Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1179; see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2) (giving controlling weight to the treating physician's opinion unless it is inconsistent with other substantial evidence). “Good cause exists when the: (1) treating physician's opinion was not bolstered by ...


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