United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division
OPINION AND ORDER
MIRANDO UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Rosemary Lopez appeals the final decision of the Commissioner
of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying her claim for disability
and disability insurance benefits. Because the decision of
the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence, and
Plaintiff has not shown any reversible error, the decision
will be affirmed.
Issues on Appeal 
raises the following issues on appeal: (1) whether the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) properly
evaluated the opinions of Plaintiff's treating physician
and other medical sources as to her mental impairments; (2)
whether the ALJ properly considered Plaintiff's diagnosis
of cognitive disorder; (3) whether substantial evidence
supports the ALJ's determination that Plaintiff failed to
meet a listed impairment for mental disorders; (4) and
whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's
determination of Plaintiff's residual functional capacity
Procedural History and Summary of the ALJ Decision
Rosemary Lopez, born in 1961, is a high school graduate. Tr.
5-8. She previously worked as a secretary in a school and in
a hospital. Tr. 7. On October 24, 2012, Plaintiff filed an
application for a period of disability and disability
insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning October 23,
2012 due to anxiety, panic attacks, depression, stress, high
blood pressure and migraines. Tr. 90, 164-70, 188, 218. The
Commissioner denied Plaintiff's application initially and
upon reconsideration. Tr. 107-11, 116-20. Plaintiff requested
and received a hearing, which was held before ALJ Charles R.
Howard on May 2, 2014. Tr. 2-19. Plaintiff was represented by
counsel during the hearing. Tr. 4. Plaintiff and VE Donna
Taylor testified at this hearing. See Tr. 2-19.
27, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not
disabled from October 23, 2012 through the date of the
decision. Tr. 61-72. At step one, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social
Security Act through December 31, 2018 and had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since October 23, 2012, the
alleged onset date. Tr. 63. At step two, the ALJ determined
that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments:
headaches, major depressive disorder with psychosis, anxiety
and panic disorder. Id. At step three, the ALJ
concluded that Plaintiff “does not have an impairment
or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals
the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part
404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.” Tr. 64-65. In doing so,
the ALJ considered listings 12.04, 12.06 and any other
listing under section 12.00 of the listings. Tr. 64. The ALJ
then determined that Plaintiff
has the [RFC] to perform light work . . . except she should
never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. Due to her mental
impairments, [Plaintiff] is able to perform simple, routine,
repetitive tasks; able to maintain concentration and
persistence for simple, routine, repetitive tasks; able to
adapt to routine changes in a work setting; and [is] limited
to work that requires no more than occasional interaction
with the public, co-workers, or supervisors.
Tr. 65. The ALJ then determined that Plaintiff is unable to
perform her past relevant work as a school secretary,
teacher's aide or case worker, as these positions exceed
Plaintiff's RFC due to her mental impairments. Tr. 70.
Next, utilizing the services of a VE, the ALJ found that
based on Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and
RFC, Plaintiff is capable of performing other work that
exists in significant numbers in the national economy, namely
the occupations of small products assembler, sewing machine
operator and housekeeping/cleaner. Tr. 71. The ALJ,
therefore, concluded that Plaintiff has not been under a
disability from October 23, 2012 through the date of the
decision. Tr. 72.
October 7, 2015, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's
request for review of the ALJ's decision. Tr. 21-24.
Accordingly, the ALJ's May 27, 2014 decision is the final
decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff filed a Complaint in
this Court on December 8, 2015. Doc. 1. Both parties have
consented to the jurisdiction of the United States Magistrate
Judge, and this matter is now ripe for review. Docs. 16, 17.
Social Security Act Eligibility and Standard of
claimant is entitled to disability benefits when 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. See 20 C.F.R. §416.920. The
Eleventh Circuit has summarized the five steps as follows:
(1) whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful
activity; (2) if not, whether the claimant has a severe
impairment or combination of impairments; (3) if so, whether
these impairments meet or equal an impairment listed in the
Listing of Impairments; (4) if not, whether the claimant has
the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to
perform his past relevant work; and (5) if not, whether, in
light of his age, education, and work experience, the
claimant can perform other work that exists in
“significant numbers in the national economy.”
Atha v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 616 F.
App'x 931, 933 (11th Cir. 2015) (citing 20 C.F.R.
§§ 416.920(a)(4), (c)-(g), 416.960(c)(2);
Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176,
1178 (11th Cir. 2011)). The claimant bears the burden of
persuasion through step four; and, at step five, the burden
shifts to the Commissioner. Id. at 933; Bowen v.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987). The scope of this
Court's review is limited to determining 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)).
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., evidence that must do more than create a
suspicion of the existence of the fact to be established, and
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) (internal
citations omitted); see also Dyer v. Barnhart, 395
F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005) (finding that
“[s]ubstantial evidence is something more than a mere
scintilla, but less than a preponderance”) (internal
Eleventh Circuit has restated that “[i]n determining
whether substantial evidence supports a decision, we give
great deference to the ALJ's fact findings.”
Hunter v. Soc. Sec. Admin., Comm'r, 808 F.3d
818, 822 (11th Cir. 2015) (citing Black Diamond Coal Min.
Co. v. Dir., OWCP, 95 F.3d 1079, 1082 (11th Cir. 1996)).
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
preponderance of the evidence is 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 district court must view the record as a whole,
taking into account evidence favorable as well as unfavorable
to the decision.” Foote, 67 F.3d at 1560;
see also Lowery v. Sullivan, 979 F.2d 835, 837 (11th
Cir. 1992) (stating that the court must scrutinize the entire
record to determine the reasonableness of the factual
findings). It is the function of the Commissioner, and not
the courts, to resolve conflicts in the evidence and to
assess the credibility of the witnesses. Lacina v.
Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 606 F. App'x 520, 525
(11th Cir. 2015) (citing Grant v. Richardson, 445
F.2d 656 (5th Cir.1971)). The Court reviews the
Commissioner's conclusions of law under a de
novo standard of review. Ingram v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec. Admin., 496 F.3d 1253, 1260 (11th Cir. 2007)
(citing Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529
(11th Cir. 1990)).
Whether the ALJ properly weighed the opinions of
Plaintiff's treating physician and other medical
first argues the ALJ failed to provide good cause for giving
little weight to the opinions of Plaintiff's treating
psychiatrist, Miriam Ajo, M.D. Doc. 22 at 16-19. The
Commissioner argues that the ALJ properly evaluated Dr.
Ajo's opinions and identified good reasons supported by
the record for according the opinions little weight. Doc. 23
at 9. The Court finds the ALJ provided good cause for giving
little weight to Dr. Ajo's opinions.
was Plaintiff's treating psychiatrist from approximately
January 2013 through March 2014. Tr. 373-77, 416-19, 422-33,
442-51, 462-64. On March 24, 2014, Dr. Ajo completed a form
medical source statement, entitled “Mental Capacity
Assessment, ” one of the opinions at issue here. Tr.
452-55. The same date, she also completed another form
questionnaire, an RFC assessment. Tr. 456-57.
discussed Plaintiff's mental health treatment records at
length, beginning with treatment records in May 2011.
See Tr. 66-67. As noted by the ALJ, when Plaintiff
was last seen by Dr. Ajo in March 2014, Plaintiff denied any
complaints, and her mental status evaluation was
“essentially normal, ” except that her sister
reported that she had been irritable. Tr. 67, 462-66. At the
time, Dr. Ajo added Klonopin to Plaintiff's medications
and suggested that she return in sixty days. Tr. 464-66.
took into consideration Plaintiff's mental impairments
when assessing her RFC:
Due to her mental impairments, [Plaintiff] is able to perform
simple, routine, repetitive tasks; able to maintain
concentration and persistence for simple, routine, repetitive
tasks; able to adapt to routine changes in a work setting;
and limited to work that requires no more than occasional
interaction with the public, co-workers, or supervisors. The
undersigned notes that this conclusion is supported by
treatment records and [Plaintiff's] activities of daily
living, as described above. The undersigned notes that
[Plaintiff] has been maintained on the same medications and
dosages since May 2013 until Klonopin was added in March
the opinions at issue, the ALJ discussed these opinions at
length and the ...