Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Lopez v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division

September 6, 2017

ROSEMARY LOPEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          CAROL MIRANDO UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff 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.

         I. Issues on Appeal [1]

         Plaintiff 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 (“RFC”).

         II. Procedural History and Summary of the ALJ Decision

         Plaintiff, 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.[2] 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.

         On May 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[3] . . . 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.

         On 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.

         III. Social Security Act Eligibility and Standard of Review

         A 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 citation omitted).

         The 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)).

         IV. Discussion

         a. Whether the ALJ properly weighed the opinions of Plaintiff's treating physician and other medical professionals

         Plaintiff 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.

         Dr. Ajo 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.

         The ALJ 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.

         The ALJ 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 2014.

Tr. 67.

         As to the opinions at issue, the ALJ discussed these opinions at length and the ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.