United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION
C. IRICK UNITES STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Burton Cates (Claimant) appeals the Commissioner of Social
Security's final decision denying her applications for
disability benefits and supplemental security income. Doc. 1.
Claimant argues that the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) erred
by: 1) discounting Claimant's credibility; and 2) failing
to give appropriate weight to the opinions of two of
Claimant's treating physicians, Dr. Nermeen Saleh (a
primary care physician) and Dr. Sunita Tikku (a
psychiatrist). Doc. 33 at 20. Claimant requests that the
matter be reversed and remanded for an award of benefits or,
in the alternative, remanded for further proceedings.
Id. at 33. For the reasons set forth below, the
Commissioner's final decision is AFFIRMED.
case stems from Claimant's applications for disability
insurance benefits and supplemental security income. R. 40.
Claimant alleged a disability onset date of June 30, 2008.
Id. On September 20, 2014, the ALJ entered a
decision finding that Claimant was capable of performing
light work and could perform her past relevant work. R.
45-53. Thus, the ALJ concluded that Claimant was not
disabled. R. 53. As conceded by the Commissioner, Claimant
timely pursued her administrative remedies, and this matter
is ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and
1383(c)(2). Doc. 36 at 1.
THE ALJ'S DECISION.
issued the operative decision on September 20, 2014. R.
40-53. The ALJ found that Claimant had the following severe
impairments: joint pain and depression. R. 42. The ALJ also
found non-severe impairments of stable gastrointestinal
issues and clinically stable polycythemia. Id. The
ALJ found that Claimant does not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that meets or medically equals any
listed impairment. R. 43-45.
found that Claimant had the residual functional capacity
(RFC) to perform light work as defined by 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b),  with the
following specific limitations:
sit, stand, and walk each for eight hours in an eight-hour
day; no climbing ropes, ladders or scaffolds; occasional
bending, balancing, stooping, squatting, crouching, crawling,
kneeling, and climbing of ramps and stairs; no overhead
lifting but has full use of upper extremities otherwise; no
heights or vibrations; and no production paced demands.
R. 45. The ALJ, in light of this RFC, found that Claimant was
able to perform her past relevant work as an office manager
(a skilled, sedentary position), because that work does not
require the performance of work-related duties precluded by
the RFC. R. 52-53. Thus, the ALJ found that Claimant was not
disabled from her alleged onset date, June 30, 2008, through
the date of the decision, September 20, 2014. Id.
STANDARD OF REVIEW.
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) (quotations 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)).
argues that the ALJ's reasons supporting her credibility
determination are not supported by substantial evidence. Doc.
33 at 20-28. The Commissioner essentially argues that the
ALJ's credibility finding is supported by substantial
evidence, even if some of the specific reasons stated by the
ALJ are incorrect or not supported by substantial evidence.
Doc. 36 at 4-8.
claimant may establish “disability through his own
testimony of pain or other subjective symptoms.”
Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir.
2005). A claimant seeking to establish disability through his
or her own testimony must show:
(1) evidence of an underlying medical condition; and (2)
either (a) objective medical evidence confirming the severity
of the alleged pain; or (b) that the objectively determined
medical condition can reasonably be expected to give rise to
the claimed pain.
Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1225 (11th Cir.
2002). If the ALJ determines that the claimant has a
medically determinable impairment that could reasonably
produce the claimant's alleged pain or other symptoms,
the ALJ must then evaluate the extent to which the intensity
and persistence of those symptoms limit the claimant's
ability to work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1529(c)(1),
416.929(c)(1). In doing so, the ALJ considers a variety of
evidence, including, but not limited to, the claimant's
history, the medical signs and laboratory findings, the
claimant's statements, medical source opinions, and other
evidence of how the pain affects the claimant's daily
activities and ability to work. Id. at §§
404.1529(c)(1)-(3), 416.929(c)(1)-(3). “If the ALJ
decides not to credit a claimant's testimony as to her
pain, he must articulate explicit and adequate reasons for
doing so.” Foote, 67 F.3d at 1561-62.
“Credibility determinations are the province of the
ALJ.” Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1212
(11th Cir.2005). The Court will not disturb a clearly
articulated credibility finding that is supported by
substantial evidence. Foote, 67 F.3d at 1562.
held a hearing in this case on July 1, 2014. R.
69-110. At the hearing, Claimant testified that
she had essentially raised her grandson from his birth in
late 2005, with the assistance of her husband (prior to his
death in 2011), neighbors, and friends from church. R. 81-82.
Claimant also acknowledged that, on her alleged onset date,
she was laid off from her prior employment due to a downturn
in the economy, and did not leave her employment due to her
alleged disability. R. 82-83. Thereafter, Claimant collected
unemployment and looked for new work, but was unable to find
any. Id. However, Claimant asserted that her
depression, anxiety, and joint pain had been increasing prior
to her termination, and that she ultimately was unable to
work due to her medical issues. R.83-85. Claimant asserted
that her medical issues caused her myriad problems and caused
her to be unable to complete many activities of daily living
without assistance from others, including shopping, cooking,
caring for her grandson, and taking care of her house. R.
86-101. Claimant explained that her joint pain and arthritis
affected her shoulders, back, knees, and wrists and prevented
her from reaching, stooping, crouching, and lifting objects.
Id. Further, Claimant stated that her anxiety and
depression caused her to have panic attacks and experience
extreme stress, and that she also suffered from forgetfulness
and from fatigue that required her to take naps each day.
Id. In posing questions to the vocational expert,
Claimant's attorney included proposed restrictions that
Claimant had to take one or two naps (of an hour or more in
duration) per day, and also that she had daily panic attacks
that lasted anywhere from a half-hour to an hour-and-a-half.
R. 104. While the vocational expert found that Claimant could
perform her past relevant work (that of an office manager)
based on the ALJ's hypothetical, the vocational expert
agreed that the additional restrictions suggested by
Claimant's counsel would preclude all work. Id.
decision, the ALJ found that Claimant's medically
determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to
cause her alleged symptoms, but concluded that her statements
concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects
of her symptoms are “not entirely credible for the
reasons explained in this decision.” R. 46.
Specifically, the ALJ explained:
Turning to the medical evidence, the objective findings in
this case fail to provide strong support for the
claimant's allegations of disabling symptoms and
limitations. More specifically, the medical findings do not
support the existence of limitations greater than the above
listed residual functional capacity. In terms of the
claimant's alleged conditions, the medical record
demonstrates that the doctors have diagnosed the
claimant's symptoms as joint pain and depression.
The ALJ also relied on Claimant's activities of daily
living, particularly the full-time care she provides to her
grandson, in determining Claimant's credibility. R. 46,
51. Therefore, the ALJ found that Claimant's allegations
concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects
of her symptoms “not entirely credible” because
the medical evidence does not support those allegations.
asserting that the ALJ's credibility determination was
not supported by substantial evidence, Claimant made
numerous, brief arguments that the ALJ misstated the facts
and disregarded the medical evidence supporting
Claimant's position. Doc. 33 at 20-28. Specifically,
Claimant made the following arguments:
1. The ALJ inaccurately stated that Claimant traveled out of
town to care for her octogenarian mother (Doc. 33 at 22,
referencing R. 50);
2. The ALJ took into consideration the fact that Claimant
collected unemployment and unsuccessfully sought work
following the alleged onset date (Id. at ...