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Murray v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

September 19, 2017

MICHAEL ROBERT MURRAY, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

          DANIEL C. IRICK, UNITES STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Michael Robert Murray (Claimant) appeals to the District Court from a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits. Doc. 1; R. 1-6, 319-26, 334-35. Claimant argues that the Administrative Law Judge (the ALJ) erred by: 1) failing to properly reject the opinion of Claimant's treating psychologist, Dr. Fleischmann; and 2) erroneously relying upon the opinions of Dr. Bauer, Dr. Klein, and Dr. Magness when finding that Claimant was capable of performing simple work. Doc. 17 at 15-21, 27-30. For the reasons set forth below, it is ORDERED that the Commissioner's final decision is AFFIRMED.

         I. THE ALJ'S DECISION

         On September 30, 2011, Claimant filed applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits. R. 319-26, 334-35. Claimant alleged a disability onset date of November 6, 2008. Id.

         The ALJ issued her decision on February 27, 2015. R. 12-25. In her decision, the ALJ found that Claimant had the following severe impairments: obesity, lumbar strain, and attention- deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). R. 14. The ALJ found that Claimant had a residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform a reduced range of sedentary work as defined by 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a).[1] R. 16. Specifically, the ALJ found as follows:

[C]laimant has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except the claimant can lift ten pounds occasionally and ten frequently; the claimant can stand and walk for up two hours and sit for up to six hours in an eight-hour day; he can occasionally climb; he is limited to performing simple tasks.

R. 16. The ALJ posed a hypothetical question to the vocational expert (VE) that was consistent with the foregoing RFC determination, [2] and the VE testified that Claimant was capable of performing jobs in the national economy. R. 66-68. The ALJ thus found that Claimant was capable of performing jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy. R. 23-24. Therefore, the ALJ found that Claimant was not disabled between the alleged onset date and the date of her decision. R. 24.

         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

         A. Failure to Properly Weigh Treating Physician's Opinion

         At step four of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ assesses the claimant's 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); 416.946(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); 416.945(a)(1), (3); see also 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); 416.927(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); 416.927(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 ...


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