United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division
B. SMITH, United States Magistrate Judge
brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act
(“Act”), as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to
obtain judicial review of a final decision of Defendant, the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the
“Commissioner”) denying her claims for disability
insurance benefits and Supplemental Security Income under the
Act. Upon a review of the record and after due consideration,
the Commissioner's final decision is
filed for benefits on September 3, 2014, alleging an onset
date of January 1, 2013 (Tr. 25, 211-218). She claimed that
she was disabled due to fibromyalgia, musculoskeletal pain
from degenerative disc disease and cervical disc disease,
depression and anxiety disorder (Tr. 46, 256, 287).
application was denied initially and on reconsideration, and
she requested and received a hearing before an administrative
law judge (“ALJ”) (Tr. 124, 128, 134, 140,
43-64). In a decision dated March 4, 2016, the ALJ found
Plaintiff not disabled through the date of the decision (Tr.
22-42). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request
for review on July 6, 2016 (Tr.1-6). Accordingly, the
ALJ's March 4, 2016 decision is the final decision of the
Commissioner. Having exhausted the available administrative
remedies, Plaintiff filed this action for judicial review
(Doc. 1). The matter is fully briefed and ripe for
determining whether an individual is disabled, the ALJ must
follow the five-step sequential evaluation process
established by the Social Security Administration and set
forth in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4) and
416.920(a)(4). Specifically, the ALJ must determine whether
the claimant: (1) is currently employed; (2) has a severe
impairment; (3) has an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals an impairment
listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; (4) can
perform past relevant work; and (5) retains the ability to
perform any work in the national economy. See Phillips v.
Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1237-1240 (11th Cir. 2004). The
claimant bears the burden of persuasion through step four and
at step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner.
Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n. 5 (1987);
Phillips, 357 F.3d at 1241 n.10.
the ALJ performed the required five-step sequential analysis.
At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since her January 1, 2013
alleged disability onset date (Tr. 27). The ALJ found at step
two that Plaintiff's severe impairments included
degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine,
obesity, and fibromyalgia (Tr. 28). He found that other
impairments, including depression and anxiety, were not
severe impairments (Tr. 28-31). At step three, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or
equal any of the impairments listed in 20 CFR Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1 (Tr. 31). Next, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b), with certain additional limitations.
Specifically, the claimant can lift, carry, push and pull 20
pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. She can sit,
stand and walk for up to 6 hours each out of an 8-hour
workday. She can occasionally climb ladders and scaffolds,
and frequently climb ramps or stairs, as well [as] frequently
balance, stoop, kneel, crouch or crawl. She can have
occasional exposure to extreme cold, extreme heat, vibration,
and hazards, such as unprotected heights and moving
four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was unable to return
to her past relevant work as a stock clerk and cashier, but,
relying on the testimony from a vocational expert
(“VE”), the ALJ found, at step five, that there
are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national
economy that Plaintiff could perform (Tr. 35) and, therefore,
found Plaintiff not disabled (Tr. 36).
scope of the Court's review is limited to determining
whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and
whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial
evidence. Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363
F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004). Findings of fact are
conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). Substantial evidence is “more than a
scintilla but less than a preponderance. It is such relevant
evidence that a reasonable person would accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Winschel v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011)
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.
Miles v. Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir.
1996). The district court “may not decide facts anew,
reweigh the evidence, or substitute our judgment for that of
the [Commissioner.]” Id. "The district
court must view the record as a whole, taking into account
evidence favorable as well as unfavorable to the
decision." Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1560
(11th Cir. 1995) (per curiam); accord Lowery v.
Sullivan, 979 F.2d 835, 837 (11th Cir. 1992) (the court
must scrutinize the entire record to determine the
reasonableness of the factual findings).
urges reversal of the Commissioner's decision, contending
that the ALJ failed to weigh the opinions of three treating
physicians, failed to mention or weigh the opinions of the
consultative mental examiners, and improperly gave great
weight to the opinions of non-examining physicians. Plaintiff
also claims that the Commissioner's findings regarding
her mental impairments are not properly supported.
of Medical Opinions
Eleventh Circuit has held that whenever a physician offers a
statement reflecting judgments about the nature and severity
of a claimant's impairments, including symptoms,
diagnosis, and prognosis, what the claimant can still do
despite his or her impairments, and the claimant's
physical and mental restrictions, the statement is an opinion
requiring the ALJ to state with particularity the weight
given to it and the reasons therefor. Winschel, 631
F.3d at 1178-79 (citing 20 CRF §§ 404.1527(a)(2),
416.927(a)(2); Sharfarz v. Bowen, 825 F.2d 278, 279
(11th Cir. 1987).) When evaluating a physician's opinion,
an ALJ considers numerous factors, including whether the
physician examined the claimant, whether the physician
treated the claimant, the evidence the physician presents to
support his or her opinion, whether the physician's
opinion is consistent with the record as a whole, and the
physician's specialty. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1527(c), 416.927(c).
weight must be given to the opinion, diagnosis and medical
evidence of a treating physician unless there is good
cause to do otherwise. See Lewis v. Callahan,
125 F.3d 1436 (11th Cir. 1997); Edwards v. Sullivan,
937 F.2d 580, 583 (11th Cir. 1991); 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(d). Good cause for disregarding an opinion can exist
when: (1) the opinion is not bolstered by the evidence; (2)
the evidence supports a contrary finding; or (3) the opinion
is conclusory or is inconsistent with the source's own
treatment notes. Lewis, 125 F.3d at 1440.
contrast, a consultative examiner's opinion is not
entitled to the deference normally given a treating source.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c) (2);
Crawford, 363 F.3d at 1161. Nonetheless, all
opinions, including those of non-treating state agency or
other program examiners or consultants, are to be considered
and evaluated by the ALJ. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1527, 416.927, and Winschel.
November 14, 2012, prior to her alleged onset, Plaintiff
started seeing Dr. Magdalena Beltre (Tr. 481). On
examination, Dr. Beltre noted tenderness in Plaintiff's
lower back, upper back, mid central back and over her spine.
The doctor diagnosed Plaintiff with hypothyroidism, essential
HTN,  and lumbago, and referred her to an
orthopedist (Id.). On return visit on January 10,
2013, Plaintiff presented with complaints of depression and
pain (Tr. 479). On exam, Plaintiff had adequate mood and
affect, normal gait, symmetrical power and sensation, and
demonstrated a full range of motion. The doctor's
assessment was myofascial syndrome (myalgia unspecified) and
major depressive disorder. He recommended that Ms. Figueroa
see a rheumatologist for further evaluation of her
February 21, 2013, Plaintiff saw Dr. Beltre for a regular
follow-up. She complained about anxiety and back pain. Dr.
Beltre diagnosed HTN, myofascial syndrome and
depression/anxiety. Plaintiff's musculoskeletal exam
revealed full range of motion, no swelling or tenderness, and
her neurological exam showed Plaintiff was fully oriented and
had adequate mood and affect, with normal gait, symmetrical
power, and sensation (Tr. 478).
December 12, 2013, Plaintiff returned, complaining of muscle
pain and back pain (Tr. 477). Dr. Beltre noted shoulder and
lower back tenderness. The ...