United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division
OPINION AND ORDER
MIRANDO, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Janice Williams seeks judicial review of the denial of her
claim for supplemental security income (“SSI”) by
the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”). The Court has reviewed the
record, the briefs and the applicable law. For the reasons
discussed herein, the decision of the Commissioner is
Issues on Appeal
raises three issues on appeal: (1) whether the Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) fully and fairly developed the
record; (2) whether the ALJ properly considered
Plaintiff's failure to follow prescribed treatment in
evaluating her credibility; and (3) whether substantial
evidence supports the ALJ's assessment of Plaintiff's
residual functional capacity (“RFC”).
Summary of the ALJ's Decision
April 9, 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI,
alleging her disability began August 15, 2008 due to
uncontrolled diabetes, anemia and severe nerve
pain.Tr. 81, 181. On April 20, 2015, ALJ Gregory
M. Hamel issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled
since April 9, 2012, the application date. Tr. 15-22. At step
one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since April 9, 2012, the
application date. Tr. 17. Although the ALJ found that
Plaintiff has severe impairments of diabetes mellitus and
cervical disc disease with radiculopathy, he 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. 17-18. The ALJ then determined that
Plaintiff has the RFC to perform light work with certain
limitations. Tr. 18. Next, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is
capable of performing her past relevant work as a
housekeeper. Tr. 22. Thus, the ALJ found Plaintiff not
disabled since April 9, 2012, the application date.
Standard of Review
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).
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) (citation omitted). 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 or found 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); 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). 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 fully and fairly developed the record
noted in his decision, “[Plaintiff] is a 55-year-old
former housekeeping worker who completed high school but may
have had special education services while in school.”
Tr. 17. On her application for SSI, Plaintiff did not allege
any intellectual disability as her disabling impairment. Tr.
81. Plaintiff also denied attending special education classes
on her disability report. Tr. 182.
contrast, Plaintiff's counsel submitted a Pre-Hearing
Memorandum before the ALJ's hearing, suggesting Plaintiff
has “altered mental status, ” “labile
personality, ” communication problems, “mild
mental slowing” and illiteracy. Tr. 229-30. Counsel
noted that Plaintiff's “untreated” mental
impairments contributed to her difficulties complying with
her treatment plans. Tr. 230. Counsel did not allege
Plaintiff's possible mental impairments as disabling. Tr.
the hearing before the ALJ, Plaintiff testified that although
she finished high school, she was in special education
classes throughout school. Tr. 20, 33. Plaintiff further
testified she cannot read or understand a newspaper, is
unable to write a check and has not ever written one. Tr. 39.
She also testified she did not pass the driver's license
test. Id. Based on Plaintiff's testimony, her
counsel indicated to the ALJ that her high school diploma
“is probably more like a special education
diploma.” Tr. 30. Plaintiff's counsel requested a
consultative psychological examination of Plaintiff, arguing
that she is illiterate and has only limited education. Tr.
58-59. Counsel admitted Plaintiff's limited ability to
read is not indicated anywhere in the record, and his request
was solely based on Plaintiff's testimony during the
hearing. Tr. 59. The ALJ responded Plaintiff finished high
school, and he would consider counsel's request. Tr.
decision, the ALJ noted Plaintiff alleged diabetes, hip pain
and intellectual difficulties and also “is often
non-compliant with her prescribed medication regimen and
dietary recommendations” regarding her diabetes. Tr.
19. The ALJ found Plaintiff's alleged intellectual
disability did not contribute to her non-compliance with
prescribed medications because:
[Plaintiff] alleged that she has problems reading and making
change, and although she did reportedly receive special
education services in school, she ultimately earned a high
school diploma. [Plaintiff's] representative made a
suggestion in his brief (Exhibit B14E) that [Plaintiff's]
alleged intellectual deficit contributes to her noncompliance
with treatment recommendations, citing to Exhibit B13F, yet
treatment notes in this exhibit state that [Plaintiff] is
following a low-fat diet and has been successful with weight
management. Furthermore, [Plaintiff] consistently verbalizes
understanding of spoken and written instructions during ...