United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION
C. IRICK UNITES STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Lynn Ziegler (Claimant) appeals the Commissioner of Social
Security's final decision denying her application for
disability benefits. Doc. 1. Claimant raises a number of
arguments challenging the Commissioner's final decision,
and, based on those arguments, requests that the matter be
reversed and remanded for further proceedings. Doc. 19 at
23-26, 28-31, 33-39, 43-49. The Commissioner argues that her
final decision is supported by substantial evidence and
should be affirmed. Id. at 26-28, 32-33, 39-43,
45-46, 48-49. The Court finds that the Commissioner's
final decision is due to be AFFIRMED for the
reasons discussed below.
case stems from Claimant's application for supplemental
security income, in which she alleged a disability onset date
of September 20, 2012. R. 33, 180-88, 196. Claimant's
application was denied on initial review, and on
reconsideration. The matter then proceeded before an ALJ. The
ALJ held a hearing on December 2, 2014, at which Claimant and
her representative appeared. R. 53-85. The ALJ entered her
decision on February 11, 2015, and the Appeals Council denied
review on July 20, 2016. R. 1-3, 33-44. This appeal followed.
THE ALJ'S DECISION.
found that Claimant suffered from the following severe
impairments: seizure disorder, history of asthma, left
shoulder joint disorder, sciatica, affective disorder,
anxiety disorder, personality disorder, and polysubstance
abuse. R. 35. The ALJ, however, determined that none of the
foregoing impairments, individually or in combination, met or
medically equaled any listed impairment. R. 35-36.
found that Claimant has the residual functional capacity
(RFC) to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §
416.967(b),  with the following specific limitations:
[N]o climbing of ropes, ladders, or scaffolding; no exposure
to hazards; and no exposure to the general public. The
claimant is limited to simple routine tasks with no more than
occasional collaborative efforts with coworkers and
supervisors in a job with no goal setting judgments (a
production schedule would be provided). The claimant can have
no exposure to concentrated temperature extremes, or
concentrated fumes, gases, or poorly ventilated areas. The
claimant is precluded from overhead reaching with the
non-dominant left arm.
36-37. The Claimant does not have any past relevant work.
Thus, the ALJ proceeded onto step five of the sequential
evaluation process and found, based on the vocational
expert's (VE) testimony and Dictionary of Occupational
Titles, that Claimant could perform other work in the
national economy. R. 43-44. Thus, the ALJ concluded that
Claimant was not disabled since the date of her application
for disability benefits. R. 44.
STANDARD OF REVIEW.
scope of the Court's review is limited to determining
whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards,
and whether the Commissioner's findings of fact are
supported by substantial evidence. Winschel v. Comm'r
of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011). The
Commissioner's findings of fact are conclusive if they
are supported by substantial evidence, 42 U.S.C. §
405(g), which is defined as “more than a scintilla and
is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept
as adequate to support a conclusion.” Lewis v.
Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1440 (11th Cir. 1997). The
Court must view the evidence as a whole, taking into account
evidence favorable as well as unfavorable to the
Commissioner's decision, when determining whether the
decision is supported by substantial evidence. Foote v.
Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1995). The Court
may not reweigh evidence or substitute its judgment for that
of the Commissioner, and, even if the evidence preponderates
against the Commissioner's decision, the reviewing court
must affirm it if the decision is supported by substantial
evidence. Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233,
1239 (11th Cir. 1983).
raises five distinct assignments of error: 1) the ALJ failed
to fully develop the record; 2) the ALJ did not give proper
weight to the examining psychiatrist's opinion; 3) the
ALJ erred by finding that Claimant's testimony concerning
her pain and limitations not entirely credible; 4) the ALJ
erred by finding that Claimant's mental impairments only
limited her to performing simple, routine tasks in a socially
limited environment; and 5) the ALJ erred by relying on the
vocational expert's (VE) testimony in determining that
Claimant can perform other work in the national economy. Doc.
19 at 23-26, 28-31, 33-39, 43-48. The Court will address each
argument in turn.
Duty to Develop.
record demonstrates that Claimant suffers from and has recei
v e d t r ea tm e n t f o r a h i s t o r y of seizures and a
variety of mental impairments. Claimant suggests that
“[i]t is possible that the seizure disorder has an
[e]ffect on the mental health disorders and/or the mental
health disorders have affected the seizure disorder or made
it more difficult for [her] to properly manage the seizure
disorder.” Doc. 19 at 25. Thus, Claimant argues that
the ALJ “should have obtained the services of a medical
expert and/or psychological expert to evaluate the effect of
[her] . . . brain dysfunction on [her ability] . . . to
function in light of the seizures, the number of seizures
that [she] would potentially suffer from, [and] the
interrelationship of [her] mental health disorders and [her]
seizure disorder[.]” Id. at 26.
Commissioner argues that the record contains sufficient
evidence to allow the ALJ to make an informed decision, and
that Claimant failed to demonstrate how she was prejudiced by
the ALJ's failure to obtain a consultative examination.
Id. at 27-28. Thus, the Commissioner argues that the
ALJ was under no duty to order a consultative examination.
Id. at 28.
has a basic duty to develop a full and fair record.
Graham v. Apfel, 129 F.3d 1420, 1422 (11th Cir.
1997). This duty generally requires the ALJ to
assist in gathering medical evidence, and to order a
consultative examination when such an evaluation is necessary
to make an informed decision. 20 C.F.R. § 416.912(b).
There must be a showing that the ALJ's failure to develop
the record led to evidentiary gaps in the record, which
resulted in unfairness or clear prejudice, before the court
will remand a case for further development of the record.
Graham, 129 F.3d at 1423 (citing Brown, 44
F.3d at 934-35).
record contains approximately 1, 500 pages of medical records
dating from 2006 through 2015, many of which relate to
Claimant's seizures and mental impairments. R. 310-1845.
The record also contains a number of medical opinions from
examining and non-examining medical sources, including
opinions from non-examining medical and psychological
consultants and an examining psychiatrist that were rendered
following the alleged onset date. R. 92-95, 106-111, 1421-25.
Claimant implicitly argues that this evidence was not enough
to allow the ALJ to make an informed decision, because there
was nothing addressing the possible interaction between her
seizures and mental impairments and the limitations that may
be caused by those impairments. See Doc. 19 at
25-26. This argument is speculative, as it does not identify
any particular evidentiary gaps in the record. The record
contains a wealth of evidence concerning Claimant's
impairments, including her seizure and mental impairments, as
well as medical opinions from examining and non-examining
physicians, which the ALJ carefully considered in her
decision (R. 38-43). This evidence addressed the nature,
frequency, and effects of Claimant's seizure and mental
impairments, as well as Claimant's other impairments,
and, thus, was sufficient to allow the ALJ to make an
informed decision about the effects of all of Claimant's
impairments. Thus, the Court finds that the ALJ was not
required to order an additional examination. See Ingram
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 496 F.3d 1253, 1269
(11th Cir. 2007) (“The [ALJ] . . . is not required to
order a consultative examination as long as the record
contains sufficient evidence for the administrative law judge
to make an informed decision.”).
assuming the ALJ should have ordered an examination, Claimant
has not demonstrated how she was prejudiced by the ALJ's
failure to obtain that examination. The record, as previously
discussed, contained ample evidence for the ALJ to make an
informed decision, including medical opinions from examining
and non-examining medical sources. R. 310-1845. Claimant
suggests that the examination would have provided information
not otherwise contained in the record, including insight into
the functional limitations caused by her seizures, the number
of seizures that she experiences in a given period, and the
interrelationship of her seizures and mental impairments.
Doc. 19 at 26. The record, however, contains, in one form or
another, much of the information that would likely be
considered and discussed in the examination report. The
record, for example, details Claimant's reports of
seizures, and, thus, allowed the ALJ to consider the
frequency, severity, and treatment of Claimant's
seizures, and account for that impairment in her RFC
determination. Thus, it is does not appear that an additional
examination would alter the outcome of this case. Therefore,
the Court finds that Claimant has failed to demonstrate what,
if any, prejudiced resulted due to the ALJ's failure to
obtain an additional consultative examination concerning her
seizure and mental impairments.
argues that the ALJ gave “improper weight” to
one-time examining psychiatrist, Dr. Harish Kher, and, thus,
suggests that the ALJ should have given Dr. Kher's
opinion significant weight and included his findings and
opinions in the RFC determination. Doc. 19 at 44-45. The
Commissioner argues that while the ALJ did not articulate the
weight she assigned Dr. Kher's opinion, the ALJ
nevertheless considered Dr. Kher's findings and opinion,
which were relatively consistent with the ALJ's RFC
determination. Id. at 46. Thus, the Commissioner
argues that to the extent the ALJ committed any error with
respect to Dr. Kher's opinion, that error is harmless.
consideration and weighing of medical opinions is an integral
part in determining the claimant's RFC. 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. §
416.927(c). The ALJ must state the weight assigned to each
medical opinion, and articulate the reasons supporting the
weight assigned to each opinion. Winschel, 631 F.3d
at 1179. The failure to ...