United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION
C. IRICK UNITES STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Michael Jones (Claimant) appeals to the District Court from a
final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the
Commissioner) denying his application for supplemental
security income. Doc. 1; R. 1-4, 238-46. Claimant argued that
the Administrative Law Judge (the ALJ) erred, in part, by
failing to apply the correct legal standards to the testimony
of Deborah Jones (Ms. Jones), Claimant's mother. Doc. 24
at 19-20. For the reasons set forth below, the
Commissioner's final decision is
REVERSED and REMANDED.
THE ALJ'S DECISION
April 2011, Claimant filed an application for supplemental
security income. R. 238-46. Claimant alleged a disability
onset date of March 28, 2011. R. 19, 238.
issued his decision on October 5, 2015. R. 19-29. In his
decision, the ALJ found that Claimant had the following
severe impairments: diabetes mellitus, asthma, and affective
disorder. R. 21-22. The ALJ found that Claimant had a
residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform less than a
full range of heavy work as defined by 20 C.F.R. §
416.967(d). R. 23. Specifically, the ALJ found as
[C]laimant has the residual functional capacity to perform
heavy work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(c) except he can sit
for 6 hours and stand and walk (30 minutes at a time) for 4
hours each in an 8-hour workday. He has no restrictions with
the use of his hands or feet and has no postural limitations.
He can tolerate only occasional exposure to fumes, odors,
dusts, and gases. He is limited to simple, routine tasks only
on a sustained basis. He needs to avoid any abrupt changes in
the work place and can only tolerate gradual changes in the
Id. The ALJ posed a hypothetical question to the
vocational expert (VE) that was consistent with the foregoing
RFC determination, and the VE testified that Claimant was
capable of performing jobs in the national economy. R. 60-61.
The ALJ thus found that Claimant was capable of performing
jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national
economy. R. 28-29. Therefore, the ALJ found that Claimant was
not disabled. R. 29.
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) (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)).
argued, in part, that the ALJ erred by failing to discuss or
weigh Ms. Jones' testimony. Doc. 24 at 19-20.
Specifically, Claimant noted Ms. Jones' testimony that
Claimant was not supposed to make adjustments to his insulin
pump on his own when his blood pressure was “really
high” or “really low” because he would get
confused and could overdose on insulin if he programmed his
insulin pump incorrectly. Id. at 20.
response, the Commissioner did not argue that the ALJ
discussed or weighed Ms. Jones' testimony. Id. at
20-21. The Commissioner argued that the ALJ's error in
failing to address Ms. Jones' testimony was harmless
because Ms. Jones' testimony was either irrelevant or
cumulative of Claimant's testimony and the medical
evidence considered by the ALJ. Id. The Commissioner
then argued that Ms. Jones' testimony that Claimant used
an insulin pump was cumulative of the medical records, and
that Ms. Jones' testimony that Claimant did not care
whether he lived or died was cumulative of Claimant's own
testimony. Id. at 21. But the Commissioner did not
argue that Ms. Jones' testimony that Claimant required
assistance to make adjustments to his insulin pump was
cumulative. Id. Instead, the Commissioner argued
that this testimony was speculative and irrelevant.
must “state the weight he accords to each item of
impairment evidence and the reasons for his decision to
accept or reject that evidence, including all testimony
presented at the previous hearing or any subsequent
hearings.” See Lucas v. Sullivan, 918 F.2d
1567, 1574 (11th Cir. 1990) (noting that the ALJ did not
review or give reasons for rejecting the claimant's
daughter's or neighbor's testimony) (citing
Gibson v. Heckler, 779 F.2d 619, 623 (11th Cir.
1986)); see also Osborn v. Barnhart, 194 F.
App'x. 654, 666 (11th Cir. 2006) (“We have held
that an ALJ must ‘state specifically the weight
accorded each item of evidence and the reasons for his
decision.'”) (quotation omitted). This includes lay
testimony from family members. See De Olazabal v. Soc.
Sec. Admin., Comm'r., 579 F. App'x 827, 832
(11th Cir. 2014) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1513(d); SSR
06-3p); Lucas, 918 F.2d at 1574; Osborn,
194 F. App'x. at 666; Martinez v. Berryhill, No.
3:15-cv-1311-J-JRK, 2017 WL 765387, at *3 (M.D. Fla. Feb. 28,
2017) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.929(c); SSR 06-3p). An
ALJ's failure to address a family member's lay
testimony is reversible error. See Lucas, 918 F.2d
at 1574; Martinez, 2017 WL 765387, at *3; Harris
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 6:08-cv-886-Orl-GJK,
2009 WL 1783434, at *12 (M.D. Fla. June 18, 2009) (stating
that the ALJ's decision must be reversed and remanded
because the court could not determine from the record whether
the ALJ overlooked the lay witness testimony, gave it some
weight, or completely disregarded it). However, the error is
harmless if the lay testimony is cumulative of other evidence
in the record such that its rejection was implicit in the
ALJ's decision. See De Olazabal, 579 F.
App'x at 832; Osborn, 194 F. App'x. at 666;
Martinez, 2017 WL 765387, at *3; Cochran v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., No. 6:15-cv-662-Orl-DAB,
2016 WL 3219644, at *3 (M.D. Fla. June 10, 2016);
Harris, 2009 WL 1783434, at *12.
it is undisputed that the ALJ did not explicitly discuss or
weigh Ms. Jones' testimony. Thus, the sole issue before
the Court is whether the ALJ's ...