United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION
C, IRICK, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Joan Nichols (Claimant) appeals to the District Court from a
final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the
Commissioner) denying her applications for disability
insurance benefits and supplemental security income. Doc. 1;
R. 1-6, 14, 161-64. Claimant argued, in part, that the
Administrative Law Judge (the ALJ) erred by failing to weigh
the opinion of John Papa, M.D., one of Claimant's
treating physicians. Doc. 27 at 28-31. For the reasons set
forth below, the Commissioner's final decision is
REVERSED and REMANDED.
THE ALJ'S DECISION
2013, Claimant filed applications for disability insurance
benefits and supplemental security income. R. 14, 161-64.
Claimant alleged a disability onset date of September 12,
2011. R. 14, 161.
issued his decision on June 12, 2015. R. 14-25. In the
decision, the ALJ found that Claimant had the following
severe impairments: reflex sympathetic dystrophy,
degenerative disc disease, fibromyalgia, obesity, sleep
apnea, adjustment disorder, and pain disorder. R. 16. The ALJ
found that Claimant had a residual functional capacity (RFC)
to perform less than a full range of light work as defined by
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b). R. 19. Specifically, the ALJ found as
[C]laimant has the residual functional capacity to perform
less than the full range of light work as defined in 20 CFR
404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). The claimant can lift and/or
carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; can
stand and/or walk for 4 hours in an 8-hour workday; can sit
for 6 hours in an 8-hour workday; can occasionally climb
stairs and ramps; can never climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds; can frequently balance; can occasionally stoop,
kneel, crouch, and crawl; can have occasional exposure to
temperature extremes; can understand and remember simple and
detailed 1, 2, and 3-step instructions and tasks; can
maintain attention, concentration, persistence, and pace for
2-hour segments of time with customary breaks between such
segments; can tolerate occasional interaction with the
public; and can tolerate occasional changes in job duties.
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. 53-54.
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. R. 24.
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)).
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).
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)).
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 bolstered by the evidence; (2) evidence supported a
contrary finding; or (3) treating physician's opinion was
conclusory or inconsistent with the doctor's own medical
records.” Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1179
(quotation marks omitted).
argued, in part, that the ALJ erred by failing to weigh, or
even discuss, Dr. Papa's opinion that Claimant could not
stand or walk for more than twenty minutes per hour. Doc. 27
at 28-31. Claimant argued that the ALJ offered no explanation