United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
C. RICHARDSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
CAUSE is before the Court on Plaintiff's appeal
of an administrative decision denying her application for a
period of disability and disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”). Plaintiff alleges she became disabled on
November 1, 2012. (Tr. 177.) A hearing was held before the
assigned Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on June
4, 2015, at which Plaintiff was represented by an attorney.
(Tr. 53-83.) The ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled from
November 1, 2012 through June 29, 2015, the date of the
decision. (Tr. 15-27.)
reaching the decision, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had
“the following severe impairments: disorders of the
spine; anxiety disorder; fibromyalgia/inflammatory arthritis;
osteoarthritis; migraine headaches; disorders of the left
shoulder; neuropathy; and carpal tunnel syndrome [status
post] left-sided surgical release.” (Tr. 17.) The ALJ
then found that Plaintiff had the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform a reduced range of
light work. (Tr. 19-20.) Then, after finding that Plaintiff
was unable to perform her past relevant work, the ALJ
concluded that Plaintiff could perform other jobs existing in
significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 25-26.)
is appealing the Commissioner's decision that she was not
disabled from November 1, 2012 through June 29, 2015.
Plaintiff has exhausted her available administrative remedies
and the case is properly before the Court. The Court has
reviewed the record, the briefs, and the applicable law. For
the reasons stated herein, the Commissioner's decision is
Standard of Review
scope of this Court's review is limited to determining
whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards,
McRoberts v. Bowen, 841 F.2d 1077, 1080 (11th Cir.
1988), and whether the Commissioner's findings are
supported by substantial evidence, Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971). “Substantial
evidence is more than a scintilla and is such relevant
evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Crawford v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004). 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 district court must view the evidence
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); accord Lowery v.
Sullivan, 979 F.2d 835, 837 (11th Cir. 1992) (stating
the court must scrutinize the entire record to determine the
reasonableness of the Commissioner's factual findings).
The ALJ Properly Evaluated Dr. Rocha's Opinions
first argument is that the ALJ's RFC finding is deficient
as a matter of law because it does not accurately describe
all of Plaintiff's impairments and limitations.
Specifically, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to
consider the seven consistent opinions of her treating
physician, Lily Rocha, M.D., regarding her work-related
limitations, which were issued on February 22, 2013, May 27,
2013, June 21, 2013, July 19, 2013 (three separate opinions),
and September 16, 2013. Plaintiff points out that each of Dr.
Rocha's opinions establishes that Plaintiff is unable to
sit, stand, and walk, in combination, for the duration of an
eight-hour workday due to her physical impairments, that she
is limited to no more than sedentary lifting and carrying
requirements, and that she would be absent from work over two
days a month. Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to provide
good/specific/supported reasons for assigning very limited
weight to Dr. Rocha's opinions as to Plaintiff's
physical limitations. Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ failed
to address the § 404.1527 factors when weighing Dr.
Rocha's opinions and considered the subject opinions in
isolation from each other. At the same time, Plaintiff
asserts that the ALJ did not address each opinion
individually as he should have, given that the opinions are
premised on different impairments. Plaintiff further argues
that the ALJ erred in his evaluation of Dr. Rocha's
opinions with respect to Plaintiff's mental limitations.
Plaintiff explains that despite giving these opinions great
weight, the ALJ failed to incorporate them into the RFC
finding or explain why they were excluded therefrom.
According to Plaintiff, the ALJ gave great weight to Dr.
Rocha's opinion that Plaintiff would be absent from work
more than two days a month, but failed to incorporate this
opinion in his findings without an explanation.
responds that the ALJ properly considered Dr. Rocha's
opinions in assessing Plaintiff's RFC. Defendant asserts
that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision to
give little weight to Dr. Rocha's opinions in regards to
Plaintiff's physical impairments. As to Dr. Rocha's
opinions with respect to Plaintiff's mental impairments,
Defendant argues that Plaintiff misreads the ALJ's
decision and that the ALJ properly afforded great weight to
Dr. Rocha's opinion that Plaintiff's anxiety did not
significantly interfere with her functioning.
The ALJ's Decision
determined that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform a reduced
range of light work as follows:
[Plaintiff] needs to be able to perform her tasks in either
the seated or standing position at her option; she needs to
avoid ladders or unprotected heights; she needs to avoid the
operation of heavy moving machinery; she is limited to
occasional bending, crouching, kneeling and stooping; she
needs to avoid squatting and crawling; she needs to avoid the
push and pull of arm controls; she needs to avoid overhead
reaching; she needs to avoid the operation of foot controls;
and she needs simple tasks with low stress and no production
making this determination, the ALJ considered, among others,
the opinions of Dr. Rocha. He noted:
Throughout 2013 and 2014, the claimant followed up with her
primary care physician, Lily Rocha, MD, who prescribed a
variety of medications for the claimant's impairments,
provided referrals to specialists, and monitored blood work.
Dr. Rocha provided numerous disability opinions, but her
treatment notes are handwritten and include minimal detail or
explanation of findings; therefore, they are less useful than
other records (see e.g., Exhibit 29F).
(Tr. 21-22.) The ALJ weighed Dr. Rocha's opinions as
The numerous and repetitive Medical Source Statements from
treating primary care physician Lily Rocha, MD, are given
limited weight because they indicate fairly extreme
limitations that are largely unsupported by Dr. Rocha's
treatment notes and which conflict with some of the opinions
offered by specialists, including the claimant's
orthopedist, regarding her ability to perform fine and gross
manipulation and overhead reaching. For example, Dr. Rocha
indicates that the claimant cannot perform manipulative
motions with her hands on a sustained basis, which is
contrary to the orthopedic surgeon's opinion, but Dr.
Rocha states that the claimant can reach overhead 100% of the
time, which is contradicted by the evidence and the
claimant's statements regarding her left shoulder
disorder (Exhibits 4F, 7F-9F, 12F, 14F, 20F and 23F-26F). As
such, these opinions were given very limited weight, and only
to the extent that they were consistent with other medical
evidence of record.
Conversely, Dr. Rocha's opinions regarding the
claimant's anxiety, namely that it does not significantly
interfere with her functioning and that it would not preclude
an ability to perform simple tasks, are given great weight as
they are consistent with the overall medical evidence of
record and with the claimant's reported symptoms and
conservative treatment (Exhibits 6F, 19F and 30F).