United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division
ANGELEA H. MCDONALD, Plaintiff,
ACTING COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER 
C. RICHARDSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
THIS 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”), alleging disability
beginning January 15, 2009. (Tr. 12.) A hearing was held
before the assigned Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) on February 20, 2015, at which Plaintiff
was represented by counsel. (Tr. 26-58.) The ALJ found
Plaintiff not disabled from January 15, 2009 through December
31, 2013, her date last insured. (Tr. 12-21.)
reaching the decision, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had
“the following severe impairments: cervical disc
disease, lumbar disc disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary
disease (COPD), bipolar disorder, posttraumatic stress
disorder (PTSD), syncope and gastroesophageal reflux
disease.” (Tr. 14.) The ALJ also found that Plaintiff
had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to
perform a reduced range of light work. (Tr. 16.) Ultimately,
the ALJ found that through the date last insured, Plaintiff
was capable of performing her past relevant work of an
administrative clerk as actually and generally performed.
is appealing the Commissioner's decision that she was not
disabled from January 15, 2009 through December 31, 2013.
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
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).
raises three issues on appeal. First, she argues that the ALJ
did not explain the weight assigned to Dr. Dennis Dewey's
treating opinions or provide good cause for not crediting
these opinions. Further, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ
erred by failing to include the opinions of the State agency
psychologists, Lawrence Annis, Ph.D. and Lee Reback, Psy.D.,
in the RFC assessment, despite assigning these opinions
significant weight. Finally, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ
erred by failing to address Dr. William Sessions'
opinions that Plaintiff was unable to work due to her
physical and mental impairments.
responds that any error in the ALJ's consideration of Dr.
Dewey's opinions was harmless because the past relevant
work identified by the ALJ included all of the limitations in
Dr. Dewey's opinions. Defendant further argues that any
error in the ALJ's consideration of the State agency
psychologists' opinions was also harmless. Defendant
explains that the findings of moderate limitations are not
part of the actual mental RFC, because the actual mental RFC
assessment is recorded in the narrative discussions, which
describe how the evidence supports each conclusion. In the
narrative discussions, Dr. Annis and Dr. Reback stated that
Plaintiff may occasionally experience some decrease in
concentration and may have some difficulty adapting to
change; according to Defendant, these are not definitive
opinions about Plaintiff's limitations. Also, even
assuming that the ALJ's RFC assessment, which provided
that Plaintiff would be off task up to 10% of the workday,
did not fully account for the State agency psychologists'
opinions that Plaintiff should not perform fast paced or
quota driven work, Defendant argues that any error is
harmless because the past relevant work, as actually
performed, was neither fast paced nor quota driven. Finally,
Defendant argues that any error in the ALJ's
consideration of Dr. Sessions' opinions was harmless
because aside from the fact that these opinions were on
issues reserved to the Commissioner, even if they were
credited, they would not establish that Plaintiff had
disabling limitations for any consecutive twelve-month period
before the date last insured.
Standard for Evaluating Opinion Evidence
is required to consider all the evidence in the record when
making a disability determination. See 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a)(3). With regard to medical opinion
evidence, “the ALJ must state with particularity the
weight given to different medical opinions and the reasons
therefor.” Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1179 (11th Cir. 2011). Substantial
weight must be given to a treating physician's opinion
unless there is good cause to do otherwise. See Lewis v.
Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1440 (11th Cir. 1997).
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.” Phillips v. Barnhart,
357 F.3d 1232, 1240-41 (11th Cir. 2004). When a treating
physician's opinion does not warrant controlling weight,
the ALJ must nevertheless weigh the medical opinion based on:
(1) the length of the treatment relationship and the
frequency of examination, (2) the nature and extent of the
treatment relationship, (3) the medical evidence supporting
the opinion, (4) consistency of the medical opinion with the
record as a whole, (5) specialization in the medical issues
at issue, and (6) any other factors that tend to support or
contradict the opinion. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2)-(6).
“However, the ALJ is not required to explicitly address
each of those factors. Rather, the ALJ must provide
‘good cause' for rejecting a treating
physician's medical opinions.” Lawton v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 431 Fed.Appx. 830, 833 (11th
Cir. June 22, 2011) (per curiam).
a treating physician's opinion is generally entitled to
more weight than a consulting physician's opinion,
see Wilson v. Heckler, 734 F.2d 513, 518 (11th Cir.
1984) (per curiam); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2),
“[t]he opinions of state agency physicians” can
outweigh the contrary opinion of a treating physician if
“that opinion has been properly discounted, ”
Cooper v. Astrue, 2008 WL 649244, *3 (M.D. Fla. Mar.
10, 2008). Further, “the ALJ may reject any medical
opinion if the evidence supports a contrary finding.”
Wainwright v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 2007
WL 708971, *2 (11th Cir. Mar. 9, 2007) (per curiam); see
also Sryock v. Heckler, 764 F.2d 834, 835 (11th Cir.
1985) (per curiam) (same).
ALJ is required to consider the opinions of non-examining
state agency medical and psychological consultants because
they ‘are highly qualified physicians and
psychologists, who are also experts in Social Security
disability evaluation.'” Milner v.
Barnhart, 275 Fed.Appx. 947, 948 (11th Cir. May 2, 2008)
(per curiam); see also SSR 96-6p (stating that the
ALJ must treat the findings of State agency medical
consultants as expert opinion evidence of non-examining
sources). While the ALJ is not bound by the findings of
non-examining physicians, the ALJ may not ignore these
opinions and must explain the weight given to them in his
decision. SSR 96-6p.
The ALJ's Decision
found that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform light exertional
[The claimant] can occasionally reach overhead and
occasionally climb ramps and stairs. The claimant can never
crawl and she cannot work around unprotected heights, moving
mechanical parts or have any concentrated exposure to
humidity, wetness, dust, fumes or gases. She cannot work in
any environments with temperature extremes. The claimant will
be off task up to 10% of the workday.
(Tr. 16.) In making this finding, the ALJ considered
Plaintiff's statements, the objective medical evidence,
and the opinions of treating, examining, and non-examining
sources. (See Tr. 16-20.)
addressed Dr. Dewey's opinions as follows:
Dennis D. Dewey, MD examined the claimant in November 2011
for her reported low back pain. She said that her pain was in
the right lumbosacral area that radiated, at times, into the
posterior thigh and lower leg. She stated that her pain was
increased with bending forward and lifting. On physical
examination she appeared quite anxious and tearful, she had
decreased range of motion in her lumbar spine and she
ambulated bent forward as she was unable to straighten
without significant back pain. The claimant had an MRI of her
lumbar spine in January 2012 that showed L4-5 mild to
moderate central canal and bilateral neural foraminal
narrowings with bilateral L4 nerve root abutment and possible
right L4 nerve root mild impingement and L5-S1 bilateral
moderate to marked neural foraminal stenosis with bilateral
L5 nerve root compressions (Exhibit 3F). . . .
The claimant returned to see Dr. Dewey in February 2012. He
said the claimant would benefit from a neurosurgical
consultation and/or long-term pain management with injection
type treatments. With regards to her occupational
functioning, he opined that she would be best suited for a
job that would allow her to sit and stand at will and would
not require her to stand or walk for any extended period of
time or require any frequent bending or lifting (Exhibit 3F).
then determined that Plaintiff's statements regarding her
symptoms were not entirely credible. (Tr. 19.) With respect
to Plaintiff's physical impairments, the ALJ stated:
[T]hese conditions are not as severe as she has alleged. She
has had very little treatment for such allegedly disabling
conditions and has not required any hospitalizations for her
cervical disc disease, lumbar disc disease, COPD or GERD. She
was hospitalized for a single episode of syncope in 2011,
however, she has not required any further emergent treatment
for this condition (Exhibit 1F). Additionally, William H.
Sessions, MD said, in March 2012, that the claimant had no
point tenderness in her back, she had adequate range of
motion and her reflexes were adequate (Exhibit 4F/2).
Furthermore, a physical examination of the claimant in
September 2013 indicated that she had pain with range of
motion in her back, otherwise the examination was
unremarkable. She was instructed in performing Tai Chi
exercises and told to perform stretching exercises before
getting out of bed (Exhibit 9F, 11F). In December 2013, she
had decreased range of motion in her back but no tenderness
and her straight leg raise testing was normal (Exhibits 10F,
11F). The claimant's ...