United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division
VINCENT W. AMBROSE, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER 
R. KLINDT United States Magistrate Judge.
W. Ambrose (“Plaintiff”) is appealing the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration's
final decision denying his claims for disability insurance
benefits (“DIB”). Plaintiff's alleged
inability to work is a result of a “lumbar back injury,
” “S/P lumbar laminectomy, ” “S/P
stent placement, ” coronary artery disease, high blood
pressure, high cholesterol, and sleep apnea. Transcript of
Administrative Proceedings (Doc. No. 11; “Tr.” or
“administrative transcript”), filed December 27,
2016, at 62-63, 72, 169 (emphasis and capitalization
omitted). On February 25, 2014, Plaintiff filed an
application for DIB, alleging an onset disability date of
June 2, 2013. Tr. at 144. Plaintiff's application was denied
initially, see Tr. at 62-70, 71, 88, 89-90, and was
denied upon reconsideration, see Tr. at 72-85, 86,
September 10, 2015, an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) held a hearing, during which he heard
from Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, and a
vocational expert (“VE”). Tr. at 37-61. At the
time of the hearing, Plaintiff was fifty-three years old. Tr.
at 39-40. The ALJ issued a Decision on October 5, 2015,
finding Plaintiff not disabled through the date of the
Decision. Tr. at 14-31.
Appeals Council then received additional evidence consisting
of medical records from treating physician Dr. Arkam Rehman
dated November 4, 2014 to September 30, 2015. Tr. at 5;
see Tr. at 534-74 (medical records). On August 5,
2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for
review, Tr. at 1-4, thereby making the ALJ's Decision the
final decision of the Commissioner. On October 3, 2016,
Plaintiff commenced this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)
by timely filing a Complaint (Doc. No. 1), seeking judicial
review of the Commissioner's final decision.
appeal, Plaintiff makes two arguments. First, Plaintiff
contends that the ALJ improperly relied on Dr. Ashutosh
Pradhan's opinion in rejecting the opinion of Dr. Rehman
“that [Plaintiff] could not work due to failed back
surgery and [Plaintiff's] pain and other symptoms”
and in making the credibility finding. Plaintiff's Brief
(Doc. No. 19; “Pl.'s Br.”), filed March 27,
2017, at 1, 13; see Pl.'s Br. at 9-12. In making
this argument, Plaintiff also asserts that “[t]he
ALJ's analysis of [Plaintiff's] pain and other
symptoms was tainted by the ALJ's reliance on Dr.
Pradhan's opinion . . . .” Id. at 13.
Second, Plaintiff asserts that “[t]he
Commissioner's finding that [Plaintiff] retains the
residual functional capacity [(“RFC”)] to perform
jobs available in significant numbers in the national economy
is not supported by the [VE] testimony.” Id.
at 1; see i d. at 13-15. On May 26, 2017, Defendant
filed a Memorandum in Support of the Commissioner's
Decision (Doc. No. 20; “Def.'s Mem.”)
addressing Plaintiff's arguments. After a thorough review
of the entire record and consideration of the parties'
respective memoranda, the undersigned determines that the
Commissioner's final decision is due to be affirmed.
The ALJ's Decision
determining whether an individual is disabled,  an ALJ must
follow the five-step sequential inquiry set forth in the Code
of Federal Regulations (“Regulations”),
determining as appropriate whether the claimant (1) is
currently employed or engaging in substantial gainful
activity; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has an impairment
or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals
one listed in the Regulations; (4) can perform past relevant
work; and (5) retains the ability to perform any work in the
national economy. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920;
see also Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1237
(11th Cir. 2004). The claimant bears the burden of persuasion
through step four and, at step five, the burden shifts to the
Commissioner. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146
the ALJ followed the five-step sequential inquiry.
See Tr. at 16-31. At step one, the ALJ determined
that Plaintiff “has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since June 2, 2013, the alleged onset date.”
Tr. at 16 (emphasis and citation omitted). At step two, the
ALJ found that Plaintiff “has the following severe
impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine
with sciatica; cervical radiculitis; coronary artery disease
(CAD), status post stent placement; hypertension; and
obesity.” Tr. at 16 (emphasis and citation omitted). At
step three, the ALJ ascertained that Plaintiff “does
not have an impairment or combination of impairments that
meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 [C.F.R.] Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix
1.” Tr. at 18 (emphasis and citation omitted).
determined that Plaintiff has the following RFC:
[Plaintiff can] perform light work as defined in 20 [C.F.R.
§] 404.1567(b) except he needs a sit/stand option (needs
to be able to sit or stand at his option, but can maintain
[thirty]-minute increments/cycles to perform the tasks
assigned); needs to avoid ladders or unprotected heights;
needs to avoid the operation of heavy moving machinery; needs
to avoid concentrated dust, fumes, or gases; occasionally
bend, crouch, kneel, or stoop; needs to avoid squatting or
crawling; needs to avoid the operation of foot controls;
needs a monocane for ambulation; and has a [ten]-pound
frequent and occasional weight limit.
Tr. at 18 (emphasis omitted). At step four, the ALJ relied on
the VE testimony and found that Plaintiff “is unable to
perform any past relevant work.” Tr. at 29 (emphasis
and citation omitted). At step five, after considering
Plaintiff's age (“[fifty-one] years old . . . on
the alleged disability onset date”), education
(“at least a high school education”), work
experience, and RFC, the ALJ again relied on the testimony of
the VE and found that Plaintiff “has acquired work
skills from past relevant work that are transferable to other
occupations with jobs existing in significant numbers in the
national economy.” Tr. at 30 (emphasis and citation
omitted); see Tr. at 30-31. Specifically, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff can perform the job of a cardiac monitor
technician. Tr. at 31. The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff
“has not been under a disability . . . from June 2,
2013, through the date of th[e D]ecision.” Tr. at 31
(emphasis and citation omitted).
Standard of Review
Court reviews the Commissioner's final decision as to
disability pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Although no
deference is given to the ALJ's conclusions of law,
findings of fact “are conclusive if . . . supported by
‘substantial evidence' . . . .” Doughty
v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001) (citing
Falge v. Apfel, 150 F.3d 1320, 1322 (11th Cir.
1998)). “Substantial evidence is something ‘more
than a mere scintilla, but less than a
preponderance.'” Dyer v. Barnhart, 395
F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005) (quoting Hale v.
Bowen, 831 F.2d 1007, 1011 (11th Cir. 1987)). The
substantial evidence standard is met when there is
“‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind
might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'”
Falge, 150 F.3d at 1322 (quoting Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). It is not for this
Court to reweigh the evidence; rather, the entire record is
reviewed to determine whether “the decision reached is
reasonable and supported by substantial evidence.”
Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145 (11th
Cir. 1991) (internal quotation and citations omitted);
see also McRoberts v. Bowen, 841 F.2d 1077, 1080
(11th Cir. 1988); Walker v. Bowen, 826 F.2d 996, 999
(11th Cir. 1987). The decision reached by the Commissioner
must be affirmed if it is supported by substantial
evidence-even if the evidence preponderates against the
Commissioner's findings. Crawford v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158-59 (11th Cir. 2004) (per
noted, Plaintiff takes issue with the ALJ's reliance on
Dr. Pradhan's opinion to reject Dr. Rehman's opinion,
the effect this reliance had on the ALJ's credibility
issue, and the ALJ's five-step finding. See
Pl.'s Br. at 9-15. These arguments, and the law
applicable to each, are addressed in turn.
Medical Opinions and Credibility Finding
argues that “[t]he ALJ erred in accepting Dr.
Pradhan's interpretation of the severity of
[Plaintiff's] lumbar spine condition over the opinion of
Dr. Rehman.” Pl.'s Br. at 10. According to
Plaintiff, the ALJ's reliance on Dr. Pradhan's
opinion was improper because Dr. Pradhan's opinion
“does not appear to have been based on a complete set
of objective testing.” Id. at 10.
Specifically, Plaintiff asserts that “Dr. Pradhan never
mentioned the 2013 EMG[ ] findings that corroborated
[Plaintiff's] lower extremity pain and symptoms, ”
while Dr. Rehman indicated that the “2013 EMG[ ] showed
right L4 and L5 radiculopathy and predominantly motor
polyneuropathy.” Id. Further, according to
Plaintiff, Dr. Pradhan treated Plaintiff “a handful of
times whereas Dr. Rehman continued to treat [Plaintiff] and
ordered the lower extremity EMG[ ] testing that corroborated
his opinions as far as failed surgery.” Id.
Plaintiff also asserts that the ALJ's reliance on Dr.
Pradhan's opinion “tainted” the ALJ's
credibility determination. Id. at 13.
Defendant contends the ALJ properly discounted Dr.
Rehman's opinion because Dr. Rehman “did not
indicate his judgment about the nature and severity of
Plaintiff's impairments and what he could do despite his
impairments and only indicated that Plaintiff was precluded
from working his current ‘occupation.'”
Def.'s Mem. at 6 (citation omitted). With regard to Dr.
Rehman's opinion that Plaintiff was totally disabled,
Defendant argues that this opinion “was not entitled to
any special significance” as it involves an issue
reserved for the Commissioner. Id. at 6-7. Defendant
further asserts that, as the ALJ indicated, Dr. Rehman's
opinion was “inconsistent with the record as a
whole.” Id. at 7. As to the ALJ's
credibility determination, Defendant argues that the