Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Farnstrom v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division

March 29, 2018

CAROL ANN FARNSTROM, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          DANIEL C. IRICK UNITES STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Carol Ann Farnstrom (Claimant) appeals to the District Court from a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the Commissioner) denying her application for disability insurance benefits (DIB). Doc. 1; R. 1-5, 159-60. Claimant argued that the Administrative Law Judge (the ALJ) erred by: (1) failing to fully and fairly develop the record; and (2) failing to apply the correct legal standards to the opinions of Anne-Marie Nicolas, Psy.D. Doc. 17 at 9-14, 19-21. For the reasons set forth below, it is RECOMMENDED that the Commissioner's final decision be AFFIRMED.

         I. THE ALJ'S DECISION

         Claimant applied for DIB in September, 2012. R. 159-60. Claimant alleged a disability onset date of December 2, 2011. Id.

         On May 10, 2013, Claimant filed a written request for a hearing. R. 15. On July 20, 2015, Claimant appeared before the ALJ for a hearing. R. 536. At the hearing, the ALJ informed Claimant of her right to be represented at the hearing by an attorney or non-attorney. R. 542-43. Claimant waived her right to representation. Id.

         The ALJ issued his decision on January 12, 2016. R. 15-26. In the decision, the ALJ found that Claimant had the following severe impairments: early degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, cervical strain, bipolar disorder, and anxiety. R. 17. The ALJ found that Claimant had a residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform less than a full range of medium work as defined by 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(c).[1] R. 19. Specifically, the ALJ found as follows:

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) with limitations. The claimant can lift, carry, push, and pull 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently. The claimant can sit for 4 hours at one time for a total of 8 hours in an 8-hour workday. The claimant can stand and walk for 4 hours at one time for a total of 8 hours in an 8-hour workday. The claimant can occasionally climb ladders and can frequently climb stairs and ramps. The claimant can frequently balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. The claimant is unable to perform complex tasks but can perform simple and routine tasks consistent with unskilled work and can maintain concentration on such tasks for 2-hour periods with normal breaks and a lunch. The claimant must interact with the public, co-workers, and supervisors no more than occasionally.

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. 597-98. Therefore, the ALJ found that Claimant was not disabled. R. 24-26.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         “In 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 district 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)).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Failure to Fully and Fairly Develop the Record

         The ALJ has a basic duty to develop a full and fair record. Graham v. Apfel, 129 F.3d 1420, 1422 (11th Cir. 1997).[2] This duty generally requires the ALJ to assist in gathering medical evidence, and to order a consultative examination when such an evaluation is necessary to make an informed decision. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.912. There must be a showing that the ALJ's failure to develop the record led to evidentiary gaps in the record, which resulted in unfairness or clear prejudice, before the court will remand a case for further development of the record. Graham, 129 F.3d at 1423 (citing Brown, 44 F.3d at 934-35).

         Claimant argued that the ALJ failed to fully and fairly develop the record. Doc. 17 at 9-14. Specifically, Claimant argued that the ALJ erred by failing to request Claimant's medical records from Richard D. Potts, M.D., a doctor whom Claimant began seeing approximately one month prior to the hearing and who opined that Claimant suffered from limitations more severe than those that the ALJ accounted for in the RFC. Id. Claimant argued that Dr. Potts' records were “extremely important” to her case, especially given the ALJ's decision to reject Dr. Potts' opinion, in part, because the opinion was “not supported by findings contained in [Dr. Potts'] own treatment records.” Id. She argued that the ALJ did not have all of the medical records necessary to make that finding and that there was no documentation in the record of any of Claimant's visits with Dr. Potts' from prior to September 2015. Id.

         In response, the Commissioner argued, in part, that Claimant “made no showing that Dr. Potts had additional records.” Id. at 14-19. The undersigned agrees.

         On July 20, 2015, Claimant appeared before the ALJ for a hearing. R. 536. At the hearing, the following exchange took place with regard to Dr. Potts:

Q Who's, who's Dr. Potts?
A He's a new doctor that I started seeing and helped me get back on medicine.
A He's probably not in your records.
Q Okay.
A He's - - that, that was the form I brought today. He filled out a functional -- residual functional capacity form for me so.
Q So where's his treatment record, though?
A You mean as far as his records?
Q Yeah.
A I'd probably have to get them and submit them for you.
Q I mean, I could order for you - -
A Yeah.
Q I mean, that opinion that I (PHONETIC) have not treatment ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.