United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division
MARY E. WILEY, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION
GREGORY J. KELLY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Wiley (the “Claimant”) appeals to the District
Court a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(the “Commissioner”) denying her applications for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). Doc. No. 1.
Claimant argues that the Administrative Law Judge (the
“ALJ”) committed reversible error by: 1) failing
to state the weight given to a medical opinion from treating
psychiatrist Dr. Subramaniyam Vasudevan; 2) failing to state
the weight given to a pre-onset date medical opinion from
consulting physician Dr. Krishna Vara; and 3) providing
inadequate reasons for giving little weight to a Seizures
Medical Source Statement from treating physician Dr. Abe
Hardoon. Doc. No. 19 at 24-30. Claimant requests that the
Court reverse the Commissioner's final decision and
remand the case for further proceedings. Id. at 40.
For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's final
decision is REVERSED and
REMANDED for further proceedings.
January 11, 2013, Claimant filed her DIB and SSI applications
alleging an onset date of January 7, 2012. R. 82. On April 3,
2013, Claimant's applications were denied initially. R.
224, 229. On July 19, 2013, Claimant's applications were
denied upon reconsideration. R. 239, 244. On August 9, 2013,
Claimant requested a hearing before an ALJ. R. 249. On April
2, 2015, Claimant attended a hearing before the ALJ. R.
102-148. On May 26, 2015, the ALJ issued an unfavorable
opinion finding Claimant not disabled. R. 82-94. On June 30,
2015, Claimant requested review of the ALJ's decision. R.
76. On September 28, 2016, the Appeals Council denied
Claimant's request. R. 4. Claimant later filed a request
for an extension of time to file an appeal to this Court,
which the Commissioner granted. R. 1-2. On January 20, 2017,
Claimant filed this appeal. Doc. No. 1.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Social Security regulations delineate a five-step sequential
evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is
disabled. See Jones v. Apfel, 190 F.3d 1224, 1228
(11th Cir. 1999) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520). 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) (citations omitted). 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.
Barnes v. Sullivan, 932 F.2d 1356, 1358 (11th Cir.
1991). 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)
(citations and quotations omitted).
WEIGHING MEDICAL OPINIONS
the opinions and findings of treating, examining, and
non-examining physicians is an integral part in determining
whether a claimant is disabled. In cases involving an
ALJ's handling of medical opinions,
“substantial-evidence review ... involves some
intricacy.” Gaskin v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.,
533 F. App'x. 929, 931 (11th Cir. 2013). In Winschel
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176 (11th Cir.
2011), the Eleventh Circuit held that whenever a physician
offers a statement reflecting judgments about the nature and
severity of a claimant's impairments, including symptoms,
diagnosis, and prognosis, what the claimant can still do
despite his or her impairments, and the claimant's
physical and mental restrictions, the statement is an opinion
requiring the ALJ to state with particularity the weight
given to it and the reasons therefor. Id. at 1178-79
(citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(a)(2), 416.927(a)(2);
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.” Winschel,
631 F.3d at 1179 (citations omitted). See also MacGregor
v. Bowen, 786 F.2d 1050, 1053 (11th Cir. 1986) (finding
that a failure to state with particularity the weight given
to medical opinions and the reasons therefor constitutes
reversible error). An ALJ may not “implicitly
discount” or ignore any medical opinion.
Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178-79; MacGregor,
786 F.2d at 1053; McClurkin v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 625
F. App'x. 960, 962-63 (11th Cir. 2015) (finding that it
is reversible error for the ALJ to fail to state weight given
to a non-examining physician's opinion).
good cause, the opinion of a treating physician must be given
substantial or considerable weight. Lamb v. Bowen,
847 F.2d 698, 703 (11th Cir. 1988). However, good cause
exists to give a treating physician's opinion less than
substantial weight when the opinion is not bolstered by the
evidence, evidence supports a contrary finding, or the
opinion is conclusory or inconsistent with the
physician's medical records. Phillips v.
Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1240-41 (11th Cir. 2004)
(citing Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1440 (11th
12, 2014, Dr. Vasudevan completed a Medical Opinion Re:
Ability to do Work-Related Activities (Mental) Form. R.
742-743. Dr. Vasudevan found that Claimant is seriously
limited as to a number of mental abilities including:
understanding, remembering, and carrying out very short and
simple instructions; maintaining attention for two-hour
segments; working in coordination with or proximity to others
without being unduly distracted; making simple work-related
decisions; accepting instructions and responding
appropriately to criticism from supervisors; getting along
with co-workers or peers without unduly distracting them or
exhibiting behavioral extremes; responding appropriately to
changes in a routine work setting; and interacting
appropriately with the general public. Id. According
to the form, “seriously limited” means that the
claimant has noticeable difficulty in performing a particular
task from eleven to twenty percent of the workday or
workweek. R. 742.
found that Claimant had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform less than a full range of
light work with the following mental limitations: Claimant
requires simple routine work tasks; Claimant can maintain
attention and concentration for two-hour segments during an
eight-hour workday; Claimant is able to adapt to gradual
changes in a routine work environment; and Claimant can
interact frequently with supervisors and co-workers, with
occasional interaction with the general public. R. 86. The
ALJ mentions Dr. Vasudevan's opinion when determining
Claimant's RFC, but she did not state with particularity
the weight given to the opinion and the reasons therefor. R.
argues that the ALJ committed reversible error by failing to
state with particularity the weight given to Dr.
Vasudevan's opinion and the reasons therefor. Doc. No. 19
at 24-25. The Commissioner does not contest that Dr.
Vasudevan's opinion is a medical opinion or that the ALJ
failed to state with particularity the weight given to that
opinion. Id. at 33-35. Instead, the Commissioner
argues that the ALJ “implicitly ...