United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division
Honorable Roy B. Dalton, Jr. United States District Judge
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION 
C. RICHARDSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
CAUSE is before the Court on Plaintiff's appeal
of an administrative decision denying her applications for a
period of disability, Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”), and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) payments. On April 22, 2013, Plaintiff
applied for DIB and SSI payments alleging that she became
disabled on April 3, 2013. (Tr. 213-22.) Plaintiff's
claims were denied initially and on reconsideration. A
hearing was held before the assigned Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) on July 14, 2015, at which Plaintiff was
represented by an attorney. (Tr. 43-71.) At the hearing,
Plaintiff amended her onset date to February 8, 2012. (Tr.
48-49.) However, on July 23, 2015, almost three (3) months
before the ALJ rendered a decision, Plaintiff sent written
correspondence to the ALJ rescinding her amended onset date
and requesting the ALJ to reinstate her original alleged
onset date of April 3, 2013. (Tr. 337.) The ALJ issued an
unfavorable decision on November 9, 2015, finding Plaintiff
not disabled from February 8, 2012, the amended onset date,
through November 9, 2015, the date of the decision. (Tr.
is appealing the Commissioner's decision that she was not
disabled during the relevant time period. Plaintiff has
exhausted her available administrative remedies and the case
is properly before the Court. The undersigned has reviewed
the record, the briefs, and the applicable law. For the
reasons stated herein, the undersigned respectfully
RECOMMENDS that the Commissioner's
decision be REVERSED and REMANDED.
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).
argues two general points on appeal. First, Plaintiff argues
that the ALJ failed to properly weigh the opinions of
Plaintiff's treating physician, Gregory Munson, M.D.
Specifically, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ failed to
articulate good cause for discounting Dr. Munson's
opinions. Second, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred by
devising a mental residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) determination without supporting evidence
and without ordering a consultative examination or
re-contacting Plaintiff's treating psychiatrist.
Defendant argues that the ALJ's evaluation of the medical
opinions of record is clearly articulated and supported by
substantial evidence. Defendant also argues that the ALJ
properly evaluated Plaintiff's mental RFC.
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), 416.920(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). “‘[G]ood 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. §§
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),
416.927(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, No.
8:06-cv-1863-T-27TGW, 2008 WL 649244, at *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., No.
06-15638, 2007 WL 708971, at *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 Hearing and ALJ's Decision
beginning of the July 14, 2015 hearing, the ALJ acknowledged
Plaintiff's attempt to amend her alleged onset date from
April 3, 2013 to February 8, 2012. (Tr. 49 (“Q. Okay.
Looking back at the Change of Onset Form, the Claimant has
amended the onset date to February 8th, 2012. And this form
has been signed by both the Claimant and the Claimant's
attorney. Counsel, is that information correct?”).)
Later during the hearing, however, the ALJ recognized the
lack of clarity as to Plaintiff's earnings history
subsequent to her amended onset date. Specifically, Plaintiff
testified that she returned to work after knee surgery in
February 2012, but that she was also earning short-term
disability payments during that time. (Tr. 52-53.) The
following colloquy took place:
ALJ: Counsel, the earnings reported for 2012 and 2013- ATTY:
ALJ: - I need to have that ...