United States District Court, N.D. Florida, Gainesville Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
R. JONES United States Magistrate Judge
appeals to this Court from a final decision of the Acting
Commissioner of Social Security (the
“Commissioner”) denying Plaintiff's
application for period of disability and disability insurance
benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act
(“the Act”) and supplemental security income
under Title XVI of the Act. (ECF No. 1.) The Commissioner has
answered (ECF No. 13), and both parties have filed briefs
outlining their respective positions. (ECF Nos. 18, 19.) For
the reasons discussed below, it is recommended that the
Commissioner's decision be affirmed.
protectively filed his Title II and Title XVI applications,
alleging a disability onset date of July 26, 2007. (R. 58-59,
219-41.) His application was denied initially and upon
reconsideration. (R. 149-76.) Following a hearing on April
15, 2015, an administrative law judge (“ALJ”)
issued a decision unfavorable to Plaintiff. (R. 38-49.) The
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review.
(R. 1-4.) On July 20, 2017, Plaintiff filed the instant
appeal. (ECF No. 1.)
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Commissioner's findings of fact are conclusive if
supported by substantial evidence. See 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g) (2000). 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),
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct.
1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971)); accord Edwards v.
Sullivan, 937 F.2d 580, 584 n.3 (11th Cir. 1991).
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, 937 F.2d at 584 n.3; 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. However, the
district court will reverse the Commissioner's decision
on plenary review if the decision applies incorrect law, or
if the decision fails to provide the district court with
sufficient reasoning to determine that the Commissioner
properly applied the law. Keeton v. Dep't Health
& Human Servs., 21 F.3d 1064, 1066 (11th Cir. 1994).
defines disability as the inability to do any substantial
gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable
physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result
in death, or has lasted or can be expected to last for a
continuous period of not less than twelve months. 42 U.S.C.
§§ 416(I), 423(d)(1); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505
(2005). The impairment must be severe, making
Plaintiff unable to do his previous work, or any other
substantial gainful activity which exists in the national
economy. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2); 20 C.F.R. §§
must follow five steps in evaluating a claim of disability.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. The claimant has
the burden of proving the existence of a disability as
defined by the Social Security Act. Carnes v.
Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1215, 1218 (11th Cir. 1991). First,
if a claimant is working at a substantial gainful activity,
he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). Second, if
a claimant does not have any impairment or combination of
impairments which significantly limit his physical or mental
ability to do basic work activities, then he does not have a
severe impairment and is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(c). Third, if a claimant's impairments meet or
equal an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1, he is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d).
Fourth, if a claimant's impairments do not prevent him
from doing past relevant work, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(e). Fifth, if a claimant's impairments
(considering his residual functional capacity
(“RFC”), age, education, and past work) prevent
him from doing other work that exists in the national
economy, then he is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f).
SUMMARY OF THE RECORD
medical records cover the time period from 2008 to 2015 and
are from the Florida Department of Corrections, Palms Medical
Group, University Opticians, Meridian Behavioral Healthcare,
Shands at the University of Florida, University of Florida
Physicians, UF Community Health and Family Medicine, and the
Alachua County Health Department. Because Plaintiff's
only argument on appeal relates to his mental health
impairments, the relevant portions of the medical record,
opinion evidence, hearing testimony, and the ALJ's
findings are summarized below.
regard to Plaintiff's mental health, Plaintiff's
records from the Florida Department of Corrections disclose
that Plaintiff underwent an initial psychological screening
in 2008. His mental status examination revealed normal
findings, except that Plaintiff appeared sad and experienced
persistent tension or stress. Plaintiff reported having a
depressed mood, changes in energy, poor concentration, racing
thoughts, and symptoms of panic attacks and mania, including
mood swings. It was noted that Plaintiff's immediate and
remote memory were intact and that his judgment and insight
were adequate. Further, his records show that he experienced
mood swings in 2009 and that he was on psychotropic
medication throughout the time period from 2009 to 2012. (R.
also visited Meridian Behavioral Helathcare regarding his
mental health issues. In 2012 and 2013 the objective findings
were normal and appropriate or unremarkable. His diagnoses
included bipolar disorder, alcohol dependence, depression,
and PTSD. (R. 430-37, 448-56.)
Plaintiff's other medical visits unrelated to mental
health, it was noted that Plaintiff had a history of bipolar
disorder, anxiety, and PTSD. Additionally, all of his
psychiatric and neurological examination findings as part of
his physical exams were normal, including findings that he
had a ...