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Yousif v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, M.D. Florida

June 14, 2018

FATIN YOUSIF, Plaintiff,



         Fatin Yousif (the “Claimant”) appeals to the District Court a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the “Commissioner”) denying her application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). Doc. No. 1. Claimant argues that the Administrative Law Judge (the “ALJ”) committed reversible error by: 1) giving little weight to the medical opinions of Drs. Todd Gates and Abdulmassih Abdulmassih for reasons that are not supported by substantial evidence; and 2) applying improper legal standards when making a finding on Claimant's credibility. Doc. No. 19 at 15-20, 31-35. Claimant requests that the Commissioner's final decision be reversed and remanded for further proceedings. Id. at 40. For the reasons stated below, it is ORDERED that the Commissioner's final decision is REVERSED and REMANDED for further proceedings.


         On July 19, 2013, Claimant filed her SSI application alleging a disability onset date of July 19, 2013. R. 10, 104. On November 19, 2013, Claimant's application was denied initially. R. 10. On February 11, 2014, Claimant's application was denied upon reconsideration. Id. On March 5, 2014, Claimant requested a hearing before an ALJ. R. 132. On March 30, 2016, Claimant attended a hearing before the ALJ. R. 40-89. On June 22, 2016, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding Claimant not disabled. R. 10-19. Claimant requested review of the ALJ's decision, but the Appeals Council denied Claimant's request on May 25, 2017. R. 1-4. On July 17, 2017, Claimant filed this appeal. Doc. No. 1.


         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 Court must take 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) (citations and quotations omitted).


         Weighing 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).[1] 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).

         Absent good cause, the opinion of a treating physician must be given substantial weight. Lamb v. Bowen, 847 F.2d 698, 703 (11th Cir. 1988). 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 Cir. 1997)).

         “The ALJ must state the grounds for his decision with clarity to enable [the court] to conduct meaningful review …. Absent such explanation, it is unclear whether substantial evidence supported the ALJ's findings; and the decision does not provide a meaningful basis upon which [the court] can review [a claimant's] case.” Hanna v. Astrue, 395 Fed.Appx. 634, 636 (11th Cir. 2010). With regard to an ALJ's findings regarding a claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”), “the ALJ must link the RFC assessment to specific evidence in the record bearing upon the claimant's ability to perform the physical, mental, sensory, and other requirements of work.” Salter v. Astrue, No. CA 11-00681-C, 2012 WL 3817791, at * 6 (S.D. Ala. Sept. 4, 2012). “Such linkage, moreover, may not be manufactured speculatively by the Commissioner … on appeal, but rather, must be clearly set forth in the ALJ's decision.” Hunter v. Colvin, No. CA 2:12-00077-C, 2013 WL 1219746, at * 9 (S.D. Ala. Mar. 25, 2013) (citing authority).


         A. Dr. Gates

         On November 2015, Claimant was admitted to the Circles of Care facility in Melbourne, Florida. R. 525. Claimant was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, had suicidal ideations, and had a depressed and anxious mood.[2] R. 525-26. Claimant denied any hallucinations and was alert and oriented as to her person and place, but it was difficult to tell if she was oriented as to time. R. 525. Claimant did not appear to be responding to internal stimuli and her speech did not appear to be sequential. R. 525-26. Claimant was given a Global Assessment of Functioning Score (“GAF Score”) of 65. R. 526. Upon discharge, Claimant was pleasant, cooperative, and her mood was improved. Id. Claimant denied suicidal and homicidal thoughts, was oriented in all spheres, and had intact judgment. R. 526-27. There was no evidence of psychosis and her symptoms from anxiety were improved. R. 527.

         At a December 16, 2015 follow-up appointment, Claimant presented casually dressed with good hygiene and well-organized thoughts. R. 529. Claimant also denied suicidal or homicidal ideations and any hallucinations. Id. Claimant was found to be sad and tearful at ...

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