United States District Court, M.D. Florida
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION
GREGORY J. KELLY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Allen (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) finding
that Claimant's past relevant work included being a
hairdresser; 2) applying improper legal standards to three
medical opinions; 3) making a finding on Claimant's
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) that is not
supported by substantial evidence; and 4) making a finding on
Claimant's credibility that is not supported by
substantial evidence. Doc. No. 26 at 21-23, 26-28, 31-34,
37-40. Claimant requests that the Commissioner's final
decision be reversed and remanded for further proceedings.
Id. at 42-43. For the reasons stated below, it is
ORDERED that the Commissioner's final
decision is REVERSED and
REMANDED for further proceedings.
October 19, 2012, Claimant filed her SSI application. R. 15.
On May 28, 2013, Claimant filed her DIB application.
Id. Claimant alleges an onset date of December 1,
2010 for both applications, and she alleges disability due to
rheumatoid arthritis and obesity. Id.; Doc. No. 26
at 1. Claimant's applications were denied initially and
upon reconsideration, and she requested a hearing before an
ALJ on January 3, 2014. R. 70; Doc. No. 26 at 1. On October
5, 2015, Claimant attended a hearing before the ALJ. R.
490-520. On January 15, 2016, the ALJ issued an unfavorable
decision finding Claimant not disabled. R. 15-25. On March
17, 2016, Claimant requested review of the ALJ's
decision. R. 10. On December 6, 2016, the Appeals Council
denied Claimant's request. R. 5-7. On February 6, 2017,
Claimant filed this appeal. Doc. No. 1.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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 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). This Court has
stated that “reversal is required where an ALJ fails to
sufficiently articulate the reasons supporting his decision
to reject portions of a medical opinion while accepting
others.” Kahle v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 845
F.Supp.2d 1262, 1272 (M.D. Fla. 2012).
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 a claimant's RFC, this means that “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). See
also Ricks v. Astrue, No. 3:10-cv-975-TEM, 2012 WL
1020428, at * 9 (M.D. Fla. Mar, 27, 2012) (“An ALJ is
required to build an accurate and logical bridge from the
evidence to his conclusion.”). Thus, “the
existence of substantial evidence in the record favorable to
the Commissioner may not insulate the ALJ's determination
from remand when he or she does not provide a sufficient
rationale to link such evidence to the legal conclusions
reached.” Russ v. Barnhart, 363 F.Supp.2d
1345, 1347 (M.D. Fla. 2005) (citing Keeton v. Dep't
of Health & Human Servs., 21 F.3d 1064, 1066 (11th
3, 2009, Claimant presented to Dr. James Ryan, a one-time
examining physician. R. 266. In a treatment note, Dr. Ryan
stated the following:
Arthritis Knee - This arthritis is mild to moderate at the
present time. Based on her physical examination and
findings, [Claimant] has no restrictions of the upper
extremities, but due to the arthritis of the knees, would not
be able to perform activities which would require prolonged
walking or standing.
R. 268 (emphasis added). On February 23, 2010, Claimant
presented to Dr. Nitin Hate, another one-time examining
physician. R. 275. Dr. Hate completed a disability evaluation
[Claimant] will have difficulty in any activities that
require prolonged standing, walking, climbing stairs,
repeated stooping, and any squatting. She needs ongoing
medical care and life style ...