United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division
TICA N. BROOKS, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION
GREGORY J. KELLY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Brooks (the “Claimant”) appeals to the District
Court a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(the “Commissioner”) denying her application for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). Doc. No.
1. Claimant argues that the Administrative Law Judge (the
“ALJ”) committed reversible error by: 1) applying
improper legal standards to three medical opinions from
Claimant's treating physicians; and 2) rejecting the
opinions of Claimant's treating physicians while finding
the opinions of state agency medical consultants to be
supported by the record. Doc. No. 19 at 25-33. Claimant
requests that the Commissioner's final decision be
reversed and remanded for further proceedings. Id.
at 39. For the reasons stated below, it is
ORDERED that the Commissioner's final
decision is AFFIRMED.
August 30, 2012, Claimant filed her DIB application alleging
an onset date of November 20, 2010. R. 36. Claimant alleges
disability due to a brain tumor, depression, neuropathy,
headaches, low back pain, neck pain, seizures, shoulder pain,
obesity, insomnia, traumatic brain injury, scoliosis,
rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia. R. 307.
Claimant's application was denied initially and upon
reconsideration, and she requested a hearing before an ALJ on
May 18, 2013. R. 175. On April 22, 2015, Claimant attended a
hearing before the ALJ. R. 63-102. On June 2, 2015, the ALJ
issued an unfavorable decision finding Claimant not disabled.
R. 36-52. On July 27, 2015, Claimant requested review of the
ALJ's decision. R. 27. On December 22, 2016, the Appeals
Council denied Claimant's request. R. 1-7. On February
23, 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).
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, the 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)).
February 18, 2013, Dr. Todd Gates, a treating physician,
completed a Mental Impairment Questionnaire. R. 868-74. Dr.
Gates diagnosed Claimant with organic mood disorder, organic
personality disorder, pituitary adenoma seizure disorder,
recurrent major depression, and post-traumatic stress
disorder. R. 868. Dr. Gates found that Claimant exhibited
drowsiness, tremors, very poor concentration, low energy,
chronic headaches, and suicidal preoccupation. Id.
Gates then found that Claimant was either unable to meet
competitive standards or has no useful ability to function in
a number of areas including: remembering work-like
procedures; understanding, remembering, and carrying out very
short and simple instructions; maintaining attention for two
hour segments; making simple work-related decisions;
completing a normal workday and workweek without
interruptions from psychologically based symptoms;
interacting appropriately with the general public; and
maintaining socially appropriate behavior. R. 870-71. Dr.
Gates also found that Claimant has a low IQ or reduced
intellectual functioning due to head trauma and found that
Claimant has complications of persistent headaches arising
from such trauma. R. 871.
another portion of the questionnaire, Dr. Gates found the
following: Claimant has marked limitations in activities of
daily living and maintaining social functioning. R. 872.
Claimant has extreme limitations in maintaining
concentration, persistence, and pace and has had four or more
episodes of decompensation within a twelve-month period, with
each episode lasting at least two weeks. Id.
Claimant has a current history of one or more years'
inability to function outside of a highly supportive living
arrangement with an indication of continued need for such
arrangement. Id. Claimant has an anxiety-related
disorder and a complete inability to function independently
outside the area of her home. Id. Claimant will
either be absent from work or unable to complete an
eight-hour work day for five or more days per month due to
her impairments and/or need for ongoing medical treatment. R.
three, the ALJ rejected the portion of Dr. Gates' opinion
regarding Claimant's limitations on her activities of
daily living, social functioning, maintaining concentration,
persistence, and pace, and episodes of
decompensation. R. 42. Specifically, the ALJ found that
Dr. Gates' findings were not supported by the record