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Lippold v. Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division

July 25, 2018




         THIS CAUSE is before the Court on Plaintiff's appeal of an administrative decision denying his application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. Plaintiff alleges he became disabled on April 1, 2013. Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration. A hearing was held before the assigned Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on May 13, 2015, at which Plaintiff was represented by an attorney. (Tr. 40-92.) The ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled since April 1, 2013, the alleged onset date, through June 30, 2015, the date last insured. (Tr. 21-35.)

         Plaintiff is appealing the Commissioner's decision that he was not disabled during the relevant time period. Plaintiff has exhausted his 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 determines that the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

         I. Standard of Review

         The 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).

         II. Discussion

         Plaintiff raises two issues on appeal. First, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to properly weigh the medical opinion evidence, including the opinions of treating physician Gregory Gibson, M.D., and failed to properly evaluate Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”). (Doc. 15 at 11.) Second, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to properly evaluate his credibility. (Id. at 16.)

         Defendant responds that the ALJ properly discounted the opinions of Dr. Gibson. Defendant contends that the ALJ articulated valid reasons for according Dr. Gibson's opinions no weight, and those reasons are supported by substantial evidence. (Doc. 16 at 5.) Defendant further asserts that the ALJ properly evaluated and rejected the Plaintiff's subjective complaints concerning the intensity and persistence of his alleged symptoms. (Id. at 13.)

         A. The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had severe impairments, including “history of two prior cervical spine anterior fusions at ¶ 5/C7; history of left shoulder rotator cuff repair; history of chronic low back pain with posterior lumbar spine fusion at ¶ 5/S1 and a history of obesity.” (Tr. 26.) The ALJ then determined at step three that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments. (Tr. 27.)

         At step four, the ALJ made the following RFC determination:

[Plaintiff] had the [RFC] to perform a range of light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b). Specifically, [Plaintiff] has the ability to sit for up to four hours and stand/walk for a total of four hours in an eight-hour workday with the ability to alternate his position between sitting and standing/walking every 30 minutes. He should perform no more than occasional pushing and pulling of arm/hand or foot/pedal controls. Posturally, [Plaintiff] can occasionally perform activities including climbing of ramps and stairs, but he must avoid all climbing of ropes, ladders or scaffolds. All other postural maneuvers are able to be done occasionally. In terms of manipulative activities, including reaching in all directions, handling, and fingering, he can perform these on a frequent basis, although he is not permitted to reach overhead. Environmentally, [Plaintiff] should avoid work at unprotected heights, around dangerous moving machinery or in proximity to heavy industrial vibrations.

(Tr. 27.) In making his finding, the ALJ evaluated the medical opinion evidence and accorded “no weight” to the opinions of Dr. Gibson, who opined that Plaintiff had symptoms“persist[ing] to the point of impairment/disability, ” and that Plaintiff was, inter alia, able to sit for less than an hour; stand/walk for less than an hour in an 8-hour workday; required frequent breaks; and would miss work more than three times per month. (Tr. 495, 498, 500.) When evaluating the opinion evidence, the ALJ noted that:

Dr. Gibson has rarely treated the claimant over the prior two years, he has not treated the claimant for musculoskeletal related issues, his physical exams fail to demonstrate significant problems, and there are no substantial notations during the applicable period concerning the claimant's alleged carpal tunnel syndrome . . . Dr. Gibson's functional assessment is unsupported by his own medical records and is inconsistent with the information obtained ...

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