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Kidd v. Berryhill

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

April 12, 2019

RICHARD KIDD, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         THIS CAUSE is before the undersigned on Plaintiff's appeal of an administrative decision denying his applications for a Period of Disability, Disability Insurance Benefits, and Supplemental Security Income. In a decision dated January 24, 2018, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found that Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from April 18, 2010, the alleged onset date of disability, through the date of decision. (Tr. 559-77.) 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 respectfully recommends that the Commissioner's decision be AFFIRMED.

         I. Issues on Appeal

         Plaintiff raises the following 3 issues on appeal:

Whether the ALJ erred in determining that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform medium work with some non-exertional limitations after failing to adequately consider and provide adequate weight to the opinion of the claimant's treating physician.
Whether the ALJ properly relied on the testimony of the Vocational Expert after posing and relying on a hypothetical question that did not adequately reflect the limitations of the claimant.
Whether the ALJ erred in finding that the claimant was “not entirely credible” after failing to make an adequate credibility finding.

(Doc. 22 at 14-15, 22, 24.)

         II. Standard of Review

          As the Eleventh Circuit has stated:

In Social Security appeals, we must determine whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence and based on proper legal standards. Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion. We may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute our judgment for that of the [Commissioner].

Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (citations and quotations omitted). “With respect to the Commissioner's legal conclusions, however, our review is de novo.” Lewis v. Barnhart, 285 F.3d 1329, 1330 (11th Cir. 2002).

         III. The ALJ's Decision

         This case came before the ALJ on remand from this Court. (Tr. 650-67.)

         As the ALJ summarized:

Pursuant to the District Court remand order, the Appeals Council has directed the undersigned on July 8, 2016, to offer the claimant the opportunity for a hearing, take any further action needed to complete the administrative record, and issue a new decision (Ex. 12A, p.3). The District Court found the decision was not supported by substantial evidence in regards to adequately considering and weighing the opinion of the claimant's treating psychiatrist and evaluating the claimant's credibility regarding his subjective complaints. Specifically, the District Court documented there needs to be further consideration of the claimant's testimony. Additionally, the District Court found the prior limitation of simple, routine tasks with one to three step tasks did not account for deficits in pace; the prior Administrative Law Judge failed to distinguish between concentration and pace.

(Tr. 559.)

         At step two of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments:

[D]egenerative disc disease of lumbar spine; diabetes mellitus; hypertension; schizoaffective mood disorder; bipolar disorder; attention deficient hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”); anxiety disorder; and depressive disorder (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).

(Tr. 562.)[2] At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled a listing. (Tr. 562- 64.) In reaching this conclusion, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had moderate limitations in the following areas: understanding, remembering, or applying information; interacting with others; concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace; and adapting or managing oneself. (Tr. 562-63.)

         Prior to step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”):

[T]o perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c) except never climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl; avoid concentrated exposure to workplace hazards; can perform simple routine, repetitive tasks with no more than occasional changes in a routine work setting and no production rate pace work; can occasionally interact with coworkers and the general public.

(Tr. 564.)

         At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. (Tr. 575.) However, at step five, the ALJ found that, considering Plaintiff's age (45 on the alleged onset date of disability), education, work experience, and RFC, jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 576.) Therefore, Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 577.)

         IV. Analysis

         A. Treating Psychiatrist

         Plaintiff first argues that the ALJ erred in failing to state the weight given to the opinions of Dr. Rex Birkmire, Plaintiff's treating psychiatrist, and in failing to articulate good cause, supported by substantial evidence, for discounting those opinions. (Doc. 22 at 14-22.)

         To discount the opinions of a treating doctor, the ALJ is required to provide “good cause.” Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1240 (11th Cir. 2014). Good cause to discount a treating doctor's opinion exists when “(1) [the] treating physician's opinion was not bolstered by the evidence; (2) [the] evidence supported a contrary finding; or (3) [the] treating physician's opinion was conclusory or inconsistent with the doctor's own medical records.” Id. at 1240-41. The Court “will not second guess the ALJ about the weight the treating physician's opinion deserves so long as he articulates a specific justification for it.” Hunter v. Soc. Sec. Admin., Comm'r, 808 F.3d 818, 823 (11th Cir. 2015).

         The ALJ summarized and addressed the opinions of Dr. Birkmire at length.

         (Tr. 572-74.) The ALJ stated in part:

On August 21, 2017, Dr. Birkmire submitted an additional statement regarding his opinion of the claimant's mental ability to work (Ex. 16F). Dr. Birkmire indicated that he first met the claimant at Florida Hospital in July of 2010. The psychiatrist noted the claimant's diagnoses included ADHD, anxiety disorder, and bipolar I disorder. Dr. Birkmire estimated the claimant has moderate to severe limitations in maintaining social functioning, in restriction of activities of daily living, and in deficiencies of concentration, persistence, or pace. Dr. Birkmire opined the claimant has severe degree of repeated episodes of deterioration or decompensation in work or work-like settings, which cause the individual to withdraw from that situation or to experience exacerbation of signs and symptoms (Ex. 16F, p.2). He then went on to estimate the claimant has moderate to severe limitations in the ability to perform basic work activities on a number of tasks. Dr. Birkmire commented the claimant's bipolar I with psychosis just gets worse over the years. In addition, Dr. Birkmire circled a number of symptoms related to affective disorder and manic syndrome in a separate document. Dr. Birkmire opined as well that the claimant has marked restriction of activities of daily living; marked difficulties in ...

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