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Bailey v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

May 23, 2019




         Catherine Bailey (Claimant) appeals the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying her application for disability benefits. (Doc. 1). The Claimant raises several arguments challenging the Commissioner's final decision and, based on those arguments, requests that the matter be reversed and remanded for further proceedings. (Doc. 15 at 8-11, 15-16, 18). The Commissioner argues that the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) committed no legal error and that her decision is supported by substantial evidence and should be affirmed. (Id. at 11-14, 16-18). Upon review of the record, the undersigned respectfully RECOMMENDS that the Commissioner's final decision be REVERSED and REMANDED for further proceedings.

         I. Procedural History

         This case stems from the Claimant's application for supplemental security income. (R. 232-37). The Claimant initially alleged a disability onset date of July 1, 2012 (R. 232), but later amended that date to July 30, 2014 (R. 38). The Claimant's application was denied on initial review and on reconsideration. The matter then proceeded before an ALJ. On August 30, 2017, the ALJ entered a decision denying the Claimant's application for disability benefits. (R. 10-24). The Claimant requested review of the ALJ's decision, but the Appeals Council denied her request for review. (R. 1-3). This appeal followed.

         II. The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ found that the Claimant suffered from the following severe impairments: disorders of the spine; fibromyalgia; arthralgias; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease/asthma; disorders of the thyroid; obesity; affective disorder; anxiety disorder; and tobacco disorder. (R. 12). The ALJ, however, determined that none of the foregoing impairments, individually or in combination, met or medically equaled any listed impairment. (R. 13-16).

         The ALJ found that the Claimant has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967[1] with the following specific limitations:

[N]o climbing or overhead reaching; no exposure to concentrated hot or humid environments, concentrated fumes, gases, poorly ventilated areas and/or hazards; and, she is limited to simple, routine tasks with no independent goal setting.

(R. 16). In light of this RFC, the ALJ found that the Claimant was unable to perform her past relevant work. (R. 22). However, the ALJ further determined that the Claimant could perform other work in the national economy, including cashier II, ticket seller, and marker. (R. 23-24). Thus, the ALJ concluded that the Claimant was not disabled between her alleged onset date, July 30, 2014, through the date of the ALJ's decision, August 30, 2017. (R. 24).

         III. Standard of Re view

          The scope of the Court's review is limited to determining whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards and whether the Commissioner's findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence. Winschelv. Comm'r o/Soc. Sec, 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011). The Commissioner's findings of fact are conclusive if they are supported by substantial evidence, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), which is defined as "more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1440 (11th Cir. 1997). The Court must view the evidence as a whole, taking into account evidence favorable as well as unfavorable to the Commissioner's decision, when determining whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence. Foote v. Chater, 61 F.3d 1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1995). The Court may not reweigh evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner, and, even if the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's decision, the reviewing court must affirm it if the decision is supported by substantial evidence. Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983).

         IV. Analysis

         The Claimant raises the following assignments of error: 1) the ALJ failed to account for all the limitations in Dr. Alvan Barber's opinion; and 2) the ALJ erred by not weighing Dr. Theodore Weber's opinion. (Doc. 15 at 8-11, 15-16). The undersigned will address each assignment of error in turn.

         The ALJ is tasked with assessing a claimant's RFC and ability to perform past relevant work. Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1238 (11th Cir. 2004). The RFC "is an assessment, based upon all of the relevant evidence, of a claimant's remaining ability to do work despite his impairments." Lewis, 125 F.3d at 1440. In determining a claimant's RFC, the ALJ must consider all relevant evidence, including, but not limited to, the medical opinions of treating, examining and non-examining medical sources. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(3); see also Rosario v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 490 Fed.Appx. 192, 194 (11th Cir. 2012).

         Examining and non-examining physicians' opinions are generally not entitled to any special deference. McSwain v. Bowen, 814 F.2d 617, 619 (11th Cir. 1987) (citing Gibson v. Heckler, 779 F.2d 619, 623 (11th Cir. 1986)); Broughton v. Heckler, 776 F.2d 960, 962 (11th Cir. 1985) (citing Spencer v. Heckler, 165 F.2d 1090, 1094 (11th Cir. 1985)). Nevertheless, the ALJ must state the weight assigned to each medical opinion, and articulate the reasons supporting the weight assigned to each opinion. Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1179. The failure to state the weight with particularity or articulate the reasons in support of the weight prohibits the Court from determining whether the ultimate decision is rational and supported by substantial evidence. Id.

         A. Dr. Barber

         Dr. Barber opined, in relevant part, that the Claimant "cannot walk for long periods of time." (Doc. 15 at 9). The ALJ assigned Dr. Barber's opinion "great weight" and limited the Claimant to light work with several additional limitations, none of which related to the Claimant's ability to walk. (R. 16). The Claimant contends that Dr. Barber's opinion concerning the Claimant's ability to walk conflicts with the ALJ's determination that the Claimant can perform light work. (Doc. 15 at 10-11). Thus, the Claimant argues that the ALJ failed to include or account for Dr. Barber's opinion concerning the Claimant's ability to walk in the RFC determination. (Id.).

         The Commissioner contends that Dr. Barber's opinion concerning the Claimant's ability to walk is consistent with the performance of light work. (Id. at 12). Thus, the Commissioner argues that Dr. Barber's opinion is "fully incorporated" into the RFC determination. (Id. at 11). The Commissioner also contends that if the walking limitation is inconsistent with light work any resulting error would be harmless. (Id. at 11-12). Specifically, the Commissioner points to the ALJ's question to the vocational expert (VE) about whether the Claimant could still perform the marker and cashier jobs if she was required to change positions between sitting and standing every hour. (Id. ...

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