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Boylan v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

July 29, 2019

JAMES T. BOYLAN, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

          DANIEL C. IRICK UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         James T. Boylan (Claimant) appeals to the District Court from a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the Commissioner) denying his application for disability insurance benefits. Doc. 1; R. 1-6, 12, 142-43. Claimant argued (1) that the Administrative Law Judge (the ALJ) erred by failing to properly weigh the opinion of Richard A. Hynes, M.D. (Dr. Hynes) and (2) that the Appeals Council erred by rejecting new evidence submitted by Claimant. Doc. 23 at 20-25; 28-31. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's final decision is AFFIRMED.

         I. THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

         In September 2014, Claimant filed an application for disability insurance benefits. R. 19. Claimant alleged a disability onset date of March 19, 2014. Id. Claimant later amended his alleged disability onset date to April 30, 2014. R. 21.

         The ALJ issued the decision on July 6, 2017. R. 19-36. In the decision, the ALJ found that Claimant had the following severe impairments: spine disorder, carpal tunnel syndrome, and status post left shoulder debridement. R. 23. The ALJ also found that Claimant had the following non-severe impairments: restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, depression, and anxiety. Id. The ALJ found that Claimant had an RFC to perform less than a full range of light work as defined by 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b).[1] R. 26. Specifically, the ALJ found as follows:

After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) with the following limitations. The claimant is able to lift or carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently, sit, stand or walk six hours in an eight-hour day, with normal breaks, and push or pull twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently. The claimant is occasionally able to climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, or stoop.

Id. The ALJ posed a hypothetical question to the VE that was consistent with the foregoing RFC determination, and the VE testified that Claimant was capable of performing Claimant's past work as generally performed and jobs in the national economy. R. 49-51. The ALJ then found both that Claimant was capable of performing his past relevant work and that Claimant was capable of performing jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy. R. 33-35. Therefore, the ALJ found that Claimant was not disabled between the amended alleged onset date and the date of the ALJ's decision. R. 35.

         Claimant requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision and submitted two documents to the Appeals Council as additional evidence. See Doc. 23 at 28. The Appeals Council found no basis for changing the ALJ's decision, stating, in part, that the additional evidence Claimant submitted “does not show a reasonable probability that it would change the outcome of the decision.” R. 1-6. Therefore, the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision. This appeal followed.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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. Winschel v. Comm'r of 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, 67 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).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Failure to Properly Weigh Dr. Hynes' Opinion

         At step four of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ assesses the claimant's RFC and ability to perform past relevant work. Phillips, 357 F.3d at 1238. “The residual functional capacity is an assessment, based upon all of the relevant evidence, of a claimant's remaining ability to do work despite his impairments.” Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1440 (11th Cir. 1997). The ALJ is responsible for determining the claimant's RFC. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1546(c). In doing so, the ALJ must consider all relevant evidence, including, but not limited to, the medical opinions of treating, examining, and non-examining medical sources. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1), (3); see also Rosario v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 877 F.Supp.2d 1254, 1265 (M.D. Fla. 2012).

         The weighing of treating, examining, and non-examining physicians' opinions is an integral part of steps four and five of the sequential evaluation process. See Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176 (11th Cir. 2011). The ALJ must consider a number of factors in determining how much weight to give each medical opinion, including: 1) whether the physician has examined the claimant; 2) the length, nature, and extent of the physician's relationship with the claimant; 3) the medical evidence and explanation supporting the physician's opinion; 4) how consistent the physician's opinion is with the record as a whole; and 5) the physician's specialization. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c).

         A treating physician's opinion must be given substantial or considerable weight, unless good cause is shown to the contrary. Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1179; see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2) (giving controlling weight to the treating physician's opinion unless it is inconsistent with other substantial evidence). “Good cause exists when the: (1) treating physician's opinion was not bolstered by the evidence; (2) evidence supported a contrary finding; or (3) treating physician's opinion ...


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