United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division
HONORABLE CHRISTOPHER P. TUTTE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE
Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's
denial of her claims for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB)
and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments. For the
reasons discussed below, the Commissioner's decision is
Plaintiff was born in 1965, has a high school education, and
has past relevant work experience as a cashier, store
stocker, and customer service clerk. (R. 24-25). In June
2014, the Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI, alleging
disability as of June 5, 2014, due to anxiety, asthma, a
herniated esophagus, degenerative disc disease, disc bulges,
carotid artery stenosis, carpal tunnel syndrome in both
wrists, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). (R. 116, 203-04). The
Social Security Administration denied her applications both
initially and on reconsideration. (R. 100-01, 130-31).
Plaintiff's request, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
conducted a hearing on the matter on October 5, 2016. (R.
32-56). The Plaintiff was represented by counsel at that
hearing and testified on her own behalf. (R. 36-51). A
vocational expert (VE) also testified. (R. 51-55).
decision dated January 5, 2017, the ALJ found that the
Plaintiff: (1) met the insured status through December 31,
2018, and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since her alleged onset date of June 5, 2014; (2) had the
severe impairments of COPD, osteoarthritis, seizures, and
degenerative disc disease; (3) did not, however, have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the severity of any of the listed
impairments; (4) had the residual functional capacity (RFC)
to perform light work, subject to certain exertional and
environmental limitations; and (5) based in part on the
VE's testimony, could not perform her past relevant work
but was capable of performing other work that exists in
significant numbers in the national economy-namely, the
unskilled jobs of mailroom clerk, merchandise maker, and
survey worker. (R. 17-26). In light of these findings, the
ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff was not disabled. (R. 26).
Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's request for
review. (R. 1-6). Accordingly, the ALJ's decision became
the final decision of the Commissioner.
Social Security Act (the Act) defines disability as the
“inability to engage in any substantial gainful
activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or
mental impairment . . . which has lasted or can be expected
to last for a continuous period of not less than 12
months.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A),
1382c(a)(3)(A); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a);
416.905(a). A physical or mental impairment under the
Act “results from anatomical, physiological, or
psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by
medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic
techniques.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(3),
determine whether a claimant is disabled, the Social Security
Regulations (Regulations) prescribe “a five-step,
sequential evaluation process.” Carter v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 726 Fed.Appx. 737, 739 (11th
Cir. 2018) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)); 20
C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). Under this process, an ALJ must
determine whether the claimant: (1) is performing substantial
gainful activity; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has a
severe impairment that meets or equals an impairment
specifically listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1; (4) has the RFC to perform past relevant work;
and (5) can perform other work in the national economy given
her RFC, age, education, and work experience.
Carter, 726 Fed.Appx. at 739 (citing Phillips v.
Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1237 (11th Cir. 2004); 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4)). While the
claimant has the burden of proof through step four, the
burden temporarily shifts to the Commissioner at step five.
Sampson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 694 Fed.Appx.
727, 734 (11th Cir. 2017) (citing Jones v. Apfel,
190 F.3d 1224, 1228 (11th Cir. 1999)). If the Commissioner
carries that burden, the claimant must then prove that she
cannot perform the work identified by the Commissioner.
Id. In the end, “the overall burden of
demonstrating the existence of a disability . . . rests with
the claimant.” Washington v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 906 F.3d 1353, 1359 (11th Cir. 2018) (quoting
Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1280 (11th Cir.
claimant who does not prevail at the administrative level may
seek judicial review in federal court provided that the
Commissioner has issued a final decision on the matter after
a hearing. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Judicial review is
limited to determining whether the Commissioner's
decision is supported by substantial evidence and whether he
applied the correct legal standards. Id.;
Hargress v. Soc. Sec. Admin., Comm'r,
883 F.3d 1302, 1305 n.2 (11th Cir. 2018) (citation omitted).
“Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is
such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Hargress,
883 F.3d at 1305 n.2 (quoting Crawford v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004)). In
evaluating whether substantial evidence supports the
Commissioner's decision, the Court “may not decide
the facts anew, make credibility determinations, or re-weigh
the evidence.” Carter, 726 Fed.Appx. at 739
(citing Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211 (11th
Cir. 2005) (per curiam)). While the court accords deference
to the Commissioner's factual findings, “no such
deference is given to [his] legal conclusions.”
Keel-Desensi v. Berryhill, 2019 WL 1417326, at *2
(M.D. Fla. Mar. 29, 2019) (citations omitted).
Plaintiff argues on appeal that the ALJ did not properly
evaluate the severity of her mental impairments. (Doc. 27 at
6). In support of this contention, the Plaintiff asserts that
the ALJ failed to state the weight he accorded the opinions
of a consultative psychologist, Dr. Angel Martinez, and
neglected to acknowledge the medical records from the
Plaintiff's treating psychiatrist, Dr. Bharminder Bedi.
Id. at 6-11. As a result, the Plaintiff requests
that the Court remand the matter to the Commissioner for a
“fuller and more adequate evaluation and
development” of the evidence relating to her mental
health condition. Id. at 19.
Commissioner counters that the Plaintiff failed to meet her
burden of showing a severe mental impairment that interfered
with her ability to perform basic work activities.
Id. at 13. The Commissioner further argues that any
error by the ALJ in failing to explicitly assign the weight
he gave to Dr. Martinez's opinions or to discuss Dr.
Bedi's records is harmless because such opinions and
records are consistent with the ALJ's conclusions
regarding the Plaintiff's mental limitations.
Id. at 16-19.
thorough review of the record and the parties'
submissions, the Court finds no reversible error. For the
purposes of its analysis, the Court addresses the
Plaintiff's argument in three parts: (a) the ALJ's
assessment of the Plaintiff's mental impairments as
non-severe; (b) the ALJ's consideration of Dr.
Martinez's medical opinions; and (c) the ALJ's
evaluation (or lack thereof) of Dr. Bedi's treatment
Severity of the ...