United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION
R. HOFFMAN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Gray (Claimant) appeals the Commissioner of Social
Security's (Commissioner) 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. 21 at 22-29, 36-38, 42). 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 30-36, 38-42). Upon
review of the record, the Court finds that the
Commissioner's final decision is due to be
case stems from the Claimant's application for disability
insurance benefits. (R. 386-87). The Claimant alleged a
disability onset date of October 10, 2014. (R. 386). The
Claimant's application was denied on initial review and
on reconsideration. The matter then proceeded to a hearing
before an ALJ. On January 4, 2018, the ALJ entered a decision
denying the Claimant's application for disability
benefits. (R. 23-33). The Claimant requested review of the
ALJ's decision, but the Appeals Council denied her
request for review. (R. 1-4). This appeal followed.
The ALJ's Decision
applied the five-step sequential evaluation process set forth
in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. First, the ALJ determined that
the Claimant had engaged in substantial gainful activity.
Second, the ALJ found that the Claimant suffered from the
following severe impairments: Sjogren's
syndrome; fibromyalgia; periarthritis of the right
shoulder; pulmonary fibrosis; and asthma, as well as the
non-severe impairment of sinusitis. (R. 26). Third, the ALJ
determined that none of the foregoing impairments,
individually or in combination, met or medically equaled any
listed impairment. (R. 26-27).
the ALJ found that the Claimant has the residual functional
capacity (RFC) to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1567(b) with the following additional limitations:
She can push and pull the same weights as she can lift and
carry occasionally; and can reach overhead with the right arm
occasionally and frequently in all other directions. She can
frequently handle, finger, and feel. She can occasionally
climb ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, and can
frequently balance. She can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch
and crawl. She is limited to occasional exposure to
unprotected heights; moving mechanical parts;
humidity/wetness; dust, odors, fumes, and pulmonary
irritants; extreme cold; extreme heat; and vibrating surfaces
and tools. She needs regular and customary work breaks every
(R. 27). The ALJ also found that the Claimant's RFC
allowed her to perform her past relevant work as a
"printed circuit board assembler hand." (R. 32).
Because the ALJ determined that the Claimant had the RFC to
perform her past relevant work, the ALJ did not proceed to
the fifth and final step of the evaluation process. Rather,
the ALJ concluded that the Claimant was not disabled between
her alleged onset date, October 10, 2014, through the date of
the ALJ's decision, January 4, 2018. (Id.).
Standard of Re view
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).
Claimant raises two assignments of error: 1) the ALJ's
decision to assign Dr. Hector Ramirez's, Dr. Raymond
Baez's, and Dr. Paul Lombardi D.C.'s opinions little
weight was not supported by substantial evidence; and 2) the
ALJ erred in finding the Claimant's testimony concerning
her pain and limitations not entirely credible. (Doc. 21 at
22-29, 36-38). The Court will address each assignment of
error in turn.
The Opinion Evidence
Claimant's first assignment of error focuses on the
weight the ALJ assigned to Dr. Baez's, Dr. Ramirez's,
and Dr. Lombardi's opinions. (Doc. 21 at 22-29). The
Court finds this assignment of error unavailing.
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 the medical opinions of
treating, examining and non-examining medical sources, as
well as the opinions of other 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).
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. §
treating physician's opinion must be given controlling
weight, unless good cause is shown to the contrary. 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); see also Winschel,
631 F.3d at 1179. There is good cause to assign a treating
physician's opinion less than controlling weight where:
1) the treating physician's opinion is not bolstered by
the evidence; 2) the evidence supports a contrary finding; or
3) the treating physician's opinion is conclusory or
inconsistent with the physician's own medical records.
Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1179.
must state the weight assigned to each medical opinion, and
articulate the reasons supporting the weight assigned.
Id. The failure to state the weight with
particularity or articulate the reasons in support of the
assigned weight prohibits the Court from determining whether
the ALJ's ultimate decision is rational and supported by
substantial evidence. Id.
Claimant argues that each of the ALJ's reasons for
assigning little weight to Dr. Baez's opinions are not
supported by substantial evidence. (Doc. 21 at 23-24). The
Commissioner, on the other hand, argues that the ALJ's
decision with respect to Dr. Baez's opinions is supported
by substantial evidence. (Id. 31-33).
Claimant began treating with Dr. Baez, a primary care
physician, sometime prior to the alleged disability onset
date. (See R. 564-65). The record, however, does not
contain any treatment records from Dr. Baez dated between the
alleged disability onset date, October 10, 2014, through the
date of Dr. Baez's first opinion during the relevant
period, January 30, 2015. In that opinion, Dr. Baez simply
opined that the Claimant is "currently unable to work
due to her medical conditions," which, at that time,
included Sjogren's syndrome, dyspnea,  pulmonary
fibrosis, and chronic back pain. (R. 503).
March 6, 2015, Dr. Baez completed a questionnaire regarding
the functional limitations caused by the Claimant's
impairments. (R. 530-33). Dr. Baez opined that the Claimant
has a limited ability to lift and carry objects, but he did
not specify how much weight the Claimant could lift and
carry. (R. 530-31). Dr. Baez also opined that the Claimant
can sit for no more than one hour in an eight-hour workday;
stand for no more than one hour in an eight-hour workday;
walk for no more than one hour in an eight-hour workday;
never climb, crouch, or crawl; occasionally kneel; frequently
balance and stoop; and is limited in her ability to reach,
push, and pull. (R. 531-32). Dr. Baez attributed the
foregoing limitations to the Claimant's joint pain. (R.
Claimant continued to treat with Dr. Baez following his March
6, 2015 opinion. (R. 830-908). For a period of nearly two
years, the Claimant only reported muscle and joint pain on a
few occasions, (R. 866, 887, 903, 907), and her physical
examinations were routinely unremarkable. (R. 835, 840-41,
845-46, 850-51, 856, 861, 867, 877, 883, 887, 892, 896. 900,
24, 2017, Dr. Baez completed a second questionnaire regarding
the functional limitations caused by the Claimant's
impairments. (R. 1044-46). Dr. Baez opined that the Claimant
can frequently lift and carry no more than 5 pounds; sit for
no more than one hour in an eight-hour workday; stand for no
more than one hour in an eight-hour workday; walk for no more
than one hour in an eight-hour workday; never crouch, kneel,
or crawl; occasionally climb, balance, and stoop; and is
limited in her ability to reach, push, and
pull. (R. 1044-45). Dr. Baez attributed the
foregoing limitations to the Claimant's Sjogren's
syndrome and fibromyalgia. (Id.).
considered each of Dr. Baez's opinions and collectively
assigned them little weight for the following reasons:
They are not supported by the claimant's subjective
statements to providers, which noted generally improved and
mild pain with treatment. They are also inconsistent with the
objective clinical signs and findings, showing generally
controlled inflammatory markers and only mild tenderness and
limited bending of the back and neck, but intact range of
motion, strength, gait, and function on examination.
(see Exs. 5F, 14F, 17F, 20F, 26F, 30F).
ALJ's first reason for assigning little weight to Dr.
Baez's opinions focuses on the inconsistency between the
Claimant's reports of pain and Dr. Baez's opinions.
(R. 31). This reason, if supported by substantial evidence,
is good cause to assign Dr. Baez's opinions less than
controlling weight. Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1179. The
Claimant, however, argues that the ALJ
"mischaracterized" the record as showing that her
pain improved overtime. (Doc. 21 at 24). The Claimant points
to Dr. Baez's opinions, his referral of the Claimant to
the Cleveland Clinic, and an opinion from the ...