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Guinta v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

August 30, 2019

KIMBERLY DAWN GUINTA, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

          DANIEL C. IRICK UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Kimberly Dawn Guinta (Claimant) appeals to the District Court from a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the Commissioner) denying her applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. Doc. 1; R. 1-6, 193-213. Claimant argued that the Administrative Law Judge (the ALJ) erred by failing to properly weigh the opinion of Dr. Westfall. Doc. 18 at 10-14. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's final decision is REVERSED and REMANDED.

         I. THE ALJ'S DECISION

         In 2014 and 2015, Claimant filed applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. R. 17, 193-213. Claimant alleged a disability onset date of December 22, 2012. Id.

         The ALJ issued her decision on June 22, 2017. R. 17-31. In her decision, the ALJ found that Claimant had the following severe impairments: mild thrombocytosis and bipolar disorder. R. 20. 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) and 416.967(b).[1] R. 20. 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) and 416.967(b) except with no climbing of ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; no more than frequent climbing of ramps and stairs, bending, balancing, stooping, squatting, crouching, crawling, and kneeling; no exposure to heights, temperature extremes, or humidity; limited to simple unskilled work with normal breaks every two hours with no interaction with the public; and can be in the vicinity of co-workers, but cannot do tandem work.

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 jobs in the national economy. R. 67-69. The ALJ thus found that Claimant was capable of performing jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy. R. 29-31. Therefore, the ALJ found that Claimant was not disabled between the alleged onset date and the date of the ALJ's decision. Id.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         “In Social Security appeals, [the court] must determine whether the Commissioner's decision is ‘supported by substantial evidence and based on proper legal standards.'” Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (citations omitted). The Commissioner's findings of fact are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla - i.e., the evidence must do more than merely create a suspicion of the existence of a fact and must include such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support the conclusion. Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1995) (citing Walden v. Schweiker, 672 F.2d 835, 838 (11th Cir. 1982) and Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). Where the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, the court will affirm, even if the reviewer would have reached a contrary result as finder of fact, and even if the reviewer finds that the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's decision. Edwards v. Sullivan, 937 F.2d 580, 584 n.3 (11th Cir. 1991); Barnes v. Sullivan, 932 F.2d 1356, 1358 (11th Cir. 1991). The court must view the evidence as a whole, taking into account evidence favorable as well as unfavorable to the decision. Foote, 67 F.3d at 1560. The court “‘may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the [Commissioner].'” Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1240 n.8 (11th Cir. 2004) (quoting Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983)).

         III. ANALYSIS

         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); 416.946(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); 416.945(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. “[T]he ALJ must state with particularity the weight given to different medical opinions and the reasons therefor.” Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1179 (11th Cir. 2011) (citing Sharfarz v. Bowen, 825 F.2d 278, 279 (11th Cir. 1987)). “In the absence of such a statement, it is impossible for a reviewing court to determine whether the ultimate decision on the merits of the claim is rational and supported by substantial evidence.” Id. (quoting Cowart v. Schwieker, 662 F.2d 731, 735 (11th Cir. 1981)).

         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); 416.927(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); 416.927(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 was conclusory or inconsistent with the doctor's own medical records.” Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1179 (quotation marks omitted).

         Here, Claimant argued that the ALJ erred by failing to properly weigh the opinion of Dr. Westfall. Doc. 18 at 10-14. Specifically, Claimant argued that the ALJ erred by giving Dr. Westfall's opinion little weight on the grounds that Dr. Westfall's opinion is “not supported by [Dr. Westfall's] own treatment notes/objective medical findings.” Id. at 11-12. Claimant noted that the ALJ failed to mention any of the physical examination findings that were documented in Dr. Westfall's records. Id. at 12. Claimant also ...


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