United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION
C. IRICK UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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.
THE ALJ'S DECISION
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.
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). 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
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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)).
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).
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)).
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).
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 ...