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Valentine v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

September 4, 2019

THOMAS JAMES VALENTINE, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

          LESLIE R. HOFFMAN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Thomas Valentine (Claimant) appeals the Commissioner of Social Security's (Commissioner) final decision denying his applications for disability benefits. (Doc. 1). The Claimant raises two assignments of error challenging the Commissioner's final decision and, based on those assignments of error, requests that the matter be reversed and remanded for further proceedings. (Doc. 17 at 9-11, 19-20, 22). The Commissioner argues that the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) committed no legal error and that his decision is supported by substantial evidence and should be affirmed. (Id. at 11-23). Upon review of the record, the Court finds that the Commissioner's final decision is due to be AFFIRMED.

         I. Procedural History

         This case stems from the Claimant's applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. (R. 199, 208-14). The Claimant originally alleged a disability onset date of May 21, 2016, which he later amended to June 1, 2016. (R. 199, 208). The Claimant's applications were denied on initial review and on reconsideration. The matter then proceeded to a hearing before an ALJ. On March 29, 2018, the ALJ entered a decision denying the Claimant's applications for disability benefits. (R. 12-24). The Claimant requested review of the ALJ's decision, but the Appeals Council denied his request for review. (R. 1-3). This appeal followed.

         II. The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ found that the Claimant suffered from the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine; obesity; diabetes mellitus; and hypertension. (R. 15). The ALJ also found that the Claimant suffered from the following non-severe impairments: dyslipidemia; carotid artery stenosis; status post right thigh wound with skin graft surgery; cataract, anemia; adjustment disorder; and a history of substance abuse. (R. 15-18). The ALJ determined that none of the foregoing impairments, individually or in combination, met or medically equaled any listed impairment. (R. 18).

         The ALJ proceeded to find that the Claimant has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(c) and § 416.967(c)[1] with the following specific limitations:

[T]he claimant can lift, carry, push and pull fifty (50) pounds occasionally and twenty-five (25) pounds frequently. The claimant can sit, stand and walk for up to six (6) hours each out of an 8-hour workday. He can frequently balance, stoop and crouch but, only occasionally kneel and crawl. He can . . . only occasionally climb ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes or scaffolds. The claimant can have occasional exposure to extreme cold, extreme heat, vibration, and hazards, such as unprotected heights and moving machinery.

         (R. 18). Based on this RFC, the ALJ found that the Claimant could perform his past relevant work as a sales route driver. (R. 22-23). In addition, the ALJ found that the Claimant could perform other work in the national economy, including conveyor feeder, floor waxer, and box bender. (R. 23-24). In light of these findings, the ALJ concluded that the Claimant was not disabled between his alleged onset date, June 1, 2016, through the date of the ALJ's decision, March 29, 2018. (R. 24).

         III. Standard of Re view

         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'rof 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).

         IV. Analysis

         The Claimant raises two assignments of error: 1) the ALJ failed to satisfy his duty to fully and fairly develop the record; and 2) the ALJ's decision to assign Dr. Bettye Stanley's opinion little weight was not supported by substantial evidence. (Doc. 17 at 9-11, 19-20). The Court will address each assignment of error in turn.

         A. Duty to Develop.

         The Claimant argues that given the limited number of treatment records from the relevant period the ALJ should have ordered a consultative examination. (Doc. 17 at 10).[2] The ALJ did not order a consultative examination and, according to the Claimant, he instead "cherry picked" and "mischaracterized" findings from the treatment records to support his ultimate determination that the Claimant was not disabled. (Id. at 10-11). The Claimant argues that the ALJ failed to apply the correct legal standards and his decision is not supported by substantial evidence. (Id. at 11).

         The Commissioner contends that the ALJ had sufficient evidence to make an informed decision and the Claimant has not shown any evidentiary gaps in the record that should have been addressed through a consultative examination. (Id. at 12-13). Further, the Commissioner contends that the ALJ did not cherry pick or mischaracterize the treatment records from the relevant period. (Id. at 16-18). Thus, the Commissioner argues that the ALJ was under ...


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