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Rivera v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

September 9, 2019

MAYRA RIVERA, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER [1]

          MONTE C. RICHARDSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         THIS CAUSE is before the Court on Plaintiff's appeal of an administrative decision denying her applications for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits (“DIB”), and supplemental security income (“SSI”). Following an administrative hearing held on August 3, 2017, the assigned Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) issued a decision, finding Plaintiff not disabled from November 18, 2013, the alleged disability onset date, through August 22, 2017, the date of the decision.[2] (Tr. 17-77.) Based on a review of the record, the briefs, and the applicable law, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

         I. Standard of Review

         The scope of this Court's review is limited to determining whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards, McRoberts v. Bowen, 841 F.2d 1077, 1080 (11th Cir. 1988), and whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence, Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971). “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004). Where the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, the district 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 district court must view the evidence as a whole, taking into account evidence favorable as well as unfavorable to the decision. Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1995); accord Lowery v. Sullivan, 979 F.2d 835, 837 (11th Cir. 1992) (stating the court must scrutinize the entire record to determine the reasonableness of the Commissioner's factual findings).

         II. Discussion

         Plaintiff raises two issues on appeal. First, she argues that the ALJ did not properly evaluate the opinion of her treating physician, Tanam Ahmed, M.D., that Plaintiff would be unable to sustain work activity on a regular and continuing basis due to chronic pain syndrome. Second, she argues that the ALJ's findings at step two of the sequential evaluation process[3] concerning Plaintiff's diagnoses of bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), were not supported by substantial evidence. Defendant responds that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's evaluation of the medical opinion evidence and his findings as to Plaintiff's bipolar disorder and PTSD.

         A. The ALJ Properly Evaluated Dr. Ahmed's Opinion

         1. Dr. Ahmed's Opinion

         On April 11, 2014, Dr. Ahmed filled out a Treating Source Mental Status Report, [4] in which she opined that Plaintiff's mood and affect were “within normal limits, [but] sometimes worsen[ed] intermittently due to pain”; her thought process was “within normal limits”; her concentration and memory were “intact”; and her mental status was otherwise normal. (Tr. 425-27.) Dr. Ahmed diagnosed Plaintiff with anxiety and depression, and noted that her prognosis was “fair, given triggers at times due to chronic pain (referred at last visit to pain management).” (Tr. 426.) Dr. Ahmed opined that Plaintiff was able to perform activities of daily living and to mange her funds, but was incapable of sustaining work activity for eight hours a day, five days a week, “due to chronic pain syndrome, currently suspects [sic] fibromyalgia, is [sic] going to see pain management soon.” (Tr. 427.)

         2. The ALJ's Decision

         At step two of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's severe impairments included a history of hypertension, hyperlipidemia, non-insulin dependent diabetes, depression, hypothyroidism with a stable thyroid nodule, and mild multi-level degenerative disc and joint disease of the cervical spine. (Tr. 22.) Then, at step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments. (Tr. 23-25.)

         Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a reduced range of light work, as follows:

[Plaintiff] can sit, stand and walk for at least six hours each per eight-hour workday; lift and/or carry up to 10 pounds frequently and 20 pounds occasionally; occasionally use [] hand, arm or foot/pedal controls with her upper or lower extremities; she can occasionally climb ramps and stairs; never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; occasional[ly] balanc[e], stoop[], kneel[], crouch[] and crawl[]; frequent[ly] reach[] in all directions, handl[e], finger[] and feel[] with the upper extremities; no limitations on seeing, speaking or hearing; she should not work at unprotected heights or around dangerous moving machinery or in proximity to concentrated industrial vibration; [and] she should work in a clean air environment without exposure to temperature extremes. She can interact with the public, supervisors and coworkers frequently; she should have no job requiring her to meet a strict production goal or quotas[, ] such as assembly work[, ] and she is able to perform both unskilled and semi-skilled work.

(Tr. 25.) This RFC was “assessed based on all the evidence[, ] with consideration of the limitations and restrictions imposed by the combined effects of all [of Plaintiff's] medically determinable impairments.” (Id.)

         The ALJ gave little weight to Dr. Ahmed's conclusion that Plaintiff would be unable to sustain work activity on a regular and continuing basis due to pain syndrome, because this conclusion was “inconsistent with the medical evidence of record and with Dr. Ahmed's own treatment notes.” (Tr. 29.) The ALJ added: “The remainder of the Mental Source Statement indicates that the claimant's mental status examinations show results within normal limits and it states that the claimant is able to manage money and her activities ...


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