United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division
OPINION AND ORDER 
R. KLINDT, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Robert Patey (“Plaintiff”) is appealing the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration's
(“SSA('s)”) final decision denying his claims
for disability income benefits (“DIB”) and
supplemental security income (“SSI”).
Plaintiff's alleged inability to work is the result of a
severe back injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, high
blood pressure, diabetes, and acid reflux. See
Transcript of Administrative Proceedings (Doc. No. 12;
“Tr.” or “administrative
transcript”), filed July 19, 2018, at 51, 62, 75, 88,
190. Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI on March
20, 2012,  alleging a disability onset date of
October 1, 2011. Tr. at 170 (DIB); Tr. at 172 (SSI). The
applications were denied initially, Tr. at 51-61, 73, 105,
107-11 (DIB); Tr. at 62-72, 74, 106, 112-17 (SSI), and upon
reconsideration, Tr. at 75-87, 101, 104, 122-26, 133 (DIB);
Tr. at 88-100, 102, 103, 127-31, 132 (SSI); see also
Tr. at 215 (affirming opinion of physician who reviewed
medical evidence at the reconsideration level).
December 16, 2013, an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) held a hearing, during which he heard
testimony from Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, and
a vocational expert (“VE”). Tr. at 31-50.
Following the hearing, the ALJ issued a decision on January
29, 2014 (“2014 decision”), finding Plaintiff not
disabled through the date of the decision. Tr. at 14-25,
1058-69 (duplicate). The Appeals Council then accepted
additional evidence in the form of a brief authored by
Plaintiff's counsel. Tr. at 5, 6; see Tr. at
234-35 (brief). On June 26, 2015, the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review, Tr. at 1-4, thereby
making the ALJ's 2014 decision the final decision of the
appealed the 2014 decision to this Court on August 27, 2015.
See Tr. at 1103; see Complaint (Doc. No.
1), No. 3:15-cv-1062-J-39JBT. On March 28, 2016, the Honorable
Joel B. Toomey, United States Magistrate Judge, entered a
Memorandum Order (“2016 Memorandum Order”)
reversing and remanding the Commissioner's 2014 decision
for further administrative proceedings based in part on the
ALJ's failure to properly discuss and weigh the opinions
of Dr. Hector Pagan, one of Plaintiff's treating
physicians. Tr. at 1084-91. On March 29, 2016, Judgment was
entered reversing and remanding the matter to the
Commissioner. Tr. at 1082. Thereafter, the Appeals Council
entered an Order on May 9, 2016 remanding the case to the
ALJ. Tr. at 1093-95.
December 5, 2016, the same ALJ held another hearing, during
which he heard testimony from Plaintiff, who was again
represented by counsel, and a different VE. Tr. at 1038-54.
On January 18, 2017, the ALJ issued a Decision finding
Plaintiff not disabled through the date of the Decision. Tr.
at 1014-31. The Appeals Council received additional
information in the form of a brief authored by
Plaintiff's counsel. Tr. at 1008, 1009; see Tr.
at 1154-59 (brief). The Appeals Council, however,
“found no reason . . . to assume jurisdiction, ”
making the ALJ's Decision the final decision of the
Commissioner. Tr. at 1004; see Tr. at 1004-07. On
May 16, 2018, Plaintiff commenced this action under 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) by filing a Complaint
(Doc. No. 1), seeking judicial review of the
Commissioner's final decision.
appeal, Plaintiff makes the following argument: “The
ALJ's evaluation of the treating physicians' opinions
is contrary to [law], resulting in a legally deficient
[residual functional capacity (‘RFC')] finding and
‘credibility' assessment.” Plaintiff's
Memorandum - Social Security (Doc. No. 16; “Pl.'s
Mem.”), filed September 19, 2018, at 1, 11 (emphasis
and capitalization omitted). Specifically, Plaintiff takes
issue with the ALJ's evaluation of Dr. Pagan's and
Dr. Ronald Joseph's respective opinions. See
Pl.'s Mem. at 12-18. On December 18, 2018, Defendant
filed a Memorandum in Support of the Commissioner's
Decision (Doc. No. 19; “Def.'s Mem.”)
addressing Plaintiff's argument regarding the medical
opinions. After a thorough review of the entire
record and consideration of the parties' respective
memoranda, the undersigned determines that the
Commissioner's final decision is due to be reversed and
remanded because the ALJ erred in evaluating the treating
physicians' opinions and Plaintiff's subjective
remand, a proper evaluation of the treating physicians'
opinions and Plaintiff's subjective complaints may impact
the ALJ's RFC determination. For this reason, the Court
need not address that portion of Plaintiff's argument.
See Jackson v. Bowen, 801 F.2d 1291, 1294 n.2 (11th
Cir. 1986) (per curiam) (declining to address certain issues
because they were likely to be reconsidered on remand);
Demenech v. Sec'y of the Dep't of Health &
Human Servs., 913 F.2d 882, 884 (11th Cir. 1990) (per
curiam) (concluding that certain arguments need not be
addressed when the case would be remanded on other issues).
The ALJ's Decision
determining whether an individual is disabled,  an ALJ must
follow the five-step sequential inquiry set forth in the Code
of Federal Regulations (“Regulations”),
determining as appropriate whether the claimant (1) is
currently employed or engaging in substantial gainful
activity; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has an impairment
or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals
one listed in the Regulations; (4) can perform past relevant
work; and (5) retains the ability to perform any work in the
national economy. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920;
see also Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1237
(11th Cir. 2004). The claimant bears the burden of persuasion
through step four, and at step five, the burden shifts to the
Commissioner. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146
the ALJ followed the five-step sequential inquiry.
See Tr. at 1016-31. At step one, the ALJ determined
that Plaintiff “has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since October 1, 2011, the alleged onset
date.” Tr. at 1016 (emphasis and citation omitted). At
step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff “has the
following severe impairments: left shoulder rotator cuff
tear, degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar
spine, obesity, diabetes mellitus with peripheral neuropathy,
and depression.” Tr. at 1017 (emphasis and citation
omitted). At step three, the ALJ ascertained that Plaintiff
“does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
one of the listed impairments in 20 [C.F.R.] Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1.” Tr. at 1017 (emphasis and
determined that Plaintiff has the following RFC:
[Plaintiff can] perform light work as defined in 20 [C.F.R.
§§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b)] with the following
limitations: a 30-minute sit/stand option; occasional
climbing of ramps and stairs; no climbing of ladders, ropes,
and scaffolds; no balancing; only occasional stooping,
kneeling, crouching, and crawling; no overhead reaching; and
no more than frequent handling and fingering on both sides.
[Plaintiff] should not have concentrated exposure to work
around vibrations, work around moving mechanical parts, or
work at unprotected heights. [Plaintiff] is limited to
performing simple tasks with little variation that take a
short period of time to learn (that is, up to and including
30 days) and jobs with a specific vocational preparation
(SVP) level of 1 or 2. [Plaintiff] is able to deal with
changes in a routine work setting. He could relate adequately
with supervisors with occasional coworker and no general
Tr. at 1020 (emphasis omitted).
four, the ALJ relied on the testimony of the VE and found
that Plaintiff is “unable to perform any past relevant
work.” Tr. at 1029 (emphasis and citation omitted). At
step five, after considering Plaintiff's age (“48
years old . . . on the alleged disability onset date”),
education (“at least a high school education”),
work experience, and RFC, the ALJ again relied on the
testimony of the VE and found that “there are jobs that
exist in significant numbers in the national economy that
[Plaintiff] can perform, ” Tr. at 1030 (emphasis and
citation omitted), such as “Warehouse Checker”;
“Assembler, Small Products”; and
“Inspector, ” Tr. at 1031. The ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff “has not been under a disability . . . from
October 1, 2011, through the date of th[e D]ecision.”
Tr. at 1031 (emphasis and citation omitted).
Standard of Review
Court reviews the Commissioner's final decision as to
disability pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and
1383(c)(3). Although no deference is given to the ALJ's
conclusions of law, findings of fact “are conclusive if
. . . supported by ‘substantial evidence.'”
Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir.
2001) (citing Falge v. Apfel, 150 F.3d 1320, 1322
(11th Cir. 1998)). “Substantial evidence is something
‘more than a mere scintilla, but less than a
preponderance.'” Dyer v. Barnhart, 395
F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005) (quoting Hale v.
Bowen, 831 F.2d 1007, 1011 (11th Cir. 1987)). The
substantial evidence standard is met when there is
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Falge, 150 F.3d at 1322 (quoting Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). It is not for this
Court to reweigh the evidence; rather, the entire record is
reviewed to determine whether “the decision reached is
reasonable and supported by substantial evidence.”
Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145 (11th
Cir. 1991) (citation omitted). The decision reached by the
Commissioner must be affirmed if it is supported by
substantial evidence-even if the evidence preponderates
against the Commissioner's findings. Crawford v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158-59 (11th
Cir. 2004) (per curiam).
takes issue with the ALJ's analysis of the opinions of
Plaintiff's treating physicians, Dr. Pagan and Dr.
Joseph, as well as with the ALJ's evaluation of
Plaintiff's subjective complaints. The undersigned
addresses each issue in turn.
Treating Physicians' Opinions
contends that “the ALJ did not demonstrate that the
opinions of Drs. Pagan and Joseph are inconsistent with or
unsupported by the record.” Pl.'s Mem. at 16.
Plaintiff argues that “[h]is pain levels have been
rated as consistently high despite various medications, nerve
blocks and surgery having been employed.” Id.
at 17-18. Plaintiff asserts the ALJ incorrectly
“rel[ied] upon his lay analysis of the raw medical data
to reject the only treating physician's opinion[s]
regarding Plaintiff's work-related limitations.”
Id. at 18.
Defendant contends that in discounting the opinions of Dr.
Pagan and Dr. Joseph, “[t]he ALJ noted that objective
findings occasionally revealed full extremity strength and
normal extremity range of motion.” Def.'s Mem. at 8
(citations omitted). Defendant argues that “[t]he ALJ
also noted that . . . another treating physician[ ]
characterized Plaintiff's complaints as
‘moderate.'” Id. (citations
Regulations establish a “hierarchy”
among medical opinions that provides a framework for
determining the weight afforded each medical opinion:
“[g]enerally, the opinions of examining physicians are
given more weight than those of non-examining physicians[;]
treating physicians[' opinions] are given more weight
than [non-treating physicians;] and the opinions of
specialists are given more weight on issues within the area
of expertise than those of non-specialists.”
McNamee v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 164 Fed.Appx. 919, 923
(11th Cir. 2006) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(1),
(2), (5) (2006)). The following factors are relevant in
determining the weight to be given to a physician's
opinion: (1) the “[l]ength of the treatment
relationship and the frequency of examination”; (2) the
“[n]ature and extent of [any] treatment
relationship”; (3) ...