United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division
REGINA S. BELANGIA, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL,  Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER 
R. KLINDT, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
S. Belangia (“Plaintiff”) is appealing the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration's
(“SSA('s)”) final decision denying her claim
for disability income benefits (“DIB”).
Plaintiff's alleged inability to work is the result of
acid reflux, "weight bearing joints," a vision
impairment, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, and depression.
See Transcript of Administrative Proceedings (Doc.
No. 10; “Tr.” or “administrative
transcript”), filed June 21, 2018, at 83-84, 94, 191
(emphasis omitted). Plaintiff filed an application for DIB on
August 8, 2013,  alleging a disability onset date of
January 1, 2012. Tr. at 170. The application was denied
initially, Tr. at 83-90, 92, 114-16, and upon
reconsideration, Tr. at 93, 94-110, 111, 118-22.
January 11, 2016, an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) held a hearing, during which she heard
testimony from Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, and
a vocational expert (“VE”). Tr. at 45-81.
Plaintiff was fifty-one years old at the time of the hearing.
See Tr. at 83 (indicating date of birth). The ALJ
issued a Decision on February 24, 2016, finding Plaintiff not
disabled through the date last insured. Tr. at 25-37.
Plaintiff requested review of the Decision by the Appeals
Council. See Tr. at 19. The Appeals Council received
additional evidence in the form of a brief authored by
Plaintiff's counsel and medical records. Tr. at 8, 9;
see Tr. at 246-47 (brief); Tr. at 404-05 (medical
records). On April 25, 2017, the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review, Tr. at 4-7, thereby
making the ALJ's Decision the final decision of the
Commissioner. On September 18, 2017, the Appeals Council
denied Plaintiff's request to reopen and change the
Decision. Tr. at 2-3. On March 30, 2018, Plaintiff commenced
this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) by timely filing a
Complaint (Doc. No. 1), seeking judicial review of the
Commissioner's final decision.
appeal, Plaintiff makes the following arguments: 1)
"[t]he Commissioner failed to articulate good cause for
not crediting the opinion of Dr. [Christopher] Potter, the
treating neurologist, and further failed to understand the
nature of myotonic dystrophy and its symptoms"; and 2)
"[t]he Commissioner erred in assigning significant
weight to the nonexamining physician, [Dr. Reuben Brigety],
at reconsideration that was issued prior to the time that
[Plaintiff] was diagnosed with myotonic dystrophy."
Plaintiff's Amended Brief (Doc. No. 18; "Pl.'s
Br."), filed August 28, 2018,  at 1, 8, 18 (emphasis
omitted); see Pl.'s Br. at 8-18 (first
argument), 18-21 (second argument). On November 2, 2018,
Defendant filed a Memorandum in Support of the Commissioner
(“Def.'s Mem.”) addressing Plaintiff's
arguments. After a thorough review of the entire record and
consideration of the parties' respective memoranda, the
undersigned finds that the Commissioner's final decision
is due to be affirmed.
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 27-37. At step one, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff “did not engage in substantial gainful
activity during the period of her alleged onset date of
January 1, 2012 through her date last insured on June 30,
2014." Tr. at 27 (emphasis and citation omitted). The
ALJ found at step two that Plaintiff “had the following
severe impairments: myotonic dystrophy, anxiety disorder NOS,
bilateral knee osteoarthritis ('OA'), fibromyalgia
('FM'), [and] depression NOS." Tr. at 27
(emphasis and citation omitted). At step three, the ALJ
concluded that Plaintiff Adid not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one
of the listed impairments in 20 [C.F.R.] Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1." Tr. at 28 (emphasis and citation omitted).
determined that through the date last insured, Plaintiff had
the following residual functional capacity
[Plaintiff could] perform light work as defined in 20 [C.F.R.
§] 404.1567(b) except she was limited to occasional
climbing of ladders, ropes, scaffolds, ramps, or stairs. She
was limited to occasional balancing. She could frequently
stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. She had to avoid
concentrated use of moving machinery and concentrated
exposure to unprotected heights. Work was limited to simple,
routine, and repetitive tasks with only occasional
interaction with the public and coworkers, and only
Tr. at 29 (emphasis omitted).
four, the ALJ relied on the testimony of the VE and found
that “[t]hrough the date last insured, [Plaintiff] was
unable to perform any past relevant work.” Tr. at 36
(emphasis and citation omitted). At step five, after
considering Plaintiffs age (“49 years old . . . on the
date last insured”), education (“at least a high
school education”), work experience, and RFC, the ALJ
relied again on the testimony of the VE and found that
“[t]hrough the date last insured, . . . there were jobs
that existed in significant numbers in the national economy
that [Plaintiff] could have performed, ” Tr. at 36
(emphasis and citation omitted), such as “Marker,
” “Sub Assembler, ” and “Mail Clerk,
” Tr. at 37. The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff
“was not under a disability . . . at any time from
January 1, 2012, the alleged onset date, through June 30,
2014, the date last insured.” Tr. at 37 (emphasis and
Standard of Review
Court reviews the Commissioner's final decision as to
disability pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). 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).
noted, Plaintiff makes the following arguments: 1) the ALJ
erred in evaluating Dr. Potter's opinion and failed to
understand the nature of myotonic dystrophy; and 2) the ALJ
erred in evaluating the opinion of Dr. Brigety, the
nonexamining physician who reviewed the evidence at the
reconsideration level. The undersigned sets out the
parties' arguments and the applicable law. Then, the
issues raised are addressed.
first contends that “[t]he ALJ grossly oversimplified a
very complicated medical condition and erroneously failed to
articulate good cause for not accepting Dr. Potter's
opinions as far as upper extremity limitations prior to
[Plaintiff's] insured status expiring.” Pl.'s
Br. at 17. According to Plaintiff, “Dr. Potter
indicated and the medical literature also indicates that
myotonic dystrophy is progressive.” Id. at 12.
Plaintiff notes that “prior to [Plaintiff's]
insured status expiring, Dr. Potter examined her on multiple
occasions during which time he worked to determine the
etiology of her symptoms.” Id. at 13.
Plaintiff argues that “the ALJ's claim that her
medical condition was satisfactorily managed has no basis in
fact” because Plaintiff's “condition did not
improve and will not ...