United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division
HONORABLE CHRISTOPHER P. TUTTE, United States Magistrate
Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the Commissioner’s
denial of her claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB).
For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner’s
decision is affirmed.
Plaintiff was born in 1967, completed high school, and has
past relevant work experience as a resource teacher, model
home designer, showroom designer, and customer service
representative. (R. 26, 364, 415). In April 2012, the
Plaintiff applied for DIB, alleging disability as of May 2,
2009, due to anxiety, neuropathy, tarsal tunnel syndrome, and
back, leg, and upper body issues stemming from an accident at
work. (R. 364-65, 414). The Social Security Administration
denied the Plaintiff’s application both initially and
on reconsideration. (R. 160-73).
Plaintiff’s request, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
conducted a hearing on the matter on June 12, 2014. (R.
69-149). Following that hearing, the ALJ issued a decision in
September 2014 finding that the Plaintiff was not disabled.
(R. 174-98). Upon review, however, the Appeals Council
remanded the Plaintiff’s claim for further
consideration. (R. 199).
held a new hearing on the matter on November 15, 2016. (R.
34-68). The Plaintiff was represented by counsel at that
hearing and testified on her own behalf. (R. 36-63). A
vocational expert (VE) also testified. (R. 63-68).
decision dated December 12, 2016, the ALJ found that the
Plaintiff: (1) was insured through December 31, 2018, and had
not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged
onset date of May 2, 2009; (2) had the severe impairments of
obesity, Meniere’s disease, tarsal tunnel syndrome,
early degenerative disc disease of the shoulder, degenerative
disc disease of the cervical spine with spondylosis, and
status post right shoulder arthroscopic surgery; (3) did not,
however, have an impairment or combination of impairments
that met or medically equaled the severity of any of the
listed impairments; (4) had the residual functional capacity
(RFC) to perform less than the full range of sedentary work
subject to certain limitations, including lifting and
carrying ten pounds occasionally and reaching frequently but
never overhead; and (5) based in part on the VE’s
testimony, could not engage in her past relevant work but was
capable of performing other jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy. (R. 10-26). In light of
these findings, the ALJ again concluded that the Plaintiff
was not disabled. Id.
Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff’s request for
review. (R. 1-6). Accordingly, the ALJ’s decision
became the final decision of the Commissioner.
Social Security Act (the Act) defines disability as the
“inability to engage in any substantial gainful
activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or
mental impairment . . . which has lasted or can be expected
to last for a continuous period of not less than 12
months.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A),
1382c(a)(3)(A); see also 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1505(a), 416.905(a). A physical or mental impairment under
the Act “results from anatomical, physiological, or
psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by
medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic
techniques.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(3),
determine whether a claimant is disabled, the Social Security
Regulations (Regulations) prescribe “a five-step,
sequential evaluation process.” Carter v.
Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 726 Fed.Appx. 737, 739 (11th
Cir. 2018) (citing 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)).Under this process, an ALJ must determine
whether the claimant: (1) is performing substantial gainful
activity; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has a severe
impairment that meets or equals an impairment specifically
listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; (4) has
the RFC to perform past relevant work; and (5) can perform
other work in the national economy given her RFC, age,
education, and work experience. Id. (citing
Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1237 (11th Cir.
2004); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4)).
While the claimant has the burden of proof through step four,
the burden temporarily shifts to the Commissioner at step
five. Sampson v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 694
Fed.Appx. 727, 734 (11th Cir. 2017) (citing Jones v.
Apfel, 190 F.3d 1224, 1228 (11th Cir. 1999)). If the
Commissioner carries that burden, the claimant must then
prove that she cannot perform the work identified by the
Commissioner. Id. In the end, “the overall
burden of demonstrating the existence of a disability . . .
rests with the claimant.” Washington v.
Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 906 F.3d 1353, 1359 (11th
Cir. 2018) (quoting Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274,
1280 (11th Cir. 2001)).
claimant who does not prevail at the administrative level may
seek judicial review in federal court provided that the
Commissioner has issued a final decision on the matter after
a hearing. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Judicial review is
limited to determining whether the Commissioner applied the
correct legal standards and whether the decision is supported
by substantial evidence. Id.; Hargress v. Soc.
Sec. Admin., Comm’r, 883 F.3d 1302, 1305
n.2 (11th Cir. 2018) (citation omitted). “Substantial
evidence is more than a scintilla and is such relevant
evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Hargress, 883 F.3d at
1305 n.2 (quoting Crawford v. Comm’r of Soc.
Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004)). In
evaluating whether substantial evidence supports the
Commissioner’s decision, the Court “may not
decide the facts anew, make credibility determinations, or
re-weigh the evidence.” Carter, 726 Fed.Appx.
at 739 (citing Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208,
1211 (11th Cir. 2005) (per curiam)). “[W]hile the court
accords deference to the Commissioner’s factual
findings, no such deference is given to [his] legal
conclusions.” Keel-Desensi v. Berryhill, 2019
WL 1417326, at *2 (M.D. Fla. Mar. 29, 2019) (citations
Plaintiff raises three arguments on appeal: (1) the ALJ
failed to properly evaluate certain medical opinions; (2) the
ALJ’s RFC finding is not supported by substantial
evidence; and (3) the ALJ engaged in “sit and
these arguments is addressed in turn below.
assessing an individual’s disability claim, an ALJ
“must consider all medical opinions in a
claimant’s case record, together with other relevant
evidence.” McClurkin v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 625
Fed.Appx. 960, 962 (11th Cir. 2015) (citing 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(b)). “‘Medical opinions are statements
from physicians and psychologists or other acceptable medical
sources that reflect judgments about the nature and severity
of [the claimant’s] impairment(s), including [the
claimant’s] symptoms, diagnosis and prognosis, what
[the claimant] can still do despite [her] impairment(s), and
[the claimant’s] physical or mental
restrictions.’” Winschel v. Comm’r of
Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178-79 (11th Cir. 2011)
(quoting 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(a)(2)). If a
doctor’s statement rises to the level of a
“medical opinion, ” an ALJ must state with
particularity the weight given to that opinion and the
reasons therefor. Id. at 1179. In rendering this
determination, the ALJ must consider: (1) whether the doctor
has examined the claimant; (2) the length, nature, and extent
of the doctor’s relationship with the claimant; (3) the
medical evidence and explanation supporting the
doctor’s opinion; (4) how consistent the doctor’s
opinion is with the record as a whole; and (5) the
doctor’s area of specialization. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(c). While the ALJ is required to consider each of
these factors, it is not mandatory that she explicitly
address them in her decision. Lawton v. Comm’r of
Soc. Sec., 431 Fed.Appx. 830, 833 (11th Cir. 2011).
Regulations set forth three tiers of sources for medical
opinions: (1) treating physicians; (2) non-treating,
examining physicians; and (3) non-treating, non-examining
physicians. Himes v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 585
Fed.Appx. 758, 762 (11th Cir. 2014) (citing 20 C.F.R. §
the ALJ must afford the opinions of a treating physician
substantial or considerable weight unless “good
cause” is shown to the contrary. Crawford, 363
F.3d at 1159. Good cause exists where: (1) the treating
physician’s opinion is inconsistent with the record
evidence; (2) the record evidence supports a conflicting
finding; or (3) the treating physician’s opinion is
conclusory or incompatible with the physician’s own
medical records. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c);
Phillips, 357 F.3d at 1240-41; Crawford,
363 F.3d at 1159. In addition, this Circuit has held that a
treating physician’s opinion is not entitled to great
weight where the ...