United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division
OPINION AND ORDER 
R. KLINDT, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Burdge (“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
a retinal tear, floaters in the right eye, “left eye
tear and detachment, ” eye fatigue, chronic double
vision, eye muscle pain, a pinched nerve in the neck, sleep
apnea, elevated liver enzymes, high cholesterol, depression,
and anxiety. See Transcript of Administrative
Proceedings (Doc. No. 12; “Tr.” or
“administrative transcript”), filed June 1, 2018,
at 62-63, 74, 188 (capitalization and emphasis omitted).
Plaintiff filed an application for DIB on November 24, 2015,
at 167, alleging a disability onset date of August 1, 2015,
Tr. at 63, 74. The application was denied initially, Tr. at
62-71, 72, 89-91, and upon reconsideration, Tr. at 73-85, 86,
February 21, 2017, 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 33-61.
Plaintiff was fifty-two years old at the time of the hearing.
Tr. at 36. The ALJ issued a Decision on June 14, 2017,
finding Plaintiff not disabled through the date of the
Decision. Tr. at 15-28.
Plaintiff requested review of the Decision by the Appeals
Council. Tr. at 166. The Appeals Council received additional
evidence in the form of a brief authored by Plaintiff’s
counsel. Tr. at 4, 5; see Tr. at 295-98 (brief). On
February 28, 2018, the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff’s request for review, Tr. at 1-3, thereby
making the ALJ’s Decision the final decision of the
Commissioner. On March 27, 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 raises three issues: 1) “[w]hether
the ALJ’s finding that the opinion of treating
physician Dr. [Sarada] Penukonda is entitled to
‘limited weight’ is supported by substantial
evidence and comports with the requirements of 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1527; SSR 96-2p”; 2) “[w]hether the
ALJ’s assessment of Plaintiff’s credibility is
supported by substantial evidence, as required by 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1529(c)”; and 3) [w]hether the [residual
functional capacity (‘RFC’)] adequately accounts
for Plaintiff’s need for unscheduled breaks and driving
limitations when viewed in conjunction with the record as a
whole, as required by 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a).”
Plaintiff’s Memorandum in Support of Complaint (Doc.
No. 18; “Pl.’s Mem.”), filed July 13, 2018,
at 8, 12, 15 (emphasis omitted). On October 1, 2018,
Defendant filed a Memorandum in Support of the
Commissioner’s Decision (Doc. No. 19;
“Def.’s Mem.”) addressing the issues raised
by Plaintiff. 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 for further
remand, a proper evaluation of Dr. Penukonda’s opinions
and Plaintiff’s subjective complaints may impact the
ALJ’s RFC determination. For this reason, the Court
need not address Plaintiff’s third issue. 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 17-27. At step one, the ALJ determined
that Plaintiff “has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since August 1, 2015, the alleged onset date.”
Tr. at 17 (emphasis and citation omitted). At step two, the
ALJ found that Plaintiff “has the following severe
impairments: history of retinal detachment with multiple
vitrectomy procedures; history of cataract; history of
greater occipital neuralgia; history of neck pain; and
monocular vision.” Tr. at 18 (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 19 (emphasis and
determined that Plaintiff has the RFC to “perform light
work as defined in 20 [C.F.R. § 404.1567(b)] except she
is limited to work that does not require binocular
vision.” Tr. at 20 (emphasis omitted). At step four,
the ALJ relied on the testimony of the VE and found that
Plaintiff “is unable to perform any past relevant
work.” Tr. at 26 (emphasis and citation omitted). At
step five, after considering Plaintiff’s age (“51
years old . . . on the alleged disability onset date”),
education (“at least a high school education”),
work experience, and RFC, the ALJ relied again 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 26 (emphasis and
citation omitted), such as “sorter, ”
“packer, ” and “cleaner, ” Tr. at 27.
The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff “has not been under a
disability . . . from August 1, 2015, through the date of
th[e D]ecision.” Tr. at 27 (emphasis and citation
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 above, Plaintiff takes issue with the ALJ’s
analysis of Dr. Penukonda’s opinions and the
ALJ’s evaluation of Plaintiff’s subjective
complaints. The undersigned addresses each issue in turn.
Dr. Penukonda’s Opinions
contends the ALJ erred in discounting Dr. Penukonda’s
opinions on the basis that “there were not adequate
recent treatment notes from Dr. Penukonda to support the
opinion.” Pl.’s Mem. at 9 (citation omitted).
Plaintiff argues that in evaluating Dr. Penukonda’s
opinions, “the ALJ did not perform the required
analysis of considering the consistency of Dr.
Penukonda’s opinion with the evidence as a
whole.” Id. (citation omitted). According to
Plaintiff, “[t]here is no evidence whatsoever from an
examining source or from Plaintiff’s testimony to
contradict Dr. Penukonda’s opinion.” Id.
Defendant asserts that “[t]he ALJ properly gave little
weight to Dr. Penukonda’s opinion regarding
Plaintiff’s headaches and vision because Dr. Penukonda
was an internist, Dr. Penukonda’s opinion was not
accompanied by detailed medical evidence, he last treated
Plaintiff two years prior to the date of h[er] opinion, and
the opinion was inconsistent with medical evidence from the
relevant period.” Def.’s Mem. at 5.
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)
“[c]onsistency” with other medical evidence in
the record; and (5) “[s]pecialization.” 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1527(c)(2)-(5), 416.927(c)(2)-(5); see
also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(f), 416.927(f).
regard to a treating physician,  the Regulations instruct
ALJs how to properly weigh such a medical opinion.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2). Because
treating physicians “are likely to be the medical
professionals most able to provide a detailed, longitudinal
picture of [a claimant’s] medical impairment(s),
” a treating physician’s medical opinion is to be
afforded controlling weight if it is “well-supported by
medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic
techniques and is not inconsistent with the other substantial
evidence” in the record. Id. When a treating
physician’s medical opinion is not due controlling
weight, the ALJ must determine the appropriate weight it
should be given by considering the factors identified above
(the length of treatment, ...