United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
C. RICHARDSON, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
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 video
hearing held on July 17, 2017, the assigned Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) issued a decision finding
Plaintiff not disabled from March 5, 2014, the alleged
disability onset date, through September 21, 2017, the date
of the decision. (Tr. 36-45.) Based on a review of the
record, the briefs, and the applicable law, the
Commissioner’s decision is REVERSED and
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
that the court must scrutinize the entire record to determine
the reasonableness of the Commissioner’s factual
argues that a remand is necessary because (1) the ALJ’s
reasons for rejecting Plaintiff’s testimony about her
pain were not supported by substantial evidence and (2) the
record did not support the ALJ’s findings that
Plaintiff’s anxiety and depression were non-severe
impairments. Defendant responds that substantial evidence
supports the ALJ’s analysis at step two of the
sequential evaluation process and that the ALJ properly
evaluated Plaintiff’s subjective complaints.
Standard for Evaluating Opinion Evidence and
is required to consider all the evidence in the record when
making a disability determination. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(3), 416.920(a)(3). With regard to
medical opinion evidence, “the ALJ must state with
particularity the weight given to different medical opinions
and the reasons therefor.” Winschel v. Comm’r
of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1179 (11th Cir. 2011).
Substantial weight must be given to a treating
physician’s opinion unless there is good cause to do
otherwise. See Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436,
1440 (11th Cir. 1997).
cause’ exists when the: (1) treating physician’s
opinion was not bolstered by the evidence; (2) evidence
supported a contrary finding; or (3) treating
physician’s opinion was conclusory or inconsistent with
the doctor’s own medical records.” Phillips
v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1240-41 (11th Cir. 2004).
When a treating physician’s opinion does not warrant
controlling weight, the ALJ must nevertheless weigh the
medical opinion based on: (1) the length of the treatment
relationship and the frequency of examination, (2) the nature
and extent of the treatment relationship, (3) the medical
evidence supporting the opinion, (4) consistency of the
medical opinion with the record as a whole, (5)
specialization in the medical issues at issue, and (6) any
other factors that tend to support or contradict the opinion.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(c)(2)-(6), 416.927(c)(2)-(6).
“However, the ALJ is not required to explicitly address
each of those factors. Rather, the ALJ must provide
‘good cause’ for rejecting a treating
physician’s medical opinions.” Lawton v.
Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 431 Fed.Appx. 830, 833 (11th
Cir. 2011) (per curiam).
a treating physician’s opinion is generally entitled to
more weight than a consulting physician’s opinion,
see Wilson v. Heckler, 734 F.2d 513, 518 (11th Cir.
1984) (per curiam), 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(c)(2),
416.927(c)(2), “[t]he opinions of state agency
physicians” can outweigh the contrary opinion of a
treating physician if “that opinion has been properly
discounted, ” Cooper v. Astrue, 2008 WL
649244, *3 (M.D. Fla. Mar. 10, 2008). Further, “the ALJ
may reject any medical opinion if the evidence supports a
contrary finding.” Wainwright v. Comm’r of
Soc. Sec. Admin., 2007 WL 708971, *2 (11th Cir. Mar. 9,
2007) (per curiam); see also Sryock v. Heckler, 764
F.2d 834, 835 (11th Cir. 1985) (per curiam) (same).
ALJ is required to consider the opinions of non-examining
state agency medical and psychological consultants because
they ‘are highly qualified physicians and
psychologists, who are also experts in Social Security
disability evaluation.’” Milner v.
Barnhart, 275 Fed.Appx. 947, 948 (11th Cir. 2008) (per
curiam); see also SSR 96-6p (stating that the ALJ
must treat the findings of State agency medical consultants
as expert opinion evidence of non-examining sources). While
the ALJ is not bound by the findings of non-examining
physicians, the ALJ may not ignore these opinions and must
explain the weight given to them in his decision. SSR 96-6p.
claimant seeks to establish disability through her own
testimony of pain or other subjective symptoms, the Eleventh
Circuit’s three-part “pain standard”
applies. Holt v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d 1221, 1223 (11th
Cir. 1991) (per curiam). “If the ALJ decides not to
credit such testimony, he must articulate explicit and
adequate reasons for doing so.” Id.
The pain standard requires (1) evidence of an underlying
medical condition and either (2) objective medical evidence
that confirms the severity of the alleged pain arising from
that condition or (3) that the objectively determined medical
condition is of such a severity that it can be reasonably
expected to give rise to the alleged pain.
claimant establishes that her pain is disabling through
objective medical evidence from an acceptable medical source
that shows a medical impairment that could reasonably be
expected to produce the pain or other symptoms, pursuant to
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1529(a), 416.929(a), “all
evidence about the intensity, persistence, and functionally
limiting effects of pain or other symptoms must be considered
in addition to the medical signs and laboratory findings in
deciding the issue of disability, ” Foote, 67
F.3d at 1561. See also SSR 16-3p (stating that
after the ALJ finds a medically determinable impairment
exists, the ALJ must analyze “the intensity,
persistence, and limiting effects of the individual’s
symptoms” to determine “the extent to which an
individual’s symptoms limit his or her ability to
perform work-related activities”).
stated in SSR 16-3p:
In considering the intensity, persistence, and limiting
effects of an individual’s symptoms, [the ALJ must]
examine the entire case record, including the objective
medical evidence; an individual’s statements about the
intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of symptoms;
statements and other information provided by medical sources
and other persons; and any other relevant evidence in the
individual’s case record. . . .
In evaluating an individual’s symptoms, it is not
sufficient for our adjudicators to make a single, conclusory
statement that “the individual’s statements about
his or her symptoms have been considered” or that
“the statements about the individual’s symptoms
are (or are not) supported or consistent.” It is also
not enough for our adjudicators simply to recite the factors
described in the regulations for evaluating
symptoms. The determination or decision must contain
specific reasons for the weight given to the
individual’s symptoms, be consistent with and supported
by the evidence, and be clearly articulated so the individual
and any subsequent reviewer can assess how the adjudicator
evaluated the individual’s symptoms. . . .
In evaluating an individual’s symptoms, our
adjudicators will not assess an individual’s overall
character or truthfulness in the manner typically used during
an adversarial court litigation. The focus of the evaluation
of an individual’s symptoms should not be to determine
whether he or she is a truthful person. Rather, our
adjudicators will focus on whether the evidence establishes a
medically determinable impairment that could reasonably be
expected to produce the individual’s symptoms and given
the adjudicator’s evaluation of the ...