United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division
SUSAN M. PADULA, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security,  Defendant.
ANTHONY E. PORCELLI, United States Magistrate Judge
seeks judicial review of the denial of her claim for
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). As the
Administrative Law Judge’s (“ALJ”) decision
was based on substantial evidence and employed proper legal
standards, the Commissioner’s decision is affirmed.
filed an application for DIB (Tr. 148-49). The Commissioner
denied Plaintiff’s claims both initially and upon
reconsideration (Tr. 62-73). Plaintiff then requested an
administrative hearing (Tr. 74-75). Per Plaintiff’s
request, the ALJ held a hearing at which Plaintiff appeared
and testified (Tr. 30-49). Following the hearing, the ALJ
issued an unfavorable decision finding Plaintiff not disabled
and accordingly denied Plaintiff’s claims for benefits
(Tr. 12-29). Subsequently, Plaintiff requested review from
the Appeals Council, which the Appeals Council denied (Tr.
1-6, 146-47). Plaintiff then timely filed a complaint with
this Court (Doc. 1). The case is now ripe for review under 42
U.S.C. § 405(g).
Factual Background and the ALJ’s Decision
who was born in 1959, claimed disability beginning January
22, 2014 (Tr. 148). Plaintiff obtained a high school
education (Tr. 171). Plaintiff’s past relevant work
experience included work as a hair stylist (Tr. 44–45,
171). Plaintiff alleged disability due to tennis elbow in
both elbows, trigger finger in the right hand, and foot pain
related to pulled tendons in both feet (Tr. 170).
rendering the administrative decision, the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff met the insured status requirements through March
31, 2019 and that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since January 22, 2014, the alleged onset
date (Tr. 17). After conducting a hearing and reviewing the
evidence of record, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the
following severe impairments: lateral epicondylitis; trigger
finger and thumb; carpal tunnel syndrome; minimal
degenerative changes of the bilateral wrists, hands, and
elbows; bilateral Morton’s neuroma of second web space;
metatarsalgia; tenosynovitis; and thoracic compression
fracture (Tr. 17). Notwithstanding the noted impairments, the
ALJ determined Plaintiff did 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. 19). The ALJ then concluded that Plaintiff
retained a residual functional capacity (“RFC”)
to perform light work except that she could only frequently
reach, handle, finger, feel, push, pull, and operate foot
controls; occasionally climb and crawl; frequently balance,
stoop, kneel, and crouch; and frequently operate motor
vehicles (Tr. 19). In formulating Plaintiff’s RFC, the
ALJ considered Plaintiff’s subjective complaints and
determined that, although the evidence established the
presence of underlying impairments that reasonably could be
expected to produce the symptoms alleged, Plaintiff’s
statements as to the intensity, persistence, and limiting
effects of her symptoms were not entirely consistent with the
medical evidence and other evidence (Tr. 20). Considering
Plaintiff’s noted impairments and the assessment of a
vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff could perform her past relevant work as a hair
stylist (Tr. 24). Accordingly, based on Plaintiff’s
age, education, work experience, RFC, and the testimony of
the VE, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled (Tr. 25).
entitled to benefits, a claimant must be disabled, meaning
the claimant must be unable “to engage in any
substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically
determinable physical or mental impairment which can be
expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be
expected to last for a continuous period of not less than
twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).
“[A] physical or mental impairment is an impairment
that 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).
Social Security Administration, in order to regularize the
adjudicative process, promulgated the detailed regulations
currently in effect. These regulations establish a
“sequential evaluation process” to determine
whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. If
an individual is found disabled at any point in the
sequential review, further inquiry is unnecessary. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a). Under this process, the ALJ must
determine, in sequence, the following: whether the claimant
is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; whether
the claimant has a severe impairment, i.e., one that
significantly limits the ability to perform work-related
functions; whether the severe impairment meets or equals the
medical criteria of 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix
1; and whether the claimant can perform his or her past
relevant work. If the claimant cannot perform the tasks
required of his or her prior work, step five of the
evaluation requires the ALJ to decide if the claimant can do
other work in the national economy in view of his or her age,
education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a).
A claimant is entitled to benefits only if unable to perform
other work. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137,
140–42 (1987); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g).
determination by the Commissioner that a claimant is not
disabled must be upheld if it is supported by substantial
evidence and comports with applicable legal standards.
See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)
(quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197,
229 (1938) (internal quotation marks omitted)); Miles v.
Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996). While the
court reviews the Commissioner’s decision with
deference to the factual findings, no such deference is given
to the legal conclusions. Keeton v. Dep’t of Health
& Human Servs., 21 F.3d 1064, 1066 (11th Cir. 1994)
(citing Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145
(11th Cir. 1991)).
reviewing the Commissioner’s decision, the court may
not re-weigh the evidence or substitute its own judgment for
that of the ALJ even if it finds that the evidence
preponderates against the ALJ’s decision.
Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th
Cir. 1983). The Commissioner’s failure to apply the
correct law, or to give the reviewing court sufficient
reasoning for determining that he or she has conducted the
proper legal analysis, mandates reversal. Keeton, 21
F.3d at 1066. The scope of review is thus limited to
determining whether the findings of the Commissioner are
supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct
legal standards were applied. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir.
2002) (per curiam).
argues that the ALJ erred by failing to properly consider the
opinion evidence from Dr. Leo Chen, Dr. Kalyani Ganesh, and
Dr. Ciceron Villavivcencio Lazo. When assessing the medical
evidence, the ALJ must state with particularity the weight
afforded to different medical opinions and the reasons
therefor. Winschel v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 631
F.3d 1176, 1179 (11th Cir. 2011) (citation omitted). The
Social Security regulations provide guidelines for the ALJ to
employ when evaluating medical opinion evidence. See
20 C.F.R. § 404.1527. In determining the weight to
afford a medical opinion, the ALJ considers a variety of
factors including but not limited to the examining
relationship, the treatment relationship, whether an opinion
is well-supported, whether an opinion is consistent with the
record, and the area of the doctor’s specialization. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1527(c). For instance, the more a medical
source presents evidence to support an opinion, such as
medical signs and laboratory findings, the more weight that
medical opinion will receive. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(c)(3). Further, the more consistent the medical
opinion is with the record, the more weight that opinion will
receive. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(4). Typically, the ALJ
must afford the testimony of a treating physician substantial
or considerable weight unless “good cause” is
shown to the contrary. Crawford v. Comm’r of Soc.
Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1159 (11th Cir. 2004) (per
curiam) (citation omitted). Good cause exists where: (1)
the treating physician’s opinion was not bolstered by
the evidence; (2) the evidence supported a contrary finding;
or (3) the treating physician’s opinion was conclusory
or inconsistent with the physician’s own medical
records. Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232,
1240-41 (11th Cir. 2004). In fact, the ALJ may reject any
opinion when the evidence supports a contrary conclusion.
Sryock v. Heckler, 764 F.2d 834, 835 (11th Cir.
1985) (per curiam).
Commissioner notes, a physician’s opinion as to what a
claimant can still do despite his or her impairments differs
from an ALJ’s assessment of a claimant’s RFC.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1513, 404.1545,
404.1546; Social Security Ruling (“SSR”) 96-5p,
1996 WL 374183 (July 2, 1996). Indeed, SSR 96-5p explains:
Even though the adjudicator’s RFC assessment may adopt
the opinions in a medical source statement, they are not the
same thing: A medical source statement is evidence that is
submitted to SSA by an individual’s medical source
reflecting the source’s opinion based on his or her own
knowledge, while an RFC assessment is the adjudicator’s
ultimate finding based on a consideration of this opinion and
all the other evidence in the case record about what an
individual can do despite his or her impairment(s).
A medical source’s statement about what an individual
can still do is medical opinion evidence that an adjudicator
must consider together with all of the other relevant
evidence (including other medical source statements that may
be in the case record) when assessing an individual’s
RFC. Although an adjudicator may decide to adopt all of the
opinions expressed in a medical source statement, a ...