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Brinson v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division

September 30, 2019

ALICIA NICOLE BRINSON, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          DANIEL C. IRICK UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Alicia Nicole Brinson (Claimant) appeals the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying her application for supplemental security income. Doc. 1. Claimant argues that: 1) the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) erred by failing to fully and fairly develop the record in this case (Doc. 15 at 10); and 2) that the Appeals Council erred by failing to apply the correct legal standard when considering new evidence submitted in support of Claimant's request for review. Id. at 15. Claimant requests that the Court remand the case for further administrative proceedings. Id. at 20. For the reasons set forth below, it is RECOMMENDED that the Commissioner's final decision be AFFIRMED.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On November 6, 2015, Claimant filed an application for supplemental security income. R. 10. This application was denied initially on January 5, 2016 and again upon reconsideration on February 12, 2016. R. 10. On February 19, 2016, Claimant filed a written request for a hearing. R. 10. On September 6, 2017, Claimant and Claimant's Mother, Lisa Mitchell, appeared and testified at the hearing. R. 10. On October 30, 2017, the ALJ found that Claimant was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act from November 6, 2015 through the date of the decision. R. 20. Claimant requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision and submitted one document to the Appeals Council as additional evidence. R. 1-6. The Appeals Council found no basis for changing the ALJ's decision and denied Claimant's request for review on August 9, 2018. R. 1. Therefore, the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision. This appeal followed.

         II. THE ALJ'S DECISION

         The ALJ issued his final decision deny Claimant's application for supplemental security income on October 30, 2017. R. 20. In the decision, the ALJ found that Claimant has the following severe impairments: social anxiety disorder, dependent personality disorder, avoidant personality disorder, and depressive disorder. R. 12. However, the ALJ determined that Claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of any listed impairment. R. 12.

         The ALJ found that Claimant has the Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) to perform “a full range of work at all exertional levels” but with the following specific limitations:

[C]ould lift and carry 100 lbs. occasionally and 50 lbs. frequently. She could sit for six hours, stand for up to six hours, and walk for up to six hours. She could push and pull as much as she can lift and carry. She should have no exposure to unprotected heights or moving mechanical parts. She is limited to simple tasks and simple work related decisions. She is limited to no more than occasional interaction with supervisors, and co-workers, and no interaction with the public. Time off task is up to 10% of the 8-hour workday, in addition to normal breaks.

R. 14. The ALJ also found that Claimant was a “younger individual, ” as defined in 20 CFR § 416.963, on the date the application was filed; that Claimant had at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English; and that transferability of job skills is not an issue because Claimant does not have past relevant work.[1] R. 19. Based on these findings, and on the vocational expert's testimony at the hearing, the ALJ determined that Claimant is capable of making successful adjustment to work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. R. 20. The ALJ therefore found that Claimant was not disabled from November 6, 2015, the date the application was filed, through the date of the decision. R. 20.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The scope of the Court's review is limited to determining whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards, and whether the Commissioner's findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence. Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (quotations omitted). The Commissioner's findings of fact are conclusive if they are supported by substantial evidence, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), which is defined as “more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1440 (11th Cir. 1997). The Court must view the evidence as a whole, taking into account evidence favorable as well as unfavorable to the Commissioner's decision, when determining whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence. Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1995). The Court may not reweigh evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner, and, even if the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's decision, the reviewing court must affirm it if the decision is supported by substantial evidence. Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         For the reasons that follow, the undersigned finds that Claimant has not established that she was prejudiced by the ALJ's failure to require further consultative testing, nor has she established that the Appeals Counsel failed to apply the correct legal standard in considering new evidence submitted in support of Claimant's request for review. Accordingly, as set forth in the following paragraphs, it is RECOMMENDED that the Court reject Claimant's assignments of error.

         A. Failure to Fully and Fairly Develop the Record

         Claimant argues that the ALJ failed to fully and fairly develop the record. Doc. 15 at 10. Claimant explains that the consultative examiner, Dr. Trinidad, opined that “'[f]urther in-depth evaluation is needed to rule [out] any neurodevelopmental factors, ” that ARNP Mahatha “noted [Claimant] required a referral for psychological testing to rule out autism spectrum disorder, ” and that Claimant's Mother testified that claimant “needed an [in-depth] evaluation.” Doc. 15 at 9-10. Claimant asserts that she was prejudiced by the ALJ's failure to order further testing[2] because, according to Claimant, this failure rendered the ALJ unable to properly evaluate whether Claimant met or equaled the requirements of Listing 12.02 for Neurocognitive Disorders.[3] Doc. 15 at 10.

         As an initial matter, Claimant overstates the recommendation made by Dr. Trinidad, who, out of the three recommenders Claimant cites, is the only acceptable medical source. Claimant seems to suggest that Dr. Trinidad's statement that “further in-depth evaluation is needed to rule out neurodevelopmental factors” equates to a recommendation that Claimant be evaluated for a Neurocognitive Disorder as defined under Listing 12.02. See Id. In fact, Dr. Trinidad's statement appears in the context of a paragraph discussing the unclear etiology of Claimant's symptoms and actually seems to suggest that further testing would be necessary to rule out neurodevelopmental factors as they relate to the cause of Claimant's already existing symptoms.[4]See R. 13. In other words, Dr. Trinidad's statements speak to further ...


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