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Katz v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

October 9, 2019




         Anna Marie Katz (the “Claimant”), appeals from a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the “Commissioner”), denying her application for disability and Supplemental Security Income benefits. Doc. Nos. 1, 22. Claimant alleges a disability onset date of August 5, 2014. R. 10. Claimant argues that the decision should be reversed because of the following: 1) the ALJ failed to consider Claimant's diagnosis of borderline personality disorder (“BPD”); and 2) the ALJ's finding that Claimant did not suffer any severe mental impairments was not supported by substantial evidence. Doc. No. 22. For the reasons stated below, the ALJ's final decision is AFFIRMED.


         The Commissioner's findings of fact are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2010). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla-i.e., the evidence must do more than merely create a suspicion of the existence of a fact and must include such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support the conclusion. Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1995) (citing Walden v. Schweiker, 672 F.2d 835, 838 (11th Cir. 1982); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). 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 Court must view the evidence as a whole, considering evidence that is favorable as well as unfavorable to the decision. Foote, 67 F.3d at 1560. The District Court “‘may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the [Commissioner].'” Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1240 n.8 (11th Cir. 2004) (quoting Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983)).

         I. ANALYSIS

         At Step Two, the ALJ found that Claimant had the following severe impairments: anemia and a history of dysfunctional uterine bleeding. R. 12. The ALJ noted that Claimant also alleged depression and attention deficit disorder (“ADHD”). R. 13. The ALJ considered the opinions of two examining and two non-examining state agency experts regarding Claimant's mental impairments and weighed them. R. 13-14, 17-18. The ALJ considered Claimant's GAF score of 50 from December 2012. R. 14. The ALJ further considered Claimant's medical records from treating physicians which reflected a lack of treatment, her refusal to take medication or engage in therapy, and a lack of reported symptoms. R. 13-14, 17-18.

         After completing a consultative examination, Dr. Paulillo diagnosed Claimant with BPD and depression but was unable to give a prognosis because of the questionable validity of the information Claimant provided.[1] R. 333. At this evaluation, Dr. Paulillo reported that Claimant stated she is capable of “eating, dressing, bathing, sitting, standing, walking, reading, cooking, using the telephone, doing laundry, and cleaning for herself, ‘depending on whether I am sick.' (in a weak or heavy bleeding cycle).” R. 333. Dr. Paulillo found that Claimant did not appear to complete tasks in a timely manner based on her verbal history and interview behavior and that Claimant demonstrated the ability to follow simple 1-2 step instructions, which require understanding and memory. R. 333. Dr. Paulillo also observed that Claimant “appeared to have difficulty focusing and concentrating during our interactions, although some of this appeared deliberate” and Claimant “appeared to attempt to present herself in an overly symptomatic manner.” R. 330. Dr. Paulillo reported that “Given [certain] inconsistencies, the validity and reliability of the information provided by Ms[.] Katz during this evaluation appears questionable.” R. 330. With respect to her prognosis, Dr. Paulillo indicated that she could not:

reasonably provide a prognosis due to the questionable validity of the information provided by Ms. Katz. Ms. Katz has a pattern of maladaptive dramatic behaviors and has likely become used to a moderate level of distress, as evidenced by her refusal to comply with certain psychiatric medication recommendations. It is unlikely she will be motivated to affect change.

R. 333.

         Claimant's diagnoses of BPD and depression were listed as severe in the Social Security Disability Determination and Transmittal prepared by non-examining expert Dr. Sandrik. R. 88, 90. Dr. Sandrik found that Claimant would have moderate difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, and pace and in social functioning. R. 88. Similarly, on reconsideration, Dr. Rudmann also found Claimant would have moderate difficulties in maintaining social functioning and concentration, persistence, and pace. R. 106. However, both non-examining experts acknowledged the concerns expressed by Dr. Paulillo about Claimant's behavior at her consultative psychological examination, and the fact that Dr. Paulillo was unable to provide a prognosis. R. 88, 90, 106. Dr. Cooper examined Claimant approximately nine days after Dr. Paulillo. At that time, Dr. Cooper also noted Claimant's history of depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and ADHD but observed upon examination that she was not emotionally distressed, was pleasant, cooperative, and that there was no evidence of anxiety or depression. R. 336-37.

         Dr. Cooper provided the following “functional assessment/medical source statement”:

Within the limits of her education, training, and experience, she should have no difficulties with work-related mental activities involving understanding and memory, sustained concentration and persistence, social interaction and adaptation.

R. 339. Dr. Cooper noted “no anxiety or depression, ” that Claimant “followed requests quickly and appropriately” and her “[t]hought processes were logical, sequential, and goal directed.” R. 339.

         The ALJ gave little weight to all but Dr. Cooper's opinion with respect to Claimant's mental abilities because Dr. Paulillo could not offer a prognosis for Claimant and because the other opinions did not track with other record evidence, specifically a lack of treatment for mental illness and no reports of depressive symptoms in Claimant's treatment records. R. 13-14, 17-18. The ALJ found that “the moderate limitations [suggested by Drs. Sandrik and Rudmann] are not consistent with the lack of treatment, the refusal to take medications, the invalid examinations, and the negative clinical signs.” R. 14. ...

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