United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division
GREGORY J. KELLY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Marie Gregg (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, 20. Claimant alleges an amended disability onset date
of February 6, 2013. R. 193, 200, 218. Claimant argues that
the decision should be reversed because the Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) failed to consider and weigh
the opinion of Kathleen Menocal, M.S., M.S.W., L.C.S.W. Doc.
No. 20 at 16. For the reasons stated below, the ALJ's
final decision is AFFIRMED.
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)).
Two, the ALJ found that Claimant had the following severe
impairments: affective disorder, anxiety disorder,
hypertension, and left metatarsal fracture. R. 18. The ALJ
found that Claimant had moderate limitations in:
understanding, remembering, or applying information;
interacting with others; concentrating, persisting and
maintaining pace; and adapting and managing oneself. R.
18-19. After considering all the evidence, including opinion
evidence, the ALJ found that Claimant's RFC was light
work “except work should be simple, unskilled and
repetitive. Contact with coworkers and the general public
must be brief and superficial and also only
occasional.” R. 19.
argues that the ALJ failed to consider and weigh the opinion
of Kathleen Menocal, a licensed clinical social worker who
treated her. Doc. No. 20 at 17. Ms. Menocal treated Claimant
on four occasions prior to her date last insured, and treated
her a total of 13 times through 2017. Doc. No. 20 at 17. On
September 24, 2014, June 14, 2016, and March 31, 2017, Ms.
Menocal opined that Claimant “more than qualifies for
Social Security Disability due to her long-standing, chronic
and disabling mental, emotional, and nervous disability and
mood disorder. She is not able to work part-time or full-time
in any capacity.” R. 372, 398, 498. Claimant
acknowledges that Ms. Menocal is not an acceptable medical
source pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 404.1502. Doc. No. 20 at
17. However, Claimant argues that the ALJ had to consider and
weigh her medical source opinions as required by 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1527(f) and his failure to do so requires
reversal. The Commissioner argues that the ALJ considered Ms.
Menocal's treatment records and the ALJ's failure to
weigh her opinion was harmless error. Doc. No. 20 at 19-21.
medical opinion is a statement “from acceptable medical
sources that reflect judgments about the nature and severity
of [a claimant's] impairment(s), including . . symptoms,
diagnosis and prognosis” and what a claimant can still
do despite any impairments and any related physical and
mental restrictions that might apply. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(a)(1). ALJs are required to evaluate and weigh all
medical opinions. Id. § 1527(c). However,
medical opinions on issues reserved to the Commissioner such
as an opinion a claimant is disabled are not proper.
Id. § 1527(d)(1) (“A statement by a
medical source that you are ‘disabled' or
‘unable to work' does not mean that we will
determine that you are disabled.”)
licensed clinical social worker is not an “acceptable
medical source, ” but can provide a medical opinion as
to the severity of a claimant's impairments and how they
affect a claimant's ability to work. Anteau v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 708 Fed.Appx. 611, 613 (11th
Cir. 2017); § 1527(f)(1). While an ALJ must consider
such an opinion, the ALJ is not required to give it any
specific weight. See Anteau, 708 Fed.Appx. at 613.
An ALJ “generally should explain the weight given to
opinions from these sources or otherwise ensure that the
discussion of the evidence in the determination or decision
allows a claimant or subsequent reviewer to follow the
adjudicator's reasoning, when such opinions may have an
effect on the outcome of the case.” Id. §
states that he “considered opinion evidence in
accordance with the requirements of 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527.” R. 19. The ALJ noted that Ms. Menocal saw
Claimant for four outpatient visits to help cope with anxiety
and depression as well as increase in agitation, anger and
irritability from June 2014 to July 2014. R. 22. The ALJ
reviewed and detailed Ms. Menocal's treatment notes
during those sessions, including the session in July 2014
when Claimant reported feeling better and sleeping better at
night. R. 22. Similarly, the ALJ addressed additional care
with Ms. Menocal in 2015, after Claimant's date last
insured, which again reflected Claimant was starting to feel
better and was sleeping better at night. R. 24 (citing R.
did not weigh Ms. Menocal's opinion that Claimant was not
able to work part-time or full-time. The ALJ did not weigh
Ms. Menocal's opinion that Claimant “more than
qualifies for Social Security Disability due to her
long-standing, chronic and disabling mental, emotional, and
nervous disability and mood disorder.” However, the ALJ
stated that he had considered opinion evidence as required by
the regulations. R. 19. The ALJ discussed Claimant's
treatment with Ms. Menocal, indicating he considered her
records, including the records that contained Ms.
Menocal's opinion. R. 22, 24. The Court finds that the
ALJ's discussion of Ms. Menocal's treatment sessions
is sufficient to follow the ALJ's reasoning without a
specific weight ascribed to Ms. Menocal's opinion.
the point, Ms. Menocal's opinion addresses ultimate
issues reserved to the Commissioner. Gregory v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 8:16-cv-1471, 2017 WL
4325397, at *10 (M.D. Fla. Sept. 29, 2017) (opinion that
Plaintiff was “totally disabled” was entitled to
no weight as it was an opinion on an issue reserved to the
Commissioner); Campbell v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.,
No. 3:18-cv-755, 2019 WL 2865533, at *5 (M.D. Fla. Jul. 3,
2019) (opinion claimant was “unable to work” not
entitled to any deference as it addressed issue reserved to
Commissioner). Thus, even if the ALJ had weighed Ms.
Menocal's opinion, the result would not have contradicted
the ALJ's ultimate findings. Denomme v. Comm'r
Soc. Sec, 518 Fed.Appx. 875, 878 (11th Cir. 2013) (where
“an incorrect application of the regulations results in
harmless error because the correct application would not
contradict the ALJ's ultimate findings, the ALJ's
decision will stand.”); Provost v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec, 2019 WL 2744554, at *2 (M.D. Fla. Jul. 1,
2019) (finding that failure to weigh an assumed medical
opinion of a treating physician on an ultimate issue reserved
to the Commissioner was harmless error). As such, the
ALJ's failure to weigh Ms. Menocal's opinion under
these circumstances is, at most, harmless error.