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Marcisz v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

November 25, 2019





         Michelle Maureen Marcisz (Claimant) appeals the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying her application for disability benefits. (Doc. 1). The Claimant raises several arguments challenging the Commissioner's final decision and, based on those arguments, requests that the matter be reversed and remanded for an award of benefits or, in the alternative, further proceedings. (Doc. 22 at 11-17, 21-26, 28-30, 33). The Commissioner argues that the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) committed no legal error and that his decision is supported by substantial evidence and should be affirmed. (Id. at 17-21, 26-28, 30-33). Upon review of the record, the undersigned respectfully RECOMMENDS that the Commissioner's final decision be AFFIRMED

         I. Procedural History

         This case stems from the Claimant's application for disability insurance benefits (DIB). (R. 177-78). The Claimant alleged a disability onset date of February 8, 2013. (R. 177). The Claimant's application was denied on initial review and on reconsideration. The matter then proceeded before an ALJ, who held a hearing, which was attended by the Claimant and her representative. (R. 36-68). On March 8, 2018, the ALJ entered a decision denying the Claimant's application for disability benefits. (R. 15-29). The Claimant requested review of the ALJ's decision, but the Appeals Council denied her request. (R. 1-3). This appeal followed.

         II. The ALJ's Decision

         TheALJfoundthattheClaimant'sdatelastinsuredwasDecember3l, 2Ol5. (R. 18). This is significant because a claimant seeking DIB is eligible for such benefits where she demonstrates disability on or before her date last insured. Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211 (11th Cir. 2005). Therefore, the Claimant was required to demonstrate that she became disabled sometime between her alleged onset date andDecember3l, 2015. Id.

         The ALJ found that the Claimant suffered from the following severe impairments during the relevant period: migraine headache disorder; a history of vertigo; bilateral shoulder degenerative joint disease; and a mental impairment variously diagnosed as a depressive disorder and an anxiety disorder. (R. 18). The ALJ also found that the Claimant suffered from the following non-severe impairments: carpal tunnel syndrome; irritable bowel syndrome (IBS); diverticulosis; obesity; chronic fatigue syndrome; insomnia; and low back pain. (R. 18-19). The ALJ, however, determined that the Claimant did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled any listed impairment. (R. 20-22).

         The ALJ proceeded to find that the Claimant had a residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b)[1] during the relevant period, with the following additional limitations:

[Claimant] would not be able to climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds and would also be limited to performing all other postural activities on an occasional basis (climbing ramps and stairs, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling); could also frequently reach overhead with the bilateral upper extremities; would also need to avoid concentrated exposure to hazards, such as unprotected heights and/or dangerous machinery, and also noise of a moderate or greater level in the workplace; would also be limited to no greater than unskilled work duties as would be consistent with an SVP of 1 to 2 but no greater than 2; and lastly, would not be expected to have greater than occasional interaction with coworkers, supervisors, or members of the public.

(R. 22). In light of this RFC, the ALJ found that the Claimant was unable to perform her past relevant work. (R. 27). However, relying on the VE's testimony from the hearing, the ALJ found that the Claimant was capable of performing other work in the national economy, including work as a garment sorter, electronics worker, and shoe packer. (R. 27-28). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that the Claimant was not disabled between her alleged onset date, February 8, 2013, through her date last insured, December 31, 2015. (R. 28).

         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). 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, 67F.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

         The Claimant raises the following assignments of error: 1) the ALJ erred by assigning no significant weight to portions of the opinion of Dr. Guillermo Mendoza-Fonseca, the Claimant's treating physician; 2) the ALJ's hypothetical question to the vocational expert (VE) did not include or account for all of the Claimant's functional limitations; and 3) the ALJ failed to offer specific reasons in support of his credibility determination. (Doc. 22 at 11-17, 21-26, 28-30). The undersigned will address each assignment of error in turn.

         A. Dr. Mendoza-Fonseca's Opinion

         The Claimant contends that the ALJ ignored evidence in the record which supports Dr. Mendoza-Fonseca's opinion, and instead improperly cherry-picked other evidence to support the ALJ's decision to assign no significant weight to portions of Dr. Mendoza-Fonseca's opinion. (Doc. 22 at 13-14). Therefore, the Claimant argues that the ALJ failed to provide "adequate reasons" to assign no significant weight to portions of Dr. Mendoza-Fonseca's opinion. (Id. at 17).

         In response, the Commissioner argues that the ALJ properly considered all the evidence of record and did not cherry-pick evidence when weighing Dr. Mendoza-Fonseca's opinion. (Id. at 21). Further, the Commissioner argues that the ALJ articulated good cause reasons, which were supported by substantial evidence, for assigning select portions of Dr. Mendoza-Fonseca's opinion no significant weight. (Id. at 18-21).

         The ALJ is tasked with assessing a claimant's RFC and ability to perform past relevant work. Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1238 (11th Cir. 2004). The RFC "is an assessment, based upon all of the relevant evidence, of a claimant's remaining ability to do work despite his impairments." Lewis, 125 F.3d at 1440. In determining a claimant's RFC, the ALJ must consider all relevant evidence, including the medical opinions of treating, examining and non-examining medical sources, as well as the opinions of other sources. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(3); see also Rosario v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 49OF. App'x 192, 194(11th Cir. 2012).[2]

         The ALJ must consider a number of factors in determining how much weight to give each medical opinion, including: 1) whether the physician has examined the claimant; 2) the length, nature, and extent of the physician's relationship with the claimant; 3) the medical evidence and explanation supporting the physician's opinion; 4) how consistent the physician's opinion is with the record as a whole; and 5) the physician's specialization. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c).

         A treating physician's opinion must be given controlling weight, unless good cause is shown to the contrary. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2) (giving controlling weight to the treating physician's opinion unless it is inconsistent with other substantial evidence); see also Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1179. There is good cause to assign a treating physician's opinion less than controlling weight where: 1) the treating physician's opinion is not bolstered by the evidence; 2) the evidence supports a contrary finding; or ...

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