Blackston v. Colvin
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER entered that the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying plaintiff benefits be reversed and remanded pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), for further proceedings not inconsistent with this decision. Signed by Magistrate Judge P. Bradley Murray on 6/6/2017. (eec)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
VICTORIA M. BLACKSTON,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,
Acting Commissioner of Social Security,
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff brings this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3), seeking judicial
review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her claim for
supplemental security income benefits. The parties have consented to the exercise of
jurisdiction by the Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), for all proceedings
in this Court. (Docs. 19 & 21 (“In accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. 636(c)
and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, the parties in this case consent to have a United States Magistrate
Judge conduct any and all proceedings in this case, . . . order the entry of a final
judgment, and conduct all post-judgment proceedings.”)). Upon consideration of the
administrative record, plaintiff’s brief, the Commissioner’s brief, and the arguments of
counsel at the April 26, 2017 hearing before the Court, it is determined that the
Commissioner’s decision denying benefits should be reversed and remanded for further
proceedings not inconsistent with this decision.1
Any appeal taken from this memorandum opinion and order and judgment shall
be made to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. (See Docs. 19 & 21 (“An appeal from a
I. Procedural Background
Plaintiff protectively filed an application for supplemental security income (“SSI”)
benefits on June 27, 2013, alleging disability beginning on October 1, 2011. (See Tr.
142-47.) Her claim was initially denied on December 27, 2013 (Tr. 77 & 92-96) and,
following Plaintiff’s January 10, 2014 written request for a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (see Tr. 97-99), a hearing was conducted before an ALJ on
March 3, 2015 (Tr. 35-75). On April 17, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding that the
claimant was not disabled and, therefore, not entitled to supplemental security income
benefits. (Tr. 18-30.) More specifically, the ALJ proceeded to the fifth step of the fivestep sequential evaluation process and determined that Blackston retains the residual
functional capacity to perform those sedentary jobs identified by the vocational expert
(“VE”) during the administrative hearing (compare id. at 29-30 with Tr. 66-68). On May
11, 2015, the Plaintiff appealed the ALJ’s unfavorable decision to the Appeals Council
(Tr. 15); the Appeals Council denied Blackston’s request for review on July 27, 2016
(Tr. 1-3). Thus, the hearing decision became the final decision of the Commissioner of
Plaintiff alleges disability due to anxiety, depression, hypertension, type 2
diabetes mellitus, diabetic neuropathy, and arthralgias. In light of the issues raised by
Plaintiff in her brief (see Doc. 12, at 3 & 6), the Court sets forth all references in the
judgment entered by a Magistrate Judge shall be taken directly to the United States Court of
Appeals for this judicial circuit in the same manner as an appeal from any other judgment of this
decision to Drs. Paul Smith and John W. Davis, as well as the ALJ’s critical residual
functional capacity assessment.
The claimant has the following severe impairments:
hypertension, diabetes, diabetic neuropathy with foot pain, obesity
and anxiety disorders (20 CFR 416.920(c)).
As to the diagnosis of depression, these are sporadic and associated with
specific events and are not severe in that the depression does not last 12
continuous months. In terms of the claimant’s depression, records from
Springhill Medical Center include an emergency room visit on August 29,
2011, that identified emotional disturbance involving panic attack and
chest pain that was related to claimant’s sister having been diagnosed
with cancer. The consultative report from John Davis, Ph.D., who
examined the claimant on December 10, 2013, reference the claimant
reported additional stress [with] the death of her mother and two sisters
within the past two years, as well as her inability to work. The claimant
denied any previous inpatient or outpatient mental health treatment; and
reported current medications included metformin, Ativan, HCTZ,
Tribenzor, Lortab, Lanitus, Phenergan, Clonidine, and Neurotin,
prescribed by Dr. Smith with Franklin Clinic. The claimant reported that
she had taken all of her medications the day of the evaluation, and
acknowledged that while some medicines helped with anxiety, they did not
relieve her depressive symptoms, nor relieve or regulate diabetes and
blood pressure levels, or prevent numbness and burning in her feet. The
examination yielded diagnostic impression of Major Depressive Disorder,
NOS and Panic Disorder without Agoraphobia. The prognosis was
guarded; however, Dr. Davis indicated it was reasonable to expect some
improved mental health functioning with consistent treatment (e.g.
psychotherapy and medication) within the next six to 12 months. Other
comments indicate the claimant’s ability to understand and remember
complex instructions, carry out complex instructions, and make judgments
on complex work-related decisions was moderately impaired at the time
due to symptoms of anxiety and depression. Dr. Davis also commented
that the claimant’s ability to interact appropriately with the public,
supervisors and co-workers, and to respond appropriately to usual work
situations and changes in routine settings was moderately-to-markedly
impaired due to symptoms of anxiety and depression. He concluded that
the claimant appeared to have the ability to manage any benefits that
The most reliable records regarding depression was the absence of a
depression diagnosis from the claimant’s treating physician, Dr. Smith. Dr.
Smith treats the claimant’s anxiety and prescribes medication. He has not
given a diagnosis for depression and I find that to be substantial evidence
that depression is not severe in this case. Nevertheless, I still must
consider even non-severe impairments.
The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the
impairments listed in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20
CFR 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
The psychological consultative report provided by John Davis, Ph.D., on
December 10, 2013, reference the history of anxiety-related disorders,
and he included in the diagnoses, Major Depressive Disorder, NOS. The
severity of the claimant’s mental impairments, considered singly and in
combination, does not meet or medically equal the criteria of listings 12.04
and 12.06. In making this finding, I have considered whether the
“paragraph B” criteria are satisfied. To satisfy the “paragraph B” criteria,
the mental impairments must result in at least two of the following: marked
restriction of activities of daily living; marked difficulties in maintaining
social functioning; marked difficulties in maintaining concentration,
persistence, or pace; or repeated episodes of decompensation, each of
extended duration. A marked limitation means more than moderate but
less than extreme. Repeated episodes of decompensation, each of
extended duration, means three episodes within 1 year, or an average of
once every 4 months, each lasting for at least 2 weeks.
In activities of daily living, the claimant has mild restriction. This conclusion
is consistent with the December 10, 2013 psychological consultative
report of John Davis, Ph.D., which reference daily activities include rising
at 6am, and spending the day reading, resting, and staying inside the
house. Additionally, the report indicates the claimant performs some daily
domestic chores, but gets help with these frequently. It is also generally
consistent with the evidentiary record. The mild restriction in activities of
daily living is also consistent with the rating of Joanna Koulianos, Ph.D., a
State agency psychological consultant. Her assessment on December 11,
2013, also endorsed a mild limitation in this area.
In social functioning, the claimant has moderate difficulties. This
conclusion is generally consistent with the bulk of the objective evidence,
and in particular, with Dr. Davis’[s] consultative report that notes the
claimant used to enjoy going places and socializing, but no longer
engages in these activities. The claimant endorsed normal social
relationships with family, but stated that she has no friends and preferred
keeping to herself. Additionally, the PRT rating from Dr. Koulianos is
consistent with Dr. Davis’s conclusion, in that they both reflect moderate
level of difficulties in the area of social functioning.
With regard to concentration, persistence or pace, the claimant has mild
difficulties. This conclusion is largely consistent with Dr. Davis’[s]
consultative report that notes the claimant spends the day reading and
watching television. The PRT rating from Dr. Koulianos is slightly different,
in that she assigned a moderate rating in this area, whereas I concluded
the claimant only has mild difficulties.
As for episodes of decompensation, the claimant has experienced no
episodes of decompensation, which have been of extended duration. This
conclusion is consistent with the consultative report from Dr. Davis, and
with the PRT assessment by the State agency psychological consultant.
After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the
claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary
work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a), except in function-by-function
terms, the claimant is limited to lifting and/or carrying no more than
10 pounds occasionally and 5 pounds frequently; standing and/or
walking at least 2 hours in an 8-hour day; has no restrictions for
sitting in an 8-hour workday; would need to alternate sitting/standing
by sitting no more than one hour at one time with the ability to stand
and stretch for 5 minutes at one time but would not need to leave the
workstation. The claimant would have additional restrictions that
include never operating foot controls, bilaterally; no climbing ladders
or scaffolds; bending occasionally; no exposure to unprotected
heights; no exposure to dangerous equipment; and could never
operate a commercial vehicle. The claimant can attend and
concentrate for two hours at one time before needing a break, and is
able to adapt to occasional changes in work settings and routines.
The work should not require interaction with [the] public on the job.
On February 12, 2015, treating physician, Paul Smith, M.D., completed a
Work Requirement form for the Food Stamp program, in which he opined
that the medical conditions of uncontrollable blood pressure and
neuropathy with foot pain, and damage from diabetes prevent the claimant
from being able to work; and opined the condition(s) were permanent. He
also gave the date of October 10, 2011 as onset for the described
About 6 weeks after I held a hearing, the claimant submitted 2 opinions
from Dr. Smith. Dr. Smith, according to the medical evidence as a whole,
has been treating the claimant for many years. In fact, Dr. Smith also
supported claimant’s application for food stamps at Exhibit 13F. It follows
then that he would also want to support claimant’s Supplemental Security
Income application as well. Although the evidence was not timely, it
arrived in the “nick of time” and I very carefully considered all of his
opinions together and compared them to his treatment notes.
The claimant protectively filed this application on June 10, 2013. While
outside of the relevant period, I reviewed 3F in its entirety as well as 8F
and 12F. The evidence shows a long history of anxiety, diabetes mellitus,
obesity and hypertension. In 2007, the claimant’s weight was around 245247 pounds. Her blood pressure was also high back then with various
elevated ranges. In 2008, her blood pressure was still high even though
she was taking Exforge 10/320. She was walking 2 miles per day. In 2009,
her blood pressure was elevated because she had not taken her
medication for 2 days. During this time[,] from 2007 to 2009, she also
experienced cramps and abdominal pain, lower back pain and
insomnia/snoring. In 2010, her primary complaints were low back pain and
in early 2011, she once complained of her feet feeling numb. During 2011,
the medical records indicate she was generally feeling better but her
diagnosis was malignant hypertension. In late 2011, she began to
complain of lower back pain again. Enter 2012 when Dr. Smith noted
“malignant hypertension improved” and “diabetic neuropathy—no meds for
now.” However, Dr. Smith eventually prescribed Neurotin. The claimant
was also in a motor vehicle accident in 2012 and complained of shoulder
pain only once. During most of 2012, she complained of foot pain; her
blood sugar was elevated as well.
Dr. Smith’s records in 2013, right before the claimant filed the instant
application, indicate the claimant had a stress test which was normal. Her
blood sugars were much lower and overall she was about 20 pounds
lighter. One week before she filed this application, Dr. Smith’s notes
indicate the claimant’s diabetes was “ok,” her hypertension was “ok” and
she still had anxiety and low back pain. She had also gotten a nail in her
foot. Over the next few visits, I noted Dr. Smith confirmed the claimant’s
anxiety, neuropathy and hypertension were improved. I also noted the
claimant was living in Birmingham, exercising, eating well and lost 10
more pounds—she was down to 214 pounds.
Exhibit 8F shows that in 2014, the claimant[‘s] anxiety and diabetes was
“ok” and malignant hypertension was “improved” . . . . I also noted during
this time, at least up to September 2014, there were no complaints of her
feet for over a year. In September 2014, the claimant complained of foot
pain. In January 2015, the claimant presented to Dr. Smith with a “foreign
object” in her foot for 2 weeks and it was infected. Despite no complaints
for well over a year about her feet, and considering the recent foreign
object in her foot with infection, I still considered the neuropathy in her feet
with foot pain and found it severe in Step 2 above.
I understand that Dr. Smith has been treating the claimant a long time and
wants to assist her in obtaining food stamps and that is the reason for his
opinion in 13F. However, it naturally follows that Dr. Smith’s motivation in
submitting opinions now to support her Supplemental Security Income
application are also in order to assist her with benefits. Nevertheless, Dr.
Smith’s treatment records simply do not support the extreme opinions. For
example, in 14F, Dr. Smith specifically endorses that the claimant has “no
blackouts” but does have dizziness and numbness in her extremities. The
records do show her complaints of numbness in the feet, but they are
sporadic. There was a time when the complaints were more prolific, but
not recently. There was one time the claimant reported having dizziness
but that was all the way back to 2011 and no complaints of that symptom
Dr. Smith also checks the “yes” box when the pre-made form asks if the
claimant will miss 2 days per month. Yet, Dr. Smith’s treatment notes do
not state anything about work activity, do not give any restriction and fail to
indicate if he ever knew or asked her about work. Without any cogent
medical rationale or explanation to explain this limitation or opinion, it is
unreasonable to accept this conclusion. There is no evidence that Dr.
Smith is trained in vocational matters and he failed to provide a functionby-function assessment of the limitations he implied renders the claimant
I give little weight to Dr. Davis’[s] opinion regarding social interaction
and adaptation skills because, based upon one examination, he
diagnosed the claimant with depression and panic disorder even
though Dr. Smith never diagnosed the claimant with depression and
he had been treating her for years. Dr. Smith has diagnosed the
claimant with “anxiety” and he provides medication for anxiety, so
that diagnosis is more reliable.
After considering the State agency medical consultant’s psychological
assessments at Exhibit 2A of the evidentiary record, I give the opinions
some weight, because they are generally consistent with the residual
functional capacity. In a PRT assessment on December 11, 2013, Dr.
Joanna Koulianos, opined the claimant’s affective and anxiety disorders
resulted in mild [limitations in] activities of daily living; moderate difficulties
in social functioning; moderate difficulties in concentration, persistence or
pace; and there were no repeated episodes of decompensation.
Noteworthy, the undersigned determined that the claimant had no more
than “mild” difficulties in the area of concentration. In the Mental RFC
assessment, Dr. Koulianos explained that adaptive limitations indicated
changes in the work routine should be infrequent.
(Tr. 21, 21-22, 22, 23, 24, 26 & 27-28 (internal citations omitted; some emphasis
II. Standard of Review and Claims on Appeal
In all Social Security cases, an ALJ utilizes a five-step sequential evaluation
to determine whether the claimant is disabled, which considers: (1)
whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) if not,
whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) if so, whether the
severe impairment meets or equals an impairment in the Listing of
Impairments in the regulations; (4) if not, whether the claimant has the
RFC to perform her past relevant work; and (5) if not, whether, in light of
the claimant’s RFC, age, education and work experience, there are other
jobs the claimant can perform.
Watkins v. Commissioner of Soc. Sec., 457 Fed. Appx. 868, 870 (11th Cir. Feb. 9,
2012)2 (per curiam) (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), (c)-(f), 416.920(a)(4), (c)-(f);
Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1237 (11th Cir. 2004)) (footnote omitted). The
claimant bears the burden, at the fourth step, of proving that she is unable to perform
her previous work. Jones v. Bowen, 810 F.2d 1001 (11th Cir. 1986). In evaluating
whether the claimant has met this burden, the examiner must consider the following four
factors: (1) objective medical facts and clinical findings; (2) diagnoses of examining
physicians; (3) evidence of pain; and (4) the claimant’s age, education and work history.
Id. at 1005. Although “a claimant bears the burden of demonstrating an inability to return
“Unpublished opinions are not considered binding precedent, but they may be
cited as persuasive authority.” 11th Cir.R. 36-2.
to h[er] past relevant work, the [Commissioner of Social Security] has an obligation to
develop a full and fair record.” Schnorr v. Bowen, 816 F.2d 578, 581 (11th Cir. 1987)
(citations omitted). If a plaintiff proves that she cannot do her past relevant work, as
here, it then becomes the Commissioner’s burden—at the fifth step—to prove that the
plaintiff is capable—given her age, education, and work history—of engaging in another
kind of substantial gainful employment that exists in the national economy. Phillips,
supra, 357 F.3d at 1237; Jones v. Apfel, 190 F.3d 1224, 1228 (11th Cir. 1999), cert.
denied, 529 U.S. 1089, 120 S.Ct. 1723, 146 L.Ed.2d 644 (2000); Sryock v. Heckler, 764
F.2d 834, 836 (11th Cir. 1985).
The task for the Magistrate Judge is to determine whether the Commissioner’s
decision to deny claimant benefits, on the basis that she can perform those sedentary,
unskilled jobs identified by the vocational expert at the administrative hearing, is
supported by substantial evidence. Substantial evidence is defined as more than a
scintilla and means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 91 S.Ct. 1420,
28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971). “In determining whether substantial evidence exists, we must
view the record as a whole, taking into account evidence favorable as well as
unfavorable to the Commissioner’s] decision.” Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131
(11th Cir. 1986).3 Courts are precluded, however, from “deciding the facts anew or reweighing the evidence.” Davison v. Astrue, 370 Fed. Appx. 995, 996 (11th Cir. Apr. 1,
This Court’s review of the Commissioner’s application of legal principles,
however, is plenary. Walker v. Bowen, 826 F.2d 996, 999 (11th Cir. 1987).
2010) (per curiam) (citing Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005)). And,
“’[e]ven if the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner’s findings, [a court]
must affirm if the decision reached is supported by substantial evidence.’” Id. (quoting
Crawford v. Commissioner of Social Security, 363 F.3d 1155, 1158-1159 (11th Cir.
On appeal to this Court, Blackston asserts two reasons the Commissioner’s
decision to deny her benefits is in error (i.e., not supported by substantial evidence): (1)
the ALJ reversibly erred in failing to assign controlling weight to the opinions of Dr. Paul
Smith, her treating physician; and (2) the ALJ reversibly erred in failing to accord
adequate weight to the consulting physician, Dr. John W. Davis. Because the
undersigned finds that the ALJ erred to reversal with respect to Plaintiff’s second
assignment of error, the Court has no reason to address Blackston’s first assignment of
error. See Pendley v. Heckler, 767 F.2d 1561, 1563 (11th Cir. 1985) (“Because the
‘misuse of the expert’s testimony alone warrants reversal,’ we do not consider the
appellant’s other claims.”).
“Weighing the opinions and findings of treating, examining, and non-examining
physicians is an integral part of the process for determining disability.” Kahle v.
Commissioner of Social Security, 845 F.Supp.2d 1262, 1271 (M.D. Fla. 2012). In
general, “the opinions of examining physicians are given more weight than those of nonexamining physicians, treating physicians are given more weight than those of
physicians who examine but do not treat, and the opinions of specialists are given more
weight on issues within the area of expertise than those of non-specialists.” McNamee
v. Social Security Administration, 164 Fed.Appx. 919, 923 (11th Cir. Jan. 31, 2006). In
assessing the medical evidence, “[t]he ALJ must state with particularity the weight given
to different medical opinions and the reasons therefor[,]” Romeo v. Commissioner of
Social Security, 2017 WL 1430964, *1 (11th Cir. Apr. 24, 2017) (citing Winschel v.
Commissioner of Social Security, 631 F.3d 1176, 1179 (11th Cir. 2011)), and the ALJ’s
stated reasons must be legitimate and supported by the record, see Tavarez v.
Commissioner of Social Security, 638 Fed.Appx. 841, 847 (11th Cir. Jan. 7, 2016)
(finding that the “ALJ did not express a legitimate reason supported by the record for
giving [the consulting physician’s] assessment little weight.”).
This Court finds that the ALJ in this case did not express a legitimate reason for
giving that portion of the consulting physician’s opinion the ALJ aptly refers to as “social
interaction and adaptation skills” (see Tr. 28) little weight. See Tavarez, supra. The ALJ
gave but one reason for giving this portion (and this portion alone) of Davis’s opinion
little weight, namely, that based on one examination, Davis diagnosed Plaintiff with
depression4 and panic disorder even though Dr. Smith, who had been treating Plaintiff
for years, had only ever diagnosed her with anxiety (the more reliable diagnosis,
according to the ALJ). (Tr. 28.) Although this Court questions whether this (essentially,
Dr. Smith’s anxiety diagnosis) even qualifies as a reason for according little weight to
Davis’s “social interaction and adaptation skills” opinion (see Tr. 509-10 (“The claimant’s
ability to interact appropriately with the public, supervisors and co-workers, and to
respond appropriately to usual work situations and changes in routine settings is
The ALJ’s suggestion that the diagnoses of depression in the record are sporadic
(see Tr. 21) is a bit misleading given that there is consistent evidence of record of depression
beginning on May 26, 2013 (Tr. 484-85) and extending through January of 2015 (see, e.g., Tr.
507-10, 597-98, 633, 638, 650, 653, 662 & 790).
moderately-to-markedly impaired due to symptoms of anxiety and depression.”)),5 it
certainly cannot be found to be a legitimate reason, both because Davis’s opinion in this
regard was (as he states) based on Plaintiff’s symptoms of depression and anxiety and
because Dr. Smith’s anxiety diagnosis is not an opinion regarding Plaintiff’s
functional/mental limitations, see Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1213 n.6 (11th Cir.
2005) (“[T]he mere existence of  impairments does not reveal the extent to which they
limit [a claimant’s] ability to work . . . .”). More to the first point, nothing about Davis’s
“social interaction and adaptation skills” opinion would indicate that it was “tied to” or
premised on Plaintiff’s impairments of anxiety and depression being found (by the ALJ)
to be severe; rather, it was premised on Blackston’s symptoms of anxiety and
depression that Davis personally observed.6 And as for the second point, Dr. Davis was
The non-examining psychologist, Dr. Joanna Koulianos, to whom the ALJ cited in
the decision (see, e.g., Tr. 23) and accorded “some” weight (Tr. 28), determined in her mental
residual functional analysis—as part of a report which took into consideration only Plaintiff’s
anxiety disorders, as affective disorders (see Tr. 82-87)—that Blackston would be moderately
limited in her ability to accept instructions and respond appropriately to criticism from
supervisors, as well as in her ability to get along with coworkers or peers without distracting
them or exhibiting behavioral extremes (Tr. 86 & 87). Curiously, however, these limitations
(which were not rejected by the ALJ—see Tr. 28) were not accounted for in the ALJ’s
assessment of residual functional capacity or in the hypothetical question posed to the
vocational expert (compare Tr. 24 with Tr. 66-67). See 20 C.F.R. § 416.945(c) (“A limited ability
to carry out certain mental activities, such as limitations in understanding, remembering, and
carrying out instructions, and in responding appropriately to supervision, coworkers, and work
pressures in a work setting, may reduce your ability to do past work and other work.”).
In light of the foregoing, this Court could only legitimately “infer” from the record that
“disregarding” Davis’s diagnosis of depression and his “social interaction and adaptation skills”
opinion—which was, at best, only partially based on Plaintiff’s depressive symptoms—would still
require the ALJ to account for Blackston’s clearly-established (by Koulianos and Dr. Davis as
well) moderate limitations in her abilities to respond appropriately to supervision and coworkers
in the assessment of residual functional capacity and in the hypothetical posed to the VE. Since
the ALJ failed to take these limitations into account, this Court is simply unable to find that the
decision denying benefits is supported by substantial evidence.
Certainly, the ALJ’s decision cannot be read to suggest that Dr. Davis could not
have observed (and did not observe) Plaintiff’s display of depressive symptoms on December
the only examining physician who offered an opinion regarding Blackston’s mental
limitations and, no doubt as a result, the ALJ relied on Davis’s evaluation and opinions
during the course of her decision when it so behooved her (see, e.g., Tr. 22 & 23). The
ALJ’s failure to set forth a legitimate/adequate reason supported by the evidence for
giving Davis’s “social interaction and adaptation skills” opinion little weight, however,
requires that this action be remanded for further proceedings regarding Blackston’s
eligibility for supplemental security income benefits. Compare Tavarez, supra, 638
Fed.Appx. at 847 & 849 with Davis v. Commissioner of Social Security, 449 Fed.Appx.
828, 833 (11th Cir. Dec. 19, 2011) (“We will not affirm an ALJ’s decision without
adequate explanation because, without such an explanation, ‘it is impossible for a
reviewing court to determine whether the ultimate decision on the merits of the claim is
rational and supported by substantial evidence.’”); Kahle, supra, 845 F.Supp.2d at 1272
(“[R]eversal is required where an ALJ fails to sufficiently articulate the reasons
supporting his decision to reject portions of a medical opinion while accepting others.”).
10, 2013 (see Tr. 505). Moreover, as alluded to earlier, even if the ALJ could properly discount
Dr. Davis’s opinion because of the inclusion of “depressive” symptoms, that opinion could not be
wholly rejected because it was also based, at least in part, on Plaintiff’s anxiety symptoms. And
given the undisputed evidence of record from Dr. Koulianos that Plaintiff would have moderate
limitations in responding appropriately to supervision and coworkers (see Tr. 86 & 87), it is
certainly logical to read Dr. Davis’s opinion as indicating a moderate limitation in social
interaction and adaptation skills related solely to Plaintiff’s anxiety. Accordingly, whichever way
the cake is sliced, it is clear to this Court that the ALJ reversibly erred in failing to take into
consideration Plaintiff’s limitations in social interaction and adaptation skills (which are clearly
established in the record evidence) in her RFC assessment and in the hypothetical posed to the
VE, such that the fifth-step denial of benefits cannot be found to be supported by substantial
In light of the foregoing, it is ORDERED that the decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security denying plaintiff benefits be reversed and remanded pursuant to
sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g),7 see Melkonyan v. Sullivan, 501 U.S. 89, 111 S.Ct.
2157, 115 L.Ed.2d 78 (1991), for further proceedings not inconsistent with this decision.
The remand pursuant to sentence four of § 405(g) makes the plaintiff a prevailing party
for purposes of the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412, Shalala v. Schaefer,
509 U.S. 292, 113 S.Ct. 2625, 125 L.Ed.2d 239 (1993), and terminates this Court’s
jurisdiction over this matter.
DONE and ORDERED this the 6th day of June, 2017.
s/P. BRADLEY MURRAY
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Although the plaintiff’s application in this case is solely for supplemental security
income benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3), remand is appropriate under sentence four
of § 405(g) because § 1383(c)(3) provides that “[t]he final determination of the Commissioner of
Social Security after a hearing under paragraph (1) shall be subject to judicial as provided in
section 405(g) of this title to the same extent as the Commissioner’s final determinations under
section 405 of this title.”
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