Jackson v. Commissioner of Social Security
OPINION AND ORDER re: 1 Complaint. The decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED. The Clerk of Court is directed to enter judgment pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) in favor of the Commissioner, and close the file. Signed by Magistrate Judge Carol Mirando on 11/8/2017. (HJ)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF FLORIDA
FORT MYERS DIVISION
Case No: 2:16-cv-831-FtM-CM
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL
OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Craig Jackson seeks judicial review of the denial of his claims for a
period of disability and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental
security income (“SSI”) by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”). The Court has reviewed the record, the briefs and the applicable
For the reasons discussed herein, the decision of the Commissioner is
Issue on Appeal 2
Plaintiff raises one issue on appeal: whether the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) properly assessed medical source opinions.
Both parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the United States Magistrate
Judge. Docs. 16, 18.
Any issue not raised by Plaintiff on appeal is deemed to be waived. Access Now,
Inc. v. Southwest Airlines Co., 385 F.3d 1324, 1330 (11th Cir. 2004) (“[A] legal claim or
argument that has not been briefed before the court is deemed abandoned and its merits will
not be addressed.”).
Summary of the ALJ’s Decision
On April 10, 2012, Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI, alleging his
disability began February 2, 2012 due to tardive dyskinesia and bipolar disorder.
Tr. 74, 219. On March 27, 2015, ALJ Joseph L. Brinkley issued a decision finding
Plaintiff not disabled. Tr. 14-22. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff met the
insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on February 2, 2012, the
alleged onset date, and remained insured throughout the period of the decision. Tr.
16. The ALJ also found Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since February 2, 2012. Id. Although the ALJ determined Plaintiff has several
severe impairments, he concluded that Plaintiffs condition “has not met or medically
equaled a listing in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.” Tr. 16-17. The ALJ
then held Plaintiff has the RFC to perform light work 3 with certain limitations. Tr.
17. Next, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has been unable to perform his past relevant
work. Tr. 21. The ALJ found a significant number of jobs existed for Plaintiff in
the national economy within twelve months of February 2, 2012. Id.
The regulations define light work as work that involves:
lifting no more than 20 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of
objects weighing up to 10 pounds. Even though the weight lifted may be very
little, a job is in this category when it requires a good deal of walking or
standing, or when it involves sitting most of the time with some pushing and
pulling of arm or leg controls. To be considered capable of performing a full
or wide range of light work, [a claimant] must have the ability to do
substantially all of these activities. If someone can do light work, [it is
determined] that he or she can also do sedentary work, unless there are
additional limiting factors such as loss of fine dexterity or inability to sit for
long periods of time.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b), 416.967(b).
Standard of Review
The scope of this Court’s review is limited to determining whether the ALJ
applied the correct legal standards and whether the findings are supported by
McRoberts v. Bowen, 841 F.2d 1077, 1080 (11th Cir. 1988)
(citing Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971)).
findings of fact are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence.
42 U.S.C. §
405(g). 4 Substantial evidence is “more than a scintilla, i.e., evidence that must do
more than create a suspicion of the existence of the fact to be established, and such
relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support the
Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1995) (internal citations
The Eleventh Circuit has restated that “[i]n determining whether substantial
evidence supports a decision, we give great deference to the ALJ’s fact findings.”
Hunter v. Soc. Sec. Admin., Comm’r, 808 F.3d 818, 822 (11th Cir. 2015) (citation
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 or found that the preponderance of the evidence is against the
After the ALJ issued the decision, certain Social Security rulings and regulations
were amended, such as the regulations concerning the evaluation of medical opinions and
evaluation of mental impairments. See e.g., 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520a, 404.1520c and
404.1527 (effective March 27, 2017); SSR 16-3p, 2016 WL 1119029 (March 16, 2016). The
Court will apply rules and regulations in effect at the time of the ALJ’s decision. Green v.
Soc. Sec. Admin., Comm’r, 695 F. App’x 516, 521 (11th Cir. 2017) (declining to apply SSR 163p retroactively to the ALJ’s decision); Bowen v. Georgetown Univ. Hosp., 488 U.S. 204, 208
(1988); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527 (effective March 27, 2017) (“For claims filed . . . before March
27, 2017, the rules in this section apply.”).
Edwards v. Sullivan, 937 F.2d 580, 584 n.3 (11th Cir.
1991); Barnes v. Sullivan, 932 F.2d 1356, 1358 (11th Cir. 1991); see also Lowery v.
Sullivan, 979 F.2d 835, 837 (11th Cir. 1992) (stating that the court must scrutinize
the entire record to determine the reasonableness of the factual findings).
reviews the Commissioner’s conclusions of law under a de novo standard of review.
Ingram v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 496 F.3d 1253, 1260 (11th Cir. 2007) (citing
Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990)).
Whether the ALJ properly assessed medical source opinions
At issue here are the opinions of two physicians, Robert Cross, M.D., a
cardiologist who treated Plaintiff from June 10, 2013 to February 14, 2014, and a
state agency medical consultant, James Patty, M.D.
Tr. 96-99, 559-88, 657-59, 710-
As accurately summarized by the ALJ, on August 9, 2012, Dr. Patty assessed
Plaintiff’s RFC and found:
[Plaintiff] should avoid even moderate exposure to hazards and that he
could not climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, but that he could lift, carry,
push or pull twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently, sit
six hours in an eight-hour day, frequently stoop and kneel, and
occasionally balance and climb stairs or ramps (Exhibit 3A/10-12).
Tr. 18, 96-99.
On November 13, 2014, Dr. Cross completed a RFC questionnaire
among other things that [Plaintiff] could not crouch, crawl or climb, be
exposed to pulmonary irritants, marked temperature changes or
unprotected heights, or operate a motor vehicle, but that he could lift or
carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently (Exhibit
Tr. 18, 657-58.
The ALJ accorded great weight to these findings because “they are
consistent with the record as a whole.”
The ALJ incorporated these
limitations opined by Drs. Cross and Patty into his RFC findings by holding:
[Plaintiff] can stand or sit each for two hours at a time without
interruptions, after which time he would need the option of changing
positions for 15 minutes before returning to either sitting or standing.
He can sit for a total of 6 hours in an 8-hour workday with interruptions
and regularly scheduled breaks, and can stand and walk for a combined
total of 6 hours in an 8-hour workday with interruptions and regularly
scheduled breaks. He will need to remain at the workstation when not
on regularly scheduled breaks; and can occasionally engage in pushing
and pulling with the upper extremities. He can occasionally balance,
stoop, kneel and climb stairs or ramps and can never crawl or climb
ladders, ropes or scaffolds. He must avoid concentrated exposure to
greater than office-type noises; avoid operating motor vehicles; and
avoid even moderate exposure to pulmonary irritants, humidity,
extreme temperatures, wetness, vibrations and workplace hazards that
would include unprotected heights, dangerous machinery and uneven
terrain. [Plaintiff] is limited further to occasional, superficial contact
with the general public, occasionally engaging in team or tandem work
and to the low-stress occupations- defined as not requiring high-volume
production quotas or fast-paced assembly lines.
Tr. 17. Plaintiff does not contest the ALJ’s decision to accord great weight to certain
findings of Drs. Patty and Cross, or the ALJ’s RFC determination. Doc. 21.
Next, the ALJ discussed the following RFC findings of Drs. Patty and Cross:
Dr. Cross also opined that [Plaintiff] could not stoop or kneel, that he
could not push or pull with his upper extremities, and that he could only
sit four hours in an eight-hour day, stand one to two hours in an eighthour day, and walk one to two hours in an eight-hour day (Exhibit 19F).
Dr. Patty further opined that [Plaintiff] could only stand and/or walk a
total of two hours in an eight-hour day (Exhibit 3A/10).
Tr. 19, 97, 657-658. The ALJ accorded little weight to these portions of the opinions
because “they are inconsistent with exam and stress test results obtained in the post2012 period,” and with Plaintiff’s reports to his treating sources.
argues the ALJ erred by according little weight to the opinions of Drs. Cross and
Patty, and substantial evidence does not support the ALJ’s reasons for according little
Doc. 21 at 14-18.
The Commissioner responds substantial evidence
supports the ALJ’s RFC findings.
Doc. 22 at 5-13.
The Court finds the ALJ was not required to accord any weight to the RFC
findings of Drs. Cross and Patty. Tr. 96-99, 657-59.
The Eleventh Circuit has held
that “[a] claimant’s [RFC] is a matter reserved for the ALJ’s determination, and while
a physician’s opinion on the matter will be considered, it is not dispositive.”
v. Soc. Sec. Admin., Comm’r, 482 F. App’x 483, 486 (11th Cir. 2012). The regulations
also provide that the Commissioner “will not give any special significance to the
source of an opinion on issues reserved to the Commissioner. . . .” 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(d)(2); see SSR 96-6p, 1996 WL 374180 (July 2, 1996).
Furthermore, the ALJ “may reject any medical opinion if the evidence supports
a contrary finding.” Sharfarz v. Bowen, 825 F.2d 278, 280 (11th Cir. 1987) (citation
Accordingly, an ALJ may accord less than substantial weight to a treating
physician’s opinion, if good cause is shown. Castle v. Colvin, 557 F. App’x 849, 854
(11th Cir. 2014) (citing Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1240 (11th Cir. 2004));
Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1440 (11th Cir. 1997). Here, the ALJ’s finding
that the evidence of record does not support Dr. Cross’ opinion constitutes appropriate
good cause to accord little weight to the opinion of Dr. Cross.
Tr. 19; see Winschel,
631 F.3d at 1179 (quoting Phillips, 357 F.3d at 1241); Sharfarz, 825 F.2d at 280.
ALJ also properly articulated the weight given to the opinion of Dr. Patty, as he was
required to do for other consultants, doctors or medical specialists, for the reasons
clearly stated in his decision.
Tr. 19; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(e)(2)(ii); Vuxta v. Comm’r
of Soc. Sec., 194 F. App’x 874, 877 (11th Cir. 2006).
The Court also finds substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s reasons for
according little weight to certain findings of Drs. Patty and Cross.
ALJ correctly noted, the results of cardiovascular exams performed by treating
sources after November 2012 were unremarkable.
Tr. 18, 564, 574, 584, 602, 611,
615, 620, 628, 634, 675, 686, 714, 754, 771, 784, 799, 813, 826, 837, 847, 856, 865, 873,
883. Plaintiff’s stress test conducted on June 4, 2014 did not reveal any inducible
Tr. 18, 622.
Furthermore, the ALJ accurately noted Plaintiff complained
of mild, short chest pain in June 2013, but denied this pain in August 2013.
On February 14, 2014, Plaintiff reported to Dr. Cross one episode of chest
pain with travel, which was resolved by taking one medication.
Kumar Mangalpally, M.D., who examined Plaintiff during his emergency room visit
on October 9, 2014, found Plaintiff’s chest pain was non-cardiac.
Accordingly, the Court finds substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s reasons for
according little weight to the RFC findings of Drs. Patty and Cross.
To the extent contradictory evidence exists, the assessment of conflicting
evidence was within the ALJ’s discretion because “when there is credible evidence on
both sides of an issue it is the Secretary, acting through the ALJ, and not the court,
who is charged with the duty to weigh the evidence and to determine the case
Powers v. Heckler, 738 F.2d 1151, 1152 (11th Cir. 1984) (citing
Richardson, 402 U.S. at 389-409). Accordingly, the Court finds substantial evidence
supports the ALJ’s decision to accord little weight to the opinions of Drs. Cross and
Patty and his reasons for doing so.
Upon review of the record, the Court concludes that the ALJ applied the proper
legal standards, and his determination that Plaintiff is not disabled is supported by
ACCORDINGLY, it is hereby
The decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.
The Clerk of Court is directed to enter judgment pursuant to sentence
four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) in favor of the Commissioner, and close the file.
DONE and ORDERED in Fort Myers, Florida on this 8th day of November,
Counsel of record
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