Prieto v Saul
ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION, denying 25 Motion for Summary Judgment; granting 28 Motion for Summary Judgment; Adopting 31 Report and Recommendations on 25 Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Carlos Prieto, 28 Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Andrew M. Saul,Plaintiff's Objections are overruled 31 Report and Recommendations. Certificate of Appealability: No Ruling. Closing Case. Signed by Judge Jose E. Martinez on 9/9/2021. See attached document for full details. Modified text on 9/9/2021 (mee).
Case 1:20-cv-20247-JEM Document 33 Entered on FLSD Docket 09/09/2021 Page 1 of 6
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF FLORIDA
Case Number: 20-20247-CIV-MARTINEZ/OTAZO-REYES
KILOLO KIJAKAZI, Acting Commissioner of
ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
THIS MATTER was referred to the Honorable Alicia M. Otazo-Reyes, United States
Magistrate Judge, for a ruling on all pre-trial, non-dispositive matters, and for a report and
recommendation on all dispositive matters. (ECF No. 2). Both parties filed motions for summary
judgment. (ECF Nos. 25, 28). Magistrate Judge Otazo-Reyes filed a Report and Recommendation
(“R&R”) recommending that (1) Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment, (ECF No. 25), be
denied; (2) Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment, (ECF No. 28), be granted; (3) and the
Commissioner’s decision be affirmed. (ECF No. 31). Plaintiff timely filed objections to the R&R
(“Objections”), (ECF No. 32). The Court has conducted a de novo review of the entire file and
record. Having done so, and after careful consideration, the Court finds that the R&R is
AFFIRMED and ADOPTED in its entirety and Plaintiff’s Objections are OVERRULED.
“A claimant is disabled if she is unable ‘to engage in any substantial gainful activity by
Kilolo kijakazi became the Acting Commissioner of Social Security on July 9, 2021. Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 25(d) requires that Kilolo Kijakazi be substituted for Andrew Saul as the defendant in this
suit. No further action is necessary. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Case 1:20-cv-20247-JEM Document 33 Entered on FLSD Docket 09/09/2021 Page 2 of 6
reason of any medically determinable . . . impairment which can be expected to result in death or
which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of’ at least 12 months.”
Strickland v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 516 Fed. App’x 829, 831 (11th Cir. 2013) (citing 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A)). The burden is on the claimant of social security benefits to prove his disability.
See Ellison v. Barnhart, 355 F.3d 1272, 1276 (11th Cir. 2003).
To determine whether a claimant is disabled, the Social Security Administration (“SSA”)
applies a five-step sequential analysis. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). The administrative law judge
(“ALJ”) must determine whether the claimant: (1) is unable to engage in substantial gainful
activity; (2) has a severe and medically determinable physical or mental impairment; (3) has such
an impairment that meets or equals a Listing and meets the duration requirement; (4) can perform
her past relevant work, in light of her residual functional capacity; and (5) can make an adjustment
to other work, in light of her residual functional capacity, age, education, and work experience.
Id. § 404.1520(a)(4).
In assessing whether a claimant is disabled, the ALJ may consider medical opinions of both
treating physicians and non-examining state agency medical and psychological consultants. See
Milner v. Barnhart, 275 Fed. App’x 947, 948 (11th Cir. 2008). A physician’s opinion must be
given substantial or considerable weight absent good cause. Strickland, 516 F. App’x at 832 (citing
Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1240 (11th Cir. 2004)). “‘Good cause’ exists when the: (1)
treating physician’s opinion was not bolstered by the evidence; (2) evidence supported a contrary
finding; or (3) treating physician’s opinion was conclusory or inconsistent with the doctor’s own
medical records.” Id. (internal quotations omitted). In addition, the ALJ can consider whether an
opinion is consistent with the record as a whole. 28 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(4). Should the ALJ
afford less weight to a particular physician’s opinion, he must clearly articulate his reasons for
Case 1:20-cv-20247-JEM Document 33 Entered on FLSD Docket 09/09/2021 Page 3 of 6
doing so. Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1439 (11th Cir. 1997). The ALJ may rely on opinions
of non-examining sources only when they do not conflict with those of examining sources. Milner,
275 Fed. App’x at 948 (citing Edwards v. Sullivan, 937 F.2d 580, 584–85 (11th Cir. 1991)).
In reviewing the ALJ’s decision, the Court must determine only whether the decision is
supported by substantial evidence, but it may not reweigh the evidence or decide facts anew.
Strickland, 516 Fed. App’x at 830–31. The Court must defer to the ALJ’s decision if it is supported
by substantial evidence, even if the evidence may preponderate against it. Id. (citing Dyer v.
Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005)). “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla
and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Crawford v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004).
With these principles in mind, the Court agrees with Judge Otazo-Reyes’s recommendation
that the ALJ’s decision should be affirmed for the reasons explained in the R&R.
Plaintiff first objects to the R&R arguing that the ALJ improperly discounted a portion of
the state agency psychological consultants. The ALJ assigned “great weight” to this opinion and
only disputed the portion of the consultants’ findings for moderate limitation in concentration and
limitation to unskilled work. (Tr., at 45). He did so because he found it too restrictive and because
it found that the opinion “likely represent[ed] [the consultants’] estimation of the claimant’s
functioning [in 2016] rather than over the entire period at issue[,]” i.e., through October 2018.
(R&R, at 32 (quoting Tr. at 39, ECF No. 17)). Plaintiff argued in his Motion for Summary
Judgment that this finding showed baseless speculation of what the consultants were thinking, and
that the ALJ improperly substituted his own opinion for those of the medical professionals. (Pl.’s
Mot. Summ. J., at 6, ECF No. 27). In finding that the ALJ provided good cause for discounting
this portion of the opinion, Judge Otazo-Reyes explained that the record showed no such
Case 1:20-cv-20247-JEM Document 33 Entered on FLSD Docket 09/09/2021 Page 4 of 6
speculation. (R&R, at 33). Instead, the record shows that the ALJ relied on Plaintiff’s mental
health treatment records from March 2014 through July 2018, as opposed to only the records
available to the consultants at the time of their reports. (R&R, at 33).
In his Objections, Plaintiff argues that the Court should reject Judge Otazo-Reyes’s R&R
because it is unsupported by the facts. He claims that “the ALJ cited no such evidence in rejecting
the psychological consultants’ opinions. Rather, the ALJ only cited Plaintiff’s work at Amazon
and his good relationship with his family. (Objections, at 3). The Court finds no merit in this
objection. The ALJ expressly stated that the consultants’ opinion was—aside from this particular
portion—“consistent with the claimant’s medical evidence of record, as summarized above.” (Tr.,
at 45). This evidences that, in disputing this portion of the opinion, the ALJ took into consideration
Plaintiff’s entire medical record, from 2016 through 2018, regardless of whether he specifically
cited to Plaintiff’s medical records through 2018 as a reason for discounting that portion of the
opinion. The record shows that the ALJ afforded this opinion “great weight” and he provided
good cause for discounting the portion in dispute. (See Tr., at 45). The Court is not in a position
reweigh the evidence at this juncture. See Strickland, 516 Fed. App’x at 831.
Next, Plaintiff argues “that the Appeals Council erroneously refused to consider new and
material evidence submitted to it[.]” (Objections, at 4). The Appeals Council must consider
evidence not present before the ALJ when that evidence is new, material, and relates to the time
period on or before the ALJ’s hearing and decision. See C.F.R. § 404.970(b). “‘Materiality,’ as
required by the Social Security Act for evaluation of new evidence, means that the new evidence
is ‘relevant and probative so that there is a reasonable possibility that it would change the
administrative outcome.” Caulder v. Bowen, 791 F.2d 872, 877 (11th Cir. 1986). Here, the
Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ’s opinion because it found, among other reasons, that
Case 1:20-cv-20247-JEM Document 33 Entered on FLSD Docket 09/09/2021 Page 5 of 6
the new evidence submitted “does not show a reasonable probability that it would change the
outcome of the [ALJ’s] decision.” (Tr., at 55). In other words, it did not refuse to consider the
evidence; to the contrary, after accepting and considering the evidence, the Appeals Council
declined review of the ALJ’s decision because the evidence was not “material.” The Appeals
Council did not expound upon its evaluation of the new evidence, nor was it required to do so. See
Ring v. Soc. Sec. Admin., Comm’r, 728 Fed. App’x 966, 968 (11th Cir. 2018).
Plaintiff objects to Judge Otazo-Reyes’s R&R because he argues that the Court does not
have authority to decide that the new evidence did not relate to the period in question—as Judge
Otazo-Reyes recommends—given that the Appeals Council denied review based on only
materiality. Plaintiff, however, provides no authority for this proposition.2 Indeed, even when the
Appeals Council does not explain its decision to deny review, the Eleventh Circuit has nevertheless
expounded on the reasons why new evidence submitted to the Appeals Council did not render the
Commissioner’s denial of benefits erroneous. See Mitchell v. Comm’r, Social Sec. Admin., 771
F.3d 780, 785 (11th Cir. 2014). In Mitchell, the Appeals Council denied the claimant’s request for
review, “explaining that it had considered [claimant’s] reasons for disagreeing with the ALJ’s
decision as well as his additional evidence[,]” but that the new information did not provide a basis
for changing the ALJ’s decision. The Appeals Council did not provide a discussion of the new
771 F.3d at 782.
The Eleventh Circuit nevertheless affirmed the
Commissioner’s decision, holding that the decision was not erroneous because the new evidence
Plaintiff cites to McIntyre v. Berryhill, No. 17-14347, 2018 WL 5621483, at *7 (S.D. Fla. Oct. 30, 2018)
in support of his argument that the Magistrate Judge improperly made a factual finding and analysis when
it found that the new evidence did not relate to the time period on or before the date of the ALJ’s hearing
decision. He argues that McIntyre supports his position that Judge Otazo-Reyes’s analysis “is better left
for the ALJ as a fact-finder.” (Objections, at 4–5). McIntyre, however, does not stand for this proposition.
Magistrate Judge Maynard noted in McIntyre that the ALJ is better suited to determine if there is good
cause to discount the new evidence, not the district court. That analysis is inapplicable here.
Case 1:20-cv-20247-JEM Document 33 Entered on FLSD Docket 09/09/2021 Page 6 of 6
was “either cumulative of the evidence before the ALJ or was not chronologically relevant, and
none of it undermined the substantial evidence supporting the ALJ’s decision.” Here, too, the
Court is satisfied that the additional evidence submitted to the Appeals Council was not
chronologically relevant for the reasons stated in Judge Otazo-Reyes’s R&R, and that it does not
undermine the substantial evidence supporting the ALJ’s decision. See Mitchell, 771 F.3d at 785.
Accordingly, after careful consideration, it is,
ADJUDGED that United States Magistrate Judge Otazo-Reyes’ Report and
Recommendation, (ECF No. 22), is AFFIRMED and ADOPTED. Accordingly, it is:
1. Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment, (ECF No. 25), is DENIED.
2. Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment, (ECF No. 28), is GRANTED.
3. Plaintiff’s Objections, (ECF No. 31), are OVERRULED
4. The Commissioner’s decision is AFFIRMED.
5. This case is CLOSED, and all pending motions are DENIED as MOOT.
6. A final judgment shall be entered by separate order.
DONE AND ORDERED in Chambers at Miami, Florida, this 9th day of September, 2021.
JOSE E. MARTINEZ
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Copies provided to:
Magistrate Judge Otazo-Reyes
All Counsel of Record
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?