SKAGGS v. COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY
ORDER affirming decision of Commissioner. Ordered by US MAGISTRATE JUDGE THOMAS Q LANGSTAFF on 9/15/2022. (TQL)
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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF GEORGIA
Commissioner of Social Security,
Plaintiff filed this Social Security appeal on May 20, 2021, challenging the
Commissioner’s final decision denying her disability application, finding her not disabled within
the meaning of the Social Security Act and Regulations. (Doc. 1). Both parties consented to the
United States Magistrate Judge conducting any and all proceedings herein, including but not
limited to, ordering the entry of judgment. (Doc. 5; Clerk’s Entry, May 26, 2021). The parties may
appeal from the judgment, as permitted by law, directly to the United States Court of Appeals for
the Eleventh Circuit. 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(3). Jurisdiction arises under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and
1383(c). All administrative remedies have been exhausted.
In reviewing the final decision of the Commissioner, the Court must evaluate whether
substantial evidence supports the Commissioner’s decision and whether the Commissioner applied
the correct legal standards to the evidence. Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir.
2002) (per curiam). The Commissioner’s factual findings are deemed conclusive if supported by
substantial evidence, which is defined as more than a scintilla, such that a reasonable person would
accept the evidence as adequate to support the conclusion at issue. Brito v. Comm’r, Soc. Sec.
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Admin., 687 F. App’x 801, 803 (11th Cir. 2017) (per curiam) (first citing Lewis v. Barnhart, 285
F.3d 1329, 1330 (11th Cir. 2002) (per curiam); and then quoting Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436,
1440 (11th Cir. 1997)); Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145 (11th Cir. 1991) (citations
“Even if we find that the evidence preponderates against the [Commissioner’s] decision,
we must affirm if the decision is supported by substantial evidence.” Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703
F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983) (citations omitted). “In contrast, the [Commissioner’s]
conclusions of law are not presumed valid. The [Commissioner’s] failure to apply the correct law
or to provide the reviewing court with sufficient reasoning for determining that the proper legal
analysis has been conducted mandates reversal.” Cornelius, 936 F.2d at 1145-46 (citations
Under the Regulations, the Commissioner evaluates a disability claim by means of a fivestep sequential evaluation process. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. First, the Commissioner determines
whether the claimant is working. Second, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant
suffers from a severe impairment which significantly limits his or her ability to carry out basic
work activities. Third, the Commissioner evaluates whether the claimant’s impairments meet or
equal listed impairments in Appendix 1 of Part 404 of the Regulations. Fourth, the Commissioner
determines whether the claimant’s residual functional capacity (RFC) will allow a return to past
relevant work. Finally, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant’s RFC, age, education,
and work experience allow for an adjustment to other work.
Plaintiff protectively filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits on May 8, 2019.
(Tr. 12, 93). In her application, Plaintiff alleged an initial onset date of January 1, 2013. (Tr. 12,
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215). The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff’s claim initially and upon
reconsideration. (Tr. 12, 126, 139). Plaintiff requested a hearing (Tr. 149) and appeared before an
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on October 22, 2020 (Tr. 12, 38).
In a hearing decision dated November 17, 2020, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not
disabled. (Tr. 12-29). The ALJ’s decision became the final decision of the Commissioner upon the
Appeals Council’s denial of review. (Tr. 1-3).
Statement of Facts and Evidence
Plaintiff was born on July 4, 1961 (Tr. 38, 215), and was fifty-one (51) years old at the
time of her alleged onset of disability (Tr. 313). The ALJ found that Plaintiff had past relevant
work experience as a utilization review coordinator, an admitting supervisor, a director of nursing,
and an office manager. (Tr. 28).
The ALJ determined that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments:
diabetes mellitus with associated neuropathy and gastroparesis; irritable bowel syndrome;
degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, status post remote lumbar fusion; migraine
headaches; and hypertension. (Tr. 14). The ALJ determined that Plaintiff suffered from the nonsevere impairments of mild obesity, mild carpal tunnel syndrome, mild degenerative disc disease
of the cervical spine, asthma, dyslipidemia, and vitamin D deficiency, but that the medical record
did not set forth any findings that would support any significant functional limitations and reflected
that said conditions improved with conservative treatment. (Tr. 14-15). The ALJ found that there
was insufficient objective medical evidence and findings to find that Plaintiff had additional
medically determinable impairments related to fibromyalgia. (Tr. 16). The ALJ found that
Plaintiff’s medically determinable mental impairments of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder
were nonsevere because they did not cause more than minimal limitations. (Tr. 15). The ALJ
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determined that Plaintiff did not have a medically determinable substance use disorder since the
date of her application. (Tr. 16-17).
Considering the “paragraph B” criteria, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had no limitation in
her ability to understand, remember, or apply information; no limitation in her ability to interact
with others; no limitation in her ability to concentrate, persist, or maintain pace; and mild limitation
in her ability to adapt or manage herself. (Tr. 15-16). Because the ALJ found that Plaintiff’s
medically determinable mental impairments caused no more than “mild” limitations in any of the
functional areas and the evidence did not otherwise indicate that there was more than a minimal
limitation in Plaintiff’s ability to do basic work activities, the ALJ found her medically
determinable mental impairments were nonsevere. (Tr. 16).
Considering the evidence relating to all of Plaintiff’s impairments, individually and in
combination, the ALJ found no evidence that the combined clinical findings from such
impairments reached the level of severity contemplated in the listings prior to her date last insured
(“DLI”). (Tr. 17).
Considering the entire record, the ALJ determined that, through Plaintiff’s DLI, Plaintiff
had the RFC to perform light work, except that she could occasionally climb ramps or stairs, but
could never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; could occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch,
and crawl; could occasionally use her hands and feet for the operation of hand and foot controls
bilaterally; and she must avoid concentrated exposure to workplace hazards. Id.
The ALJ determined that Plaintiff’s assessed RFC did not preclude her from performing
her past relevant work. (Tr. 28).
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Ultimately, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff was not under a disability, as defined in the Social
Security Act, at any time between January 1, 2013, the alleged onset date, through December 31,
2014, Plaintiff’s DLI. (Tr. 29).
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred because (1) she failed to assess Plaintiff’s depression
and anxiety as severe impairments at step two, and (2) she failed to properly consider the opinions
of two treating physicians. (Doc. 16).
Step Two: Depression and Anxiety
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred at step two because she failed to find that Plaintiff’s
alleged depression and anxiety were severe. Id. at 9-11.
As an initial matter, step two “‘acts as a filter’ in that the ‘finding of any severe impairment
. . . is enough to satisfy the requirement of step two[.]’” Ball v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 714
F. App’x 991, 993 (11th Cir. 2018) (per curiam) (first alteration in original) (quoting Jamison v.
Bowen, 814 F.2d 585, 588 (11th Cir. 1987)). Further, no related step four-error occurs when an
ALJ considers all of a claimant’s symptoms and impairments, including those found to be nonsevere, along with the claimant’s medical records and testimony, and all opinion evidence in
determining a claimant’s RFC. Id. (citing Walker v. Bowen, 826 F.2d 996, 1001 (11th Cir. 1987)).
The ALJ determined at step two that Plaintiff had several severe impairments. (Tr. 14).
Having found at least one severe impairment at step two, the ALJ continued in the sequential
evaluation. That was all that was required at step two. Further, the ALJ expressly considered the
evidence related to Plaintiff’s mental functioning. (See, e.g., Tr. 15-16).
To the extent that Plaintiff suggests that other evidence supports a finding that her
depression and anxiety were severe impairments, the Court does “not reweigh the evidence or
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substitute [its] judgment for that of the” ALJ; instead, it reviews “the entire record to determine ‘if
the decision reached is reasonable and supported by substantial evidence.’” Cornelius, 936 F.2d at
1145 (first quoting Bloodsworth, 703 F.2d at 1239; and then citing Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d
1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990)). Having reviewed the evidence upon which the ALJ based Plaintiff’s
RFC, the Court finds that Plaintiff’s RFC is supported by substantial evidence.
Treating Physicians’ Opinions
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred because she failed to properly consider the opinions of
Plaintiff’s primary care provider, Dr. Ogrinc, and her psychiatrist, Dr. Huober. (Doc. 16, pp. 1117). Specifically, Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ “cursorily analyzed” Dr. Ogrinc’s opinion by failing
to sufficiently articulate an analysis of that opinion, and the ALJ failed to analyze Dr. Huober’s
opinion entirely. Id.
The Eleventh Circuit recently held in a published opinion that the amended Regulations
abrogated its prior precedents applying the treating-physician rule. Harner v. Soc. Sec. Admin.,
Comm’r, 38 F.4th 892, 896 (11th Cir. 2022). The applicable amended Regulations apply to claims
filed on or after March 27, 2017. Under the amended Regulations that apply to Plaintiff’s claim,
the Commissioner “will not defer or give any specific evidentiary weight, including controlling
weight, to any medical opinion(s) or prior administrative medical finding(s), including those from
[Plaintiff’s] medical sources.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520c(a). While the new regulations eliminate the
hierarchy of medical sources, deference to specific medical opinions, and assigning “weight” to a
medical opinion, an ALJ is still required to articulate how she considered the medical opinions and
how persuasive she found them. Specifically, an ALJ is required to explain how she considered
the “supportability” and the “consistency” of a medical source’s opinion. 20 C.F.R. §
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404.1520c(b)(2); see also Matos v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 2022 WL 97144 at *4 (11th Cir. 2022)
(explaining the new regulations).
Plaintiff filed her claim for disability insurance benefits on May 8, 2019, alleging an initial
onset date of January 1, 2013. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff’s DLI was December 31, 2014.
(Tr. 14). “To be eligible for disability insurance benefits, a claimant must establish that she was
under disability on or before the last date for which she was insured.” Whitton v. Comm’r, Soc.
Sec. Admin., 643 F. App’x 842, 844 (11th Cir. 2016) (per curiam) (first citing 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(a)(1)(A), (c)(1); and then citing Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211 (11th Cir. 2005)).
As such, Plaintiff must show that she was disabled on or before December 31, 2014.
On July 8, 2019, Dr. Ogrinc completed a medical source statement. (Tr. 4727-30). Dr.
Ogrinc indicated that Plaintiff’s initial visit with her was on February 26, 2013. (Tr. 4727). The
ALJ considered Dr. Ogrinc’s opinion and found that it was “inconsistent with the record prior to
the DLI and [was] therefore unpersuasive. Specifically, [Plaintiff] testified and the medical records
support worsening of her symptoms around 2017, long after the DLI. Moreover, [Dr. Ogrinc’s]
opinion was provided without the benefit of the complete record.” (Tr. 27-28). Having considered
the evidence in the record and the ALJ’s consideration of the evidence as it relates to Dr. Ogrinc’s
opinion, the Court finds that the ALJ’s decision as to Dr. Ogrinc’s opinion is supported by
Further, while the ALJ did not expressly articulate whether Dr. Ogrinc’s opinion was
“supported” by the record, reading the ALJ’s decision as a whole, as well as the ALJ’s discussion
of Dr. Ogrinc’s opinion, the Court finds that the ALJ impliedly articulated her consideration of
whether Dr. Ogrinc’s opinion was “supported” by the record. To the extent that the ALJ committed
any error by failing to articulate whether Dr. Ogrinc’s opinion was “supported” by the record, the
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Court finds that any such error is harmless because the ALJ impliedly found that Dr. Ogrinc’s
opinion was unsupported by the record because the ALJ cited evidence in the record which was
inconsistent with the findings in Dr. Ogrinc’s opinion, so that any such error would not have
affected the ALJ’s ultimate decision. Hunter v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 609 F. App’x 555, 558 (11th
Cir. 2015) (per curiam) (citing Diorio v. Heckler, 721 F.2d 726, 728 (11th Cir. 1983) (“To the
extent that an [ALJ] commits an error, the error is harmless if it did not affect the [ALJ’s] ultimate
On July 15, 2019, Dr. Huober completed a medical source statement. (Tr. 4732-36). Dr.
Huober indicated that Plaintiff’s limitations as he outlined in his medical source statement had
persisted to the same degree since at least January 1, 2012, but also indicated that he began seeing
Plaintiff monthly beginning in January 2019. (Tr. 4732, 4735). The ALJ stated that she did not
provide articulation about evidence that was inherently neither valuable nor persuasive. (Tr. 28).
Dr. Huober did not treat Plaintiff during the relevant time period, as he began treating
Plaintiff in January 2019 and Plaintiff’s DLI was in December 2014. Further, while Dr. Huober
stated that Plaintiff suffered the alleged limitations beginning in January 2012, he never evaluated
her during the relevant time period. Whitton, 643 F. App’x at 845-46 (finding that substantial
evidence supported the ALJ’s decision to give no weight to a physician’s opinion regarding the
relevant time because the physician did not treat the claimant during the relevant time period and
he never evaluated the severity of the claimant’s conditions during the relevant time period).
“Evidence is irrelevant and immaterial when it relates to a time period after the eligibility
determination at issue.” Carroll v. Soc. Sec. Admin., Comm’r, 453 F. App’x 889, 892 (11th Cir.
2011) (citing Wilson v. Apfel, 179 F.3d 1276, 1278-79 (11th Cir. 1999) (per curiam)). While under
certain circumstances an examination conducted after the DLI expires may still be chronologically
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relevant, those circumstances are not present as it relates to Dr. Huober’s opinion. For example,
Dr. Huober does not state that he reviewed the medical records from the time period prior to the
expiration of Plaintiff’s DLI. Putman v. Soc. Sec. Admin., Comm’r, 705 F. App’x 929, 935 (11th
Cir. 2017) (per curiam) (citing Washington v. Soc. Sec. Admin., Comm’r, 806 F.3d 1317, 1322-23
(11th Cir. 2015)) (noting that certain circumstances may make evidence which postdates an ALJ’s
decision, or the DLI, chronologically relevant). As Dr. Huober’s opinion was not chronologically
relevant, and was therefore irrelevant and immaterial, the ALJ was supported by substantial
evidence in not articulating any findings as to Dr. Huober’s opinion.
* * * * *
The Court has reviewed all of the evidence in the record. While there is evidence to support
Plaintiff’s allegations, the issue before the Court “is whether there was substantial evidence to
support the [ALJ’s] decision, not whether there could be substantial evidence in the record to
support a different decision.” Rodriguez ex rel. R.C. v. Berryhill, 2021 WL 5023951 at *7 (11th
Cir. 2021) (per curiam) (citing Shinn ex rel. Shinn v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 391 F.3d 1276, 1282
(11th Cir. 2004)). “Under a substantial evidence standard of review, [Plaintiff] must do more than
point to evidence in the record that supports her position; she must show the absence of substantial
evidence supporting the ALJ’s conclusion.” Sims v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 706 F. App’x 595, 604
(11th Cir. 2017) (per curiam) (citation omitted). Having considered the evidence in the record, and
the ALJ’s decision, the Court finds that the ALJ’s decision is supported by substantial evidence.
As the Commissioner’s decision that Plaintiff was not disabled is supported by substantial
evidence, the Commissioner’s decision is AFFIRMED pursuant to Sentence Four of § 405(g).
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SO ORDERED, this 15th day of September, 2022.
s/ THOMAS Q. LANGSTAFF
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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