United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division
SONJA F. BIVINS, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Dewayne George Green (hereinafter "Plaintiff") brings this action seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq. On July 7, 2014, the parties consented to have the undersigned conduct any and all proceedings in this case. (Doc. 20). Thus, the action was referred to the undersigned to conduct all proceedings and order the entry of judgment in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73. Upon careful consideration of the administrative record and the memoranda of the parties, it is hereby ORDERED that the decision of the Commissioner be AFFIRMED.
I. Procedural History
Plaintiff protectively filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on November 6, 2009. (Tr. 143). Plaintiff alleged that he had been disabled since April 1, 1997, due to "gastrointestinal disorder, anxiety disorder, diabetes, right arm, [and] right shoulder." (Id. at 143, 147). Plaintiff's application was denied and upon timely request, he was granted an administrative hearing before Administrative Law Judge Kim McClain-Leazure (hereinafter "ALJ") on October 25, 2011. (Id. at 26). Plaintiff attended the hearing with his counsel and provided testimony related to his claims. (Id. at 29). A vocational expert ("VE") also appeared at the hearing and provided testimony. (Id. at 52). On November 15, 2011, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding that Plaintiff is not disabled. (Id. at 22). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on March 25, 2013. (Id. at 1). The parties waived oral argument (Doc.
19), and agree that this case is now ripe for judicial review and is properly before this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).
II. Issues on Appeal
1. Whether the ALJ erred in not giving controlling weight to the opinions of Plaintiff's treating psychologist, Dr. Robert DeFrancisco?
2. Whether the Appeals Council erred in failing to properly review the opinions of Plaintiff's treating psychologist, Dr. Robert DeFrancisco?
III. Factual Background
Plaintiff was born on November 30, 1960, and was fifty years of age at the time of his administrative hearing on October 25, 2011. (Tr. 26, 116). Plaintiff graduated from college with a degree in management and worked as a corrections officer from 1985 to 1996 and as a debt collector in 1997. (Id. at 30-31, 35, 148).
Plaintiff testified that he stopped working because he had problems getting along with co-workers and supervisors and because he could not cope with the stress of working. (Id. at 34). According to Plaintiff, when he worked, he had severe stomach cramps, headaches, and an inability to concentrate. (Id. at 36-37).
Plaintiff testified that he has a wife and two children, but he avoids people and likes to spend his days alone in the woods and watching sports on television. (Id. at 42, 46, 49). Plaintiff stated that he tries to take no medication. (Id. at 43).
A. Standard of Review
In reviewing claims brought under the Act, this Court's role is a limited one. The Court's review is limited to determining 1) whether the decision of the Secretary is supported by substantial evidence and 2) whether the correct legal standards were applied. Martin v. Sullivan , 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990). A court may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Sewell v. Bowen , 792 F.2d 1065, 1067 (11th Cir. 1986). The Commissioner's findings of fact must be affirmed if they are based upon substantial evidence. Brown v. Sullivan , 921 F.2d 1233, 1235 (11th Cir. 1991); Bloodsworth v. Heckler , 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983) (holding substantial evidence is defined as "more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance" and consists of "such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion."). In determining whether substantial evidence exists, a court 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); Short v. Apfel , 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10163, *4 (S.D. Ala. June 14, 1999).
An individual who applies for Social Security disability benefits must prove his or her disability. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1512, 416.912. Disability is defined as the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A); see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a), 416.905(a). The Social Security regulations provide a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining if a claimant has proven his disability. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.
In the case sub judice, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity during the period from his alleged onset date of April 1, 1997, through his date last insured of June 30, 2002, and that, through the date last insured, he had the severe impairments of bipolar disorder, impulse control disorder, and personality disorder. (Tr. 16). The ALJ further found that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals any of the listed impairments contained in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Id.).
The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff retains the residual functional capacity (hereinafter "RFC") to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, with the following nonexertional limitations: no contact with the public; occasional contact with supervisors and co-workers; changes in the workplace should be introduced gradually; time off task can be accommodated by normal breaks; Specific Vocational Preparation (SVP) no greater than two; and preferably repetitive, simple, and routine tasks. (Id. at 18). The ALJ also determined that while Plaintiff's medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to produce the alleged symptoms, his ...