McCauley v. Colvin (M.D. Fla. Sept. 28, 2017) (Magistrate Judge Mac. R. McCoy)

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Included: Plaintiff’s Brief, Plaintiff’s Reply Brief, and Decision

Issues Briefed:

  1. 1)  The ALJ committed reversible error in failing to comply with Social Security Ruling 83-20 in not calling a medical expert to assist in determining the onset date of Mr. McCauley’s impairments.

  2. 2)  The ALJ reversibly erred by failing to properly evaluate Mr. McCauley’s subjective complaints and credibility for the period prior to March 9, 2013.

  3. 3)  The ALJ’s finding that prior to March 9, 2013, Mr. McCauley could perform the exertional demands of light work is not supported by substantial evidence.

  4. 4)  The ALJ’s finding that, prior to March 9, 2013, Mr. McCauley could return to his past relevant work as a life insurance agent or financial advisor as such work is generally performed, is not supported by substantial evidence.

In McCauley, the ALJ found that Plaintiff became disabled on March 9, 2013, but was not under a disability at any time through June 30, 2012, the date last insured. Slip. op. at 10. The court noted that:

if the record is insufficient to establish when/if any slowly progressing impairment(s) of nontraumatic origin became disabling, then SSR 83-20 requires an ALJ to utilize a medical advisor to determine the onset and/or existence of a claimant’s disability. McManus, 2004 WL 3316303, at *6. If, however, the record adequately supports a finding that the claimant was not disabled during the relevant period, then there is no error for failing to utilize the services of a medical advisor pursuant to SSR 83-20. See Caces, 560 F. App’x at 939. Thus, the Court must assess (1) whether the ALJ made a finding of disability, (2) whether Plaintiff has any slowly progressing impairment(s) of nontraumatic origin, and (3) the adequacy of the record.

Id. at 10-11 (citing McManus v. Barnhart, 2004 WL 3316303, at *6 (M.D. Fla. Dec. 14, 2004); Cases v. Comm’r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 560 F. App’x 936, 939 (11th Cir. 2014)).

The court found that the fist inquiry was readily answered as the ALJ specifically found that the claimant became disabled on March 9, 2013. Id. at 11. Second, the court found that it “appears that Plaintiff, in fact, suffers from slowly progressing impairments of nontraumatic origin,” as the court found the record supported the claimant’s contentions that “diagnoses and/or references in the medical record of plantar fasciitis, gout, sleep apnea, and atrial fibrillation as being slowly progressing impairments of nontraumatic origin.” Id. While the ALJ “only found that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of sleep apnea, cubital tunnel syndrome, and gout after March 9, 2013,” a review of the record “shows evidence of these three impairments before March 9, 2013,” including a surgical procedure to correct his left cubital tunnel syndrome on July 23, 2009” and multiple diagnoses of gout before March 9, 2013. Id. (Emphasis in original).

The court further found that the ALJ did not “sufficiently explain why he found Plaintiff’s sleep apnea, cubital tunnel syndrome, and gout only became severe after March 9, 2013” and the ALJ’s “decision to find these three impairments to be severe after March 9, 2013, but not before that date, is not adequately supported by the record.” Id. (Emphasis in original). As all “three conditions could be considered slowly progressing impairments of nontraumatic origin,” the ALJ’s “review regarding the time period before March 9, 2013 was inadequate.” Id. Thus, the court concluded:

As it stands, the medical evidence of record for the relevant period is inadequate and ambiguous as to whether these impairments were disabling at some point before the established date of disability. At the very least, the Court finds that the ALJ did not have a “legitimate medical basis” to establish that these impairments were not disabling at some point prior to March 9, 2013. See SSR 83-20, 1983 WL 31249, at *3.

In sum, the ALJ made a finding that Plaintiff was disabled. (Tr. at 33). Additionally, the record supports a finding that Plaintiff suffers from slowly progressing impairments of nontraumatic origin and that the evidence during the relevant period is inadequate and ambiguous. Thus, the Court finds that the ALJ should have secured the services of a medical advisor pursuant to SSR 83-20. Accordingly, the Court finds that this case must be reversed and remanded for further findings of fact consistent with this Opinion and Order.

Id. at 14-15.

The court further held that the “ALJ did not articulate explicit or adequate reasons for discrediting Plaintiff’s subjective testimony,” as the ALJ “only summarized the medical evidence of record without specifically stating any reasons why Plaintiff’s testimony was not entirely credible.” Id. at 17. While the court noted that “‘there is no rigid requirement that the ALJ specifically refer to every piece of evidence in his decision’” Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1211 (11th Cir. 2005), “this Court has declined to affirm the ALJ’s decision when it ‘does not shed any meaningful light on the reasons for discounting the plaintiff’s testimony.” Id. (citing Robinson v. Astrue, No. 8:08-cv-1824-T-TGW, 2009 WL 2386058, at *3 (M.D. Fla. Aug. 3, 2009)). Additionally, “this Court has previously distinguished summarizing evidence from analyzing it. See Cole v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., No. 8:11-cv-1836-T-33MAP, 2013 WL 440576, at *4 (M.D. Fla. Jan. 17, 2013), report and recommendation adopted sub nom., Cole v. Astrue, No. 8:11-cv-1836- T- 33MAP, 2013 WL 436179 (M.D. Fla. Feb. 5, 2013).” Id. The court held that

the ALJ’s rote recitation of the medical evidence here is not a substitute for articulating reasons for discounting Plaintiff’s credibility. See Johnson, 2014 WL 2920847, at *4. While a summarization of the evidence likely provides facts in support of reasons to discount Plaintiff’s credibility, the ALJ did not articulate his reasons. See Id. Moreover, because the ALJ did not state specific reasons for discounting Plaintiff’s credibility, it is unclear whether the ALJ considered any of the factors for determining Plaintiff’s credibility. See SSR 96-7p, 1996 WL 374186, at *3. Thus, the Court cannot find that the ALJ articulated explicit and adequate reasons for discounting Plaintiff’s credibility.

Id. at 14-15 (citing Johnson v. Colvin, No. 2:13-CV-776-TFM, 2014 WL 2920847, at *4 (M.D. Ala. June 27, 2014); Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1225 (11th Cir. 2002)). Thus, the court reversed the ALJ’s credibility determination for the time period prior to March 9, 2013 and directed that on remand, the “ALJ must state explicit and adequate reasons in making a credibility determination of Plaintiff.” Id. at 15.