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Fournier v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division

January 9, 2017

JESSICA MARCELA FOURNIER, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER[1]

          THOMAS B. SMITH United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act (“Act”), as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) denying her claim for disability insurance benefits under the Act. Upon a review of the record, and after due consideration, the Commissioner's final decision is AFFIRMED, pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         Background[2]

         Plaintiff filed for benefits on May 30, 2012, alleging an onset date of July 15, 2009 (Tr. 172-73). Plaintiff claimed that she was disabled due to fibromyalgia (Tr. 206), depression, and pain (Tr. 13). Her date last insured was December 31, 2014 (Tr. 65).

         Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration, and Plaintiff requested and received a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) (Tr.104-09; 113-118; 1-34). In a decision dated April 3, 2014, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled through the date of her decision (Tr. 62-83). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on September 15, 2015 (Tr. 35-41). Accordingly, the ALJ's April 2014 decision is the final decision of the Commissioner.

         Having exhausted the available administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed this action for judicial review (Doc. 1). The matter is fully briefed and ripe for resolution.

         The ALJ's Decision

         When determining whether an individual is disabled, the ALJ must follow the five-step sequential evaluation process established by the Social Security Administration and set forth in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4) and 416.920(a)(4). Specifically, the ALJ must determine whether the plaintiff (1) is currently employed; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals an impairment listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; (4) can perform past relevant work; and (5) retains the ability to perform any work in the national economy. See Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1237-1240 (11th Cir. 2004). The plaintiff bears the burden of persuasion through step four and, at step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n. 5 (1987); Phillips, 357 F.3d at 1241 n.10.

         Here, the ALJ performed the required five-step sequential analysis. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her July 15, 2009 alleged onset date (Tr. 67). At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the severe impairment of fibromyalgia (20 CFR 404.1520(c)) (Tr. 67), but found her medically determinable mental impairment of depression/mood disorder to be non-severe (Tr. 68). At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526) (Tr. 69). Next, the ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to:

perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b), with the following limitations. The claimant can lift/carry 20 pounds occasionally, and 10 pounds frequently. She can stand/walk six hours out of an eight-hour workday, and sit six hours out of an eight-hour workday. She is limited to occasionally climbing ramps/stairs, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling. She never should climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds.

(Tr. 69).

         At step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was capable of performing her past relevant work as a patient insurance clerk, interpreter, specimen processor, accident insurance clerk, and phlebotomist (Tr. 76), and made alternative findings at step five, that there are other jobs existing in the national economy that Plaintiff was able to perform (Tr. 77). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had not been under a disability from July 15, 2009, through the date of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 78).

         Standard of Review

         The scope of the Court's review is limited to determining whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence. Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004). Findings of fact are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is “more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance. It is such relevant evidence that a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (citation omitted).

         When 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, and even if the reviewer finds that the preponderance of the evidence is against the Commissioner's decision. Miles v. Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996). The district court “may not decide facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute our judgment for that of the [Commissioner.]” Id. "The district court must view the record as a whole, taking into account evidence favorable as well as unfavorable to the decision." Foote v. Chater,67 F.3d 1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1995) (per ...


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