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Paul v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division

January 10, 2017




         Plaintiff Patricia Paul seeks judicial review of the denial of her claim for disability and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”). The Court has reviewed the record, the briefs, and the applicable law. For the reasons set forth herein, the decision of the Commissioner is REVERSED and this matter is remanded to the Commissioner pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), sentence four.[1]

         I. Issues on Appeal[2]

         Plaintiff raises two issues on appeal: (a) whether the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) properly considered Plaintiff's Department of Veteran's Affairs (“VA”) disability rating; and (b) whether the ALJ properly assessed Plaintiff's credibility.

         II. Summary of the ALJ's Decision

         On June 2, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled from December 1, 2013, the alleged onset of disability, through the date of the decision. Tr. 27. At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2018, and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 1, 2013. Tr. 18. At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments:

[i]nflammatory arthritis, multiple sclerosis with a history of left eye optic atrophy and optic neuritis, degenerative disc disease and facet arthritis of the cervical spine, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, obesity, osteoarthritis of the knees with history of effusion, fibromyalgia syndrome with chronic pain, depressive disorder, mood disorder, adjustment disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, unspecified trauma and stress-related disorder, anxiety with a history of panic attacks, eating disorder, and cannabis abuse.

Id. At step three, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff did not have “an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.” Tr. 20. The ALJ then determined that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform light work[3] with the following limitations:

[Plaintiff] can lift, push, pull and carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds on a frequent basis. In addition, [Plaintiff] can sit for six hours during each eight-hour workday and stand and walk, in combination, six hours during each eight-hour workday. However, at one time, [Plaintiff] can only walk for 30 minutes, stand for 30 minutes, and sit for 30 minutes. Although [Plaintiff] is precluded from climbing ladders, ropes, stairs, and scaffolds, she can occasionally climb ramps. Similarly, [Plaintiff] is limited to occasional stooping and can not perform repetitive stooping below the waist. She can never engage in kneeling, crouching, and crawling. [Plaintiff] is also precluded from overhead reaching. [Plaintiff] can frequently engage in handling and fingering. She is precluded from commercial driving. She must have no exposure to unprotected heights and dangerous machinery. [Plaintiff] is limited to simple, routine, and repetitive work that require[s] no more than occasional interaction with the public and with co-workers. [Plaintiff] is limited to work that allows her to be off-task ten percent of the workday in addition to regularly scheduled breaks.

Tr. 22. Next, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. Tr. 25. Considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience and RFC, the ALJ determined there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform and therefore concluded she was not disabled. Tr. 26-27.

         III. Standard of Review ]

         The scope of this Court's review is limited to determining whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and whether the findings are supported by substantial evidence. McRoberts v. Bowen, 841 F.2d 1077, 1080 (11th Cir. 1988) (citing Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971)). The Commissioner's findings of fact are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b), 416.967(b). 405(g).[4] Substantial evidence is “more than a scintilla, i.e., evidence that must do more than create a suspicion of the existence of the fact to be established, and such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support the conclusion.” Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1995) (internal citations omitted).

         The Eleventh Circuit has restated that “[i]n determining whether substantial evidence supports a decision, we give great deference to the ALJ's fact findings.” Hunter v. Soc. Sec. Admin., Comm'r, 808 F.3d 818, 822 (11th Cir. 2015) (citation omitted). Where 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 or found that the preponderance of the evidence is against the Commissioner's decision. Edwards v. Sullivan, 937 F.2d 580, 584 n.3 (11th Cir. 1991); Barnes v. Sullivan, 932 F.2d 1356, 1358 (11th Cir. 1991); see also Lowery v. Sullivan, 979 F.2d 835, 837 (11th Cir. 1992) (stating that the court must scrutinize the entire record to determine the reasonableness of the factual findings). The Court reviews the Commissioner's conclusions of law under a de novo standard of review. Ingram v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 496 F.3d 1253, 1260 (11th Cir. 2007) (citing Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990)).

         IV. Discussion

         a. Whether the ALJ properly considered Plaintiff's ...

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