United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division
OPINION AND ORDER
MCCOY, UNITED STATE? MAGISTRATE JUDGE
the Court is Plaintiff Janet Pittman's Complaint (Doc. 1)
filed on September 10, 2015. Plaintiff seeks judicial review
of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social
Security Administration (“SSA”) denying her claim
for a period of disability and disability insurance
benefits. The Commissioner filed the Transcript of
the proceedings (hereinafter referred to as “Tr.”
followed by the appropriate page number), and the parties
filed legal memoranda in support of their positions. For the
reasons set out herein, the decision of the Commissioner is
REVERSED AND REMANDED pursuant to § 205(g) of the Social
Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Social Security Act Eligibility, the ALJ Decision, and
Standard of Review
defines disability as the inability to do any substantial
gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable
physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result
in death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a
continuous period of not less than twelve months. 42 U.S.C.
§§ 416(i), 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A); 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1505, 416.905. The impairment must be
severe, making the claimant unable to do her previous work or
any other substantial gainful activity that exists in the
national economy. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2),
1382c(a)(3); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505 - 404.1511,
416.905 - 416.911. Plaintiff bears the burden of persuasion
through step four, while the burden shifts to the
Commissioner at step five. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482
U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987).
February 18, 2010, Plaintiff filed an application for
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). (Tr. at
196, 261-64). Plaintiff asserted an onset date of June 1,
2009. (Tr. at 261). Plaintiff's application was denied
initially on April 16, 2010, and on reconsideration on July
28, 2010. (Tr. at 196, 197).
hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Ronald S.
Robbins on October 21, 2011. (Tr. at 121-43). ALJ Robins
issued an unfavorable decision on March 6, 2012. (Tr. at
209-15). On June 24, 2013, the Appeals Council reviewed the
March 6 decision and remanded the action to an Administrative
Law Judge to:
• Further consider the issue of the claimant's
performance of substantial gainful activity during the period
at issue. In so doing, obtain additional evidence concerning
the claimant's work activity and income during the period
at issue (20 CFR 404.1571-1576 and 416.971-976; Social
Security Rulings 83-33, 83-34, 83-35, and 84-24).
• Obtain additional evidence concerning the
claimant's impairments in order to complete the
administrative record in accordance with the regulatory
standards regarding consultative examinations and existing
medical evidence (20 CFR 404.1512-1513). The additional
evidence may include, if warranted and available,
consultative examinations and medical source statements about
what the claimant can still do despite the impairments (20
(Tr. at 221-22). On March 10, 2014, Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) Larry J. Butler held a second hearing.
(Tr. at 44-91). On March 25, 2015, the ALJ issued an
unfavorable decision, finding that Plaintiff was not under a
disability from June 1, 2009, the alleged onset date, through
December 31, 2012, the date last insured. (Tr. at 12-29).
August 11, 2015, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's
request for review. (Tr. at 1-4). Plaintiff filed a Complaint
(Doc. 1) in the United States District Court on September 10,
2015. This case is ripe for review. The parties consented to
proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge for all
proceedings. (See Doc. 17).
Summary of the ALJ's Decision
must follow a five-step sequential evaluation process to
determine if a claimant has proven that she is disabled.
Packer v. Comm'r of Social Security, 542 F.
App'x 890, 891 (11th Cir. 2013) (citing Jones v.
Apfel, 190 F.3d 1224, 1228 (11th Cir.
1999)). An ALJ must determine whether the
claimant: (1) is performing substantial gainful activity; (2)
has a severe impairment; (3) has a severe impairment that
meets or equals an impairment specifically listed in 20
C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; (4) can perform her
past relevant work; and (5) can perform other work of the
sort found in the national economy. Phillips v.
Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1237-40 (11th Cir. 2004). The
claimant has the burden of proof through step four and then
the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five.
Hines-Sharp v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 511 F.
App'x 913, 915 n.2 (11th Cir. 2013).
found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements
through December 31, 2012. (Tr. at 20). At step one of
the sequential evaluation, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had
not engaged in substantial gainful activity during the period
from her alleged onset date of June 1, 2009, through her date
last insured of December 31, 2012. (Tr. at 20). At step two,
the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following
severe impairments: “history of coronary artery
disease, history of cervical and lumbar degenerative disc
disease with corresponding pain, high cholesterol and
hypertension (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).” (Tr. at 20).
three, the ALJ determined that through the date of December
31, 2012, the date last insured, 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 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpt. P, Appendix 1 (20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, and 404.1526).
(Tr. at 21).
four, the ALJ determined that through the date last insured
of December 31, 2012, Plaintiff possessed the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work
as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b). (Tr. at 21).
Additionally, the ALJ found that Plaintiff:
is able to occasionally lift/carry 20-pounds, frequently
lift/carry 10-pounds, stand/walk approximately 6-hours during
an 8-hour workday and sit approximately 6-hours during an
8-hour workday. The claimant has unlimited ability to push
and pull, including operation of hand and/or foot controls.
The claimant can occasionally climb, balance, stoop, kneel,
crouch and crawl. The claimant can occasionally (up to
one-third of a workday) reach overhead with her non-dominant
left arm. The claimant has no limitations upon reaching
overhead with her dominant right arm. The claimant has no
limitation with regard to handling and fingering. The
claimant should avoid exposure to hazards such as machinery
and unprotected heights.
21-22). The ALJ determined that through the date of last
insured, December 31, 2012, Plaintiff was capable of
performing her past relevant work as a counselor. (Tr. at
28). The ALJ found that this work did not require the
performance of work-related activities precluded by
Plaintiff's RFC. (Tr. at 28). The ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff was not under a disability at any time from June 1,
2009, the alleged onset date, through December 31, 2012, the
date last insured. (Tr. at 29).
Standard of Review
scope of this Court's review is limited to determining
whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standard,
McRoberts v. Bowen, 841 F.2d 1077, 1080 (11th Cir.
1988), and whether the findings are supported by substantial
evidence, 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.
§405(g). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla;
i.e., the evidence must do more than merely create a
suspicion of the existence of a fact, and must include 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) (citing Walden v.
Schweiker, 672 F.2d 835, 838 (11th Cir. 1982);
Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401).
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 evidence
preponderates against” the Commissioner's decision.
Edwards v. Sullivan, 937 F.2d 580, 584 n.3 (11th
Cir. 1991); and Barnes v. Sullivan, 932 F.2d 1356,
1358 (11th Cir. 1991). The district court must view the
evidence as a whole, taking into account evidence favorable
as well as unfavorable to the decision. Foote, 67
F.3d at 1560; accord Lowery v. Sullivan, 979 F.2d
835, 837 (11th Cir. 1992) (court must scrutinize the entire
record to determine reasonableness of factual findings).