United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division
OPINION AND ORDER
MCCOY, UNTIED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
the Court is Plaintiff Paula Gonzalez's Complaint (Doc.
1) filed on October 16, 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, disability insurance benefits,
and supplemental security income. 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).
October 1, 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and
supplemental security income (“SSI”). (Tr. at 90,
91, 208-215). Plaintiff asserted an onset date of September
12, 2010. (Tr. at 208). Plaintiff's applications were
denied initially on December 17, 2012, and on reconsideration
on May 30, 2013. (Tr. at 90, 91, 120, 121). A hearing was
held before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
Donna Lefebvre on June 4, 2014. (Tr. at 41-69). The ALJ
issued an unfavorable decision on July 15, 2014. (Tr. at
24-33). The ALJ found Plaintiff not to be under a disability
from September 12, 2010, through the date of the decision.
(Tr. at 33).
August 28, 2015, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's
request for review. (Tr. at 1-5). Plaintiff filed a Complaint
(Doc. 1) in the United States District Court on October 16,
2015. This case is ripe for review. The parties consented to
proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge for all
proceedings. (See Doc. 19).
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, 2015. (Tr. at 26). At step one of the
sequential evaluation, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 12,
2010, the alleged onset date. (Tr. at 26). At step two, the
ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe
impairments: cervical degenerative disc disease status post
fusion; spasmodic torticollis; and left shoulder superior
labrum from anterior to posterior (SLAP) tear. (Tr. at 26).
At step three, the ALJ determined 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 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpt. P, Appendix 1 (20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526,
416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926). (Tr. at 16-17). At step
four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform less than
the full range of sedentary work with the following
frequently climb ramps and stairs; can never climb ladders or
scaffolds; can frequently balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and
crawl; cannot have concentrated exposure to extreme cold or
excessive vibration; cannot operate moving or hazardous
machinery; and cannot work around unprotected heights.
(Tr. at 29). The ALJ determined that Plaintiff was capable of
performing her past relevant work as an accounting clerk,
finding that this work does not require the performance of
work-related activities precluded by Plaintiff's RFC.
(Tr. at 32). The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not under a
disability from September 12, 2010, through the date of the
decision. (Tr. at 33).
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).