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Williams v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

March 8, 2017

SUSAN WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          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 and Supplemental Security Income under the Act. Upon a review of the record, I respectfully recommend that the Commissioner's final decision in this case be AFFIRMED, pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         Background

         Plaintiff filed for benefits on June 6, 2012, alleging disability commencing on April 4, 2010, due to depression, lumbar herniated disc, cervical bulge discs, migraine, mitral valve prolapse, and s/p heart attack (Tr. 242-248, 264-269, 306, 310). Her applications were denied initially and on reconsideration, and she requested and received a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) (Tr. 46-81, 161). On January 2, 2015, a supplemental hearing was held (Tr. 33-45). On February 20, 2015, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled and issued his unfavorable decision (Tr. 9-32). Plaintiff was 47 years old, 5 feet, 2 inches tall, and weighed 122 pounds when the ALJ handed down his adverse decision (Tr. 17). She has a master's degree in nursing, certification as a nurse anesthetist, and past employment as a nurse (Doc. 15 at 3).

         On May 26, 2016, the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-4). Accordingly, the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision. Having exhausted her 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 claimant (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 claimant 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 alleged onset date (Tr. 14). At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of: affective disorder, degenerative disc disease, migraines, mitral valve prolapse and history of myocardial infarction (20 CFR § 404.1520(c) and § 416.920(c))

         (Id.). At step three, the ALJ determined 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. 15). Next, the ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR § 404.1567(b) and § 416.967(b) with limitations that included that “she is able to lift/carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; sit for 30 minutes at one [time] for a total of 6 hours in an 8-hour workday.” (Tr. 17). At step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was unable to return to her past relevant work (Tr. 25). Then, considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, and relying on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff could perform other jobs including assembler, electrical accessories I, surveillance system monitor, and addresser that exist in the national economy (Tr. 26). Therefore, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled from April 4, 2010, through the date of the decision (Tr. 26-7).

         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 curiam); accord Lowery v. Sullivan, 979 F.2d 835, 837 (11th Cir. 1992) (the court must scrutinize the entire record to determine the reasonableness of the factual findings).

         Discussion

         Plaintiff contends that the ALJ did not apply the correct legal standards in evaluating the opinion of treating physician Jeff Kidd, M.D., and that the reasons the ALJ gave for according Dr. Kidd's opinions “little weight, ” are not supported by substantial evidence (Id., at 11). Plaintiff saw Dr. Kidd about once a month for pain management (Doc. 15 at 6; Tr. 18). She testified that she was taking Ibuprofen, Roxicodone, Morphine, Mobic, Imitrex, Valium, Wellbutrin and Lexapro (Tr. 18). Plaintiff rated her pain at a two on a scale of one to ten when ...


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