United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
B. SMITH United States Magistrate Judge
brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act, as
amended, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to obtain judicial review
of an adverse final decision of the Commissioner of the
Social Security Administration regarding her claim for
disability insurance benefits. Based upon a review of the
administrative record and the pleadings and joint memorandum
submitted by the parties, and for the reasons that follow, I
respectfully recommend that the Commissioner's final
decision be affirmed, pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C.
holds a bachelor's degree in sociology and has performed
past relevant work as a senior secretary, customer service
clerk and billing clerk (Doc. 15 at 3). On August 9, 2012,
she protectively filed an application for disability benefits
alleging an April 15, 2011 onset date (Id., at 1).
She subsequently amended her alleged onset date to August 19,
2012 (Tr. 152). Plaintiff's application was denied
initially and on reconsideration, and she requested an
administrative hearing which was held on December 9, 2014
(Tr. 29-53, 54-81). On February 12, 2015 the administrative
law judge (“ALJ”) issued a decision denying
Plaintiff's application for benefits (Tr. 9-26).
Plaintiff requested review by the Appeals Council, which was
denied by order dated June 10, 2016 (Tr. 1-4). Thus, the
ALJ's decision is the Commissioner's final decision
and this appeal timely followed (Doc. 1). Plaintiff has
exhausted her administrative remedies and her case is ripe
determining whether an individual is disabled, the ALJ must
follow the five-step sequential evaluation process
established by the Social Security Administration and
codified in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(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
determined at step one that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date
(Tr. 14) At step two, the ALJ decided that Plaintiff was
severely impaired by a disorder of the spine (20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(c)) (Id.). At step three, the ALJ
concluded that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one
of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1 (20 CFR §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525,
404.1526) (Tr. 16). Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to
perform sedentary work with certain limitations (Tr. 17). At
step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was capable of
performing her past relevant work as a senior secretary,
customer service clerk and billing clerk and therefore, she was
not disabled (Tr. 21).
scope of the Court's review is limited to determining
whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards
and whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by
substantial evidence. Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004). 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 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
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).
is a presumption in favor of the ALJ's findings of fact,
but the presumption does not attach to the ALJ's
conclusions of law. Welch v. Bowen, 854 F.2d 436,
438 (11th Cir. 1988) (per curiam). The Court will reverse a
final decision if the ALJ incorrectly applied the law or
failed to provide sufficient reasoning for the Court to
determine whether the ALJ properly applied the law.
Keeton v. Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 21
F.3d 1064, 1066 (11th Cir. 1992).
went to a hospital emergency room on August 19, 2012,
complaining of lumbar back pain that radiated to her calf
(Tr. 259). A computerized tomography scan revealed
degenerative changes to her lumbar spine with mild to
moderate spinal canal stenosis at ¶ 3-L4 (Tr. 264). She
underwent a magnetic resonance imaging scan which revealed a
large posterior disc extrusion at the L3-L4 level, which in
combination with disc bulging and facet hypertrophy
bilaterally resulted in severe narrowing of the central
spinal canal and bilateral peripheral spinal canals and
neural foramina (Tr. 313). A radiologist noted a near
occlusion of the central spinal canal and severe narrowing at
the L4-L5 level resulting from degenerative disc and joint
disease (Id.). The impression was acute cauda equine
syndrome,  herniated nucleus pulposus L3-L4, sever
spinal stenosis L3-L4 with radiculopathy and urinary
retention (Tr. 274). Plaintiff was admitted to the hospital
for emergency laminectomy decompression (Id.). Dr.
Stephane Lavoie performed an L3-L4 laminectomy, discectomy
and decompression L3-L4 on August 21, 2012 (Tr. 216).
Lavoie next saw Plaintiff in his office on September 6, 2012
(Tr. 213). He reported that she was mainly using a wheelchair
to get around and that he explained to her that it would
“be a very slow process.” (Id.). On
September 27, 2012, Dr. Lavoie evaluated Plaintiff and
concluded that she would benefit from skilled physical
therapy treatment (Tr. 226). The doctor's October 4, 2012
treatment notes report improvement and that while Plaintiff
continued to use “mainly a wheelchair to get around,
” she was “walking significantly better
now.” (Tr. 210). The next time Dr. Lavoie saw Plaintiff
was on October 19, 2012 (Tr. 224). As of that date, she had
attended ten physical therapy sessions and was “making
good gains.” (Id.). On November 14, 2012, Dr.
Lavoie examined Plaintiff, reported that she had attended
eighteen physical therapy sessions, and was progressing as
expected (Tr. 221, 223). The next day, Dr. Lavoie observed
that Plaintiff was “walking significantly better now,
” and that she was “beginning to ambulate quite
well.” (Tr. 208). The doctor saw ...