United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division
DALTON JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
social security appeal, U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas B. Smith
recommends that the Court affirm the Commissioner's
decision granting Plaintiff a partially favorable decision on
her claim for disability benefits. (Doc. 18.) Plaintiff
objects to the Report and Recommendation. (Doc. 19.) For the
reasons set forth below, the decision of the Commissioner is
due to be affirmed, and the Report and Recommendation is due
to be adopted.
March 15, 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for social
security disability benefits, alleging an onset date of
February 29, 2012. (Doc. 9-5, pp. 5-17.) The Commissioner
initially denied Plaintiff's claim on August 9, 2012, and
then upon reconsideration on December 18, 2012. (Doc. 9-4,
pp. 5-16.) Plaintiff requested and received a hearing before
an administrative law judge (“ALJ”).
(Id. at 20-22, 38; Doc. 9-2, pp. 31-63.) On August
22, 2014, the ALJ issued a partially favorable decision
finding that Plaintiff was disabled from February 29, 2012
through October 3, 2013 (“Disability Period”),
but that her disability ceased as of October 4, 2013, when
medical improvement occurred. (Doc. 9-2, pp. 10-26.) After
the administrative Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's
request for review of the decision (Doc. 9-2, pp. 2-4),
Plaintiff appealed to this Court. (Doc. 1.) On February 8,
2017, U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas B. Smith issued a Report
recommending that the Court affirm the decision of the
Commissioner. (Doc. 18 (“R&R”).) Plaintiff
objects. (Doc. 19 (“Objection”).) The matter is
now ripe for the Court's consideration.
Standard of Review
A. Report and Recommendations
party objects to a magistrate judge's findings, the
district court must “make a de novo determination of
those portions of the report . . . to which objection is
made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The district court
“may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part,
the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate
judge.” Id. The district court must consider
the record and factual issues based on the record independent
of the magistrate judge's report. Ernest S. ex rel.
Jeffrey S. v. State Bd. of Educ., 896 F.2d 507, 513
(11th Cir. 1990).
Social Security Appeals
social security appeals, a reviewing court “must
determine whether the Commissioner's decision is
supported by substantial evidence and based on proper legal
standards.” Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011).
“Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is
such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. In
conducting such review, a court may not decide the facts
anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute its judgment for
that of the Commissioner. Id. “Even if the
evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's
findings, [the reviewing court] must affirm if the decision
is supported by substantial evidence.” Crawford v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1159 (11th Cir.
2004) (quoting Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520,
1529 (11th Cir. 1990)).
appeal, Plaintiff does not challenge the favorable decision
regarding her disability and right to receive benefits. She
only challenges the ALJ's finding that her disability
ceased on October 3, 2013. (See Doc. 14, p. 1.)
Specifically, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred by: (1)
finding that she experienced medical improvement in her
condition as of October 4, 2013; and (2) applying the
incorrect legal standards to her testimony. (Id. at
10-14, 18-20.) The Court will address each of these arguments
administrative level, an ALJ applies a five-step, sequential
evaluation process to determine whether a claimant is
disabled. Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178. In particular,
the ALJ must evaluate:
(1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial
gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a severe
impairment or combination of impairments; (3) whether the
impairment meets or equals the severity of the specified
impairments in the Listing of Impairments; (4) based on a
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) assessment,
whether the claimant can perform any of his or her past
relevant work despite the impairment; and (5) whether there
are significant numbers of jobs in the national economy that
the claimant can perform given the claimant's RFC, age,
education, and work experience.
ALJ determines that the claimant is disabled, the ALJ must
also determine if the claimant's disability continued
through the date of the decision, or whether medical
improvement has occurred. 20 C.F.R. § 416.994. Medical
improvement is defined as “any decrease in the medical
severity of [the claimant's] impairment(s) which was
present at the time of the most recent favorable medical
decision that [the claimant was] disabled or continued to be
disabled.” 20 C.F.R. ...