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Smith v. Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration

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

April 26, 2017

DANETTE SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
ACTING COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER [1]

          MONTE C. RICHARDSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         THIS CAUSE is before the Court on Plaintiff's appeal of an administrative decision denying her application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). Plaintiff claims her disability began on January 1, 2012. (Tr. 116.) A hearing was held before the assigned Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on March 31, 2014, at which Plaintiff was represented by a non-attorney representative. (Tr. 25-55.) The ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled since June 13, 2012, the date of her SSI application. (Tr. 10-19.) In reaching the decision, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a reduced range of light work. (Tr. 13-14.)

         Plaintiff appeals the Commissioner's decision that she was not disabled since June 13, 2012. Plaintiff has exhausted her available administrative remedies and the case is properly before the Court. The undersigned has reviewed the record, the briefs, and the applicable law. For the reasons stated herein, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

         I. Standard

         The scope of this Court's review is limited to determining whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards, McRoberts v. Bowen, 841 F.2d 1077, 1080 (11th Cir. 1988), and whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence, Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971). “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004). Where 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); 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 v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1995); accord Lowery v. Sullivan, 979 F.2d 835, 837 (11th Cir. 1992) (stating the court must scrutinize the entire record to determine the reasonableness of the Commissioner's factual findings).

         When a claimant seeks to establish disability through her own testimony of pain or other subjective symptoms, the Eleventh Circuit's three-part “pain standard” applies. Holt v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d 1221, 1223 (11th Cir. 1991) (per curiam). “If the ALJ decides not to credit such testimony, he must articulate explicit and adequate reasons for doing so.” Id.

The pain standard requires (1) evidence of an underlying medical condition and either (2) objective medical evidence that confirms the severity of the alleged pain arising from that condition or (3) that the objectively determined medical condition is of such a severity that it can be reasonably expected to give rise to the alleged pain.

Id.

         Once a claimant establishes that her “pain is disabling through objective medical evidence that an underlying medical condition exists that could reasonably be expected to produce the pain, ” pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 416.929, “all evidence about the intensity, persistence, and functionally limiting effects of pain or other symptoms must be considered in addition to the medical signs and laboratory findings in deciding the issue of disability.” Foote, 67 F.3d at 1561; see also SSR 96-7p (stating that after the ALJ finds a medically determinable impairment exists, the ALJ must analyze “the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of the individual's symptoms to determine the extent to which the symptoms limit the individual's ability to do basic work activities”).

         When a claimant's “statements about the intensity, persistence, or functionally limiting effects of pain or other symptoms are not substantiated by objective medical evidence, ” the ALJ “must make a finding on the credibility of the individual's statements based on a consideration of the entire case record.” SSR 96-7p.

When evaluating the credibility of an individual's statements, the adjudicator must consider the entire case record and give specific reasons for the weight given to the individual's statements. . . . The reasons for the credibility finding must be grounded in the evidence and articulated in the determination or decision. It is not sufficient to make a conclusory statement that “the individual's allegations have been considered” or that “the allegations are (or are not) credible.” It is also not enough for the adjudicator simply to recite the factors that are described in the regulations for evaluating symptoms.[2] The determination or decision must contain specific reasons for the finding on credibility, supported by the evidence in the case record, and must be sufficiently specific to make clear to the individual and to any subsequent reviewers the weight the adjudicator gave to the individual's statements and the reasons for that weight.

Id.

         “[C]redibility determinations are the province of the ALJ, ” Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1212 (11th Cir. 2005), and “[a] clearly articulated credibility finding with substantial supporting evidence in the record will not be disturbed by a reviewing court, ” Foote, 67 F.3d at 1562.

         II. ...


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