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Imperial v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

May 19, 2017

PAUL C. IMPERIAL, Plaintiff,



         This Social Security appeal comes before the Court on Magistrate Judge Gregory J. Kelly's March 28, 2017 Report and Recommendation. (Doc. 20). Magistrate Judge Kelly recommends that the Commissioner's final decision be reversed and remanded pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). On April 10, 2017, the Commissioner filed objections to the Magistrate Judge's recommended disposition. (Doc. 21). Plaintiff has not responded to the Commissioner's objections and the time for doing so has passed. This matter is therefore ripe for review.

         I. BACKGROUND

         While working for a cable company at the age of nineteen, Plaintiff was standing on a ladder when a woman crashed into the ladder with her car, causing Plaintiff to fall approximately thirty feet to the ground. (R. 202). Plaintiff broke his pelvis and wrist and suffered a concussion as a result of the fall. (Id.). Thirty years following this accident, Plaintiff's injuries continue to plague him, so much so that Plaintiff stopped working on October 31, 2012 on account of his condition.[1] (R. 180, 202-203).

         On November 30, 2012, at the age of forty-nine, Plaintiff applied for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 423. (R. 151-155). Plaintiff alleges that he suffers from chronic neck and back pain and hypothyroidism. After conducting a hearing, Administrative Law Judge Bernard Porter (the “ALJ”) entered a decision on January 8, 2015 denying Plaintiff's application, finding that Plaintiff was not disabled and had the residual functioning capacity to perform light, unskilled work. (R. 7-28). On June 24, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (R. 1-6). This appeal ensued, and the parties filed their Joint Memorandum on February 27, 2017. (Doc. 19).

         In the Joint Memorandum, Plaintiff challenges the ALJ's decision on three grounds. First, Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ failed to adequately weigh and consider the opinion of his treating physician. Second, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred by relying on the testimony of the vocational expert after posing a hypothetical that did not accurately reflect Plaintiff's limitations. Third, Plaintiff claims that the ALJ failed to adequately asses his credibility concerning his subjective complaints of pain. Plaintiff submits that these three errors caused the ALJ to reach the incorrect conclusion that Plaintiff is not disabled.

         Upon consideration of the parties' arguments, and after reviewing the Administrative Record, Magistrate Judge Kelly submitted the instant Report and Recommendation. Magistrate Judge Kelly concludes that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's determinations on the first two grounds raised by Plaintiff, but that the ALJ erred as to Plaintiff's third point by failing to adequately assess Plaintiff's credibility concerning his subjective complaints of pain. Consequently, the Magistrate Judge recommends that the ALJ's final decision should be reversed and remanded for further proceedings. The Commissioner objects to Magistrate Judge Kelly's recommendation.


         A. Review of the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation

         A district judge may designate a magistrate judge to hear and determine both dispositive and non-dispositive matters. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a), (b). When a magistrate judge has been designated to decide a matter that is dispositive in nature, as is the case here, the magistrate judge must issue a report to the district judge specifying the magistrate judge's proposed findings of fact and recommended disposition. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(1). Any party who disagrees with the magistrate judge's recommended decision has fourteen days from the date of the recommendation to seek the district judge's review by filing objections to those specific portions of the recommendation disagreed with. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(2). The district judge must then make a de novo determination of each issue to which objection is made. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3). De novo review “require[s] independent consideration of factual issues based on the record.” Jeffrey S. v. State Bd. of Educ., 896 F.2d 507, 512 (11th Cir. 1990) (per curiam). The district judge may then accept, reject, or modify the magistrate judge's recommendation, receive additional evidence or briefing from the parties, or return the matter to the magistrate judge for further review. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3).

         B. Review of the ALJ's Decision

         In a Social Security appeal, the Court's review is limited to determining whether the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record and is 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. (quoting Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004) (per curiam)). “[The Court] may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the [ALJ].” Id. (quoting Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1240 n.8 (11th Cir. 2004)). The ALJ's decision must be affirmed if it is supported by substantial evidence, even if the Court finds that the evidence more likely supports a different conclusion. Miles v. Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996).


         The Commissioner objects only to Magistrate Judge Kelly's conclusion that the ALJ failed to adequately assess Plaintiff's credibility concerning his subjective complaints ...

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