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Schlegel v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

June 1, 2017

JAMES FREDRICK SCHLEGEL, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

          DANIEL C. IRICK UNITES STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         James Fredrick Schlegel (Claimant) appeals to the District Court from a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits. Doc. 1; R. 1-7, 253-76. Claimant argued that the Administrative Law Judge (the ALJ) erred by: 1) failing “to apply the correct legal standards at step four of the sequential evaluation process when he found that [Claimant] could perform his past work”; and 2) failing “to apply the correct legal standards to Mr. Schlegel's pancreatitis limitations and psychotic limitations at step four.” Doc. 20 at 2. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's final decision is AFFIRMED.

         I. THE ALJ'S DECISION

         In September 2012, Claimant filed applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits. R. 268-76. Claimant originally alleged a disability onset date of October 1, 2007, but later amended his alleged onset date to April 11, 2011. R. 47-48, 268, 271, 289.

         The ALJ issued his decision on March 19, 2015. R. 13-21. In his decision, the ALJ found that Claimant had the following severe impairments: diabetes mellitus type 2 and hyperlipidemia. R. 15. The ALJ found that Claimant had a residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform medium work as defined by 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c).[1] R. 17. Specifically, the ALJ found as follows:

[C]laimant has the residual functional capacity to perform the full range of medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c). This individual has the residual functional capacity to perform work at the medium exertional level. He can lift, carry, push and pull fifty (50) pounds occasionally and twenty-five (25) pounds frequently. He can stand and walk for approximately six (6) hours and can sit for approximately six (6) hours in an eight (8) hour workday with normal breaks. He must avoid exposure to vibration, unprotected heights, and hazardous machinery. He must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme heat, cold, wetness, humidity, and irritants such as fumes, odors, dust, and gases. His work is limited to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks. This person should have no interaction with the general public and only occasional interaction with co-workers and supervisors.

R. 17. The ALJ posed a hypothetical question to the vocational expert (VE) that was consistent with the foregoing RFC determination, and the VE testified that Claimant was capable of performing his past relevant work as a kitchen helper. R. 49. The ALJ thus found that Claimant was capable of performing his past relevant work as a kitchen helper. R. 20. Therefore, the ALJ found that Claimant was not disabled between the alleged onset date and the date of his decision.

Id.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         “In Social Security appeals, [the 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) (citations omitted). 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 - i.e., the evidence must do more than merely create a suspicion of the existence of a fact, and must include such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support the conclusion. Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1995) (citing Walden v. Schweiker, 672 F.2d 835, 838 (11th Cir. 1982) and Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). 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 Court must view the evidence as a whole, taking into account evidence favorable as well as unfavorable to the decision. Foote, 67 F.3d at 1560. The District Court “‘may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the [Commissioner].'” Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1240 n.8 (11th Cir. 2004) (quoting Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983)).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Past Relevant Work

         At step four of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ assesses the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC) and ability to perform past relevant work. Phillips, 357 F.3d at 1238. A claimant is not disabled if the claimant is capable of performing his past relevant work, which is defined as work performed within the last fifteen years that lasted long enough for the claimant to learn the work and that was substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 404.1560(b)(1), 416.920(a)(4)(iv), 416.960(b)(1); see also Eyre v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 586 Fed.Appx. 521, 523-24 (11th Cir. 2014) (per curiam). The claimant bears the burden of demonstrating that prior work experience was not “past relevant work.” Eyre, 586 Fed.Appx. at 524; Barnes, 932 F.2d at 1359.

         Substantial gainful activity is defined as “work activity that is both substantial and gainful.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1572, 416.972; see also Eyre, 586 Fed.Appx. at 524. Work activity is substantial if it “involves doing significant physical or mental activities, ” and is gainful if it is done “for pay or profit.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1572, 416.972; see also Eyre, 586 Fed.Appx. at 524. The chief consideration in determining whether prior work was substantial gainful activity is what the claimant earned doing that prior work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1574(a)(1), 416.974(a)(1); see also Eyre, 586 Fed.Appx. at 524. “The ALJ ordinarily will consider that the claimant either was or was not engaged in substantial gainful activity if her average monthly earnings are above or below a certain amount established by the Social Security Administration's earnings guidelines.” Eyre, 586 Fed.Appx. at 524 (citations omitted). However, the amount that a claimant earned doing the prior work is not dispositive if other evidence indicates that the claimant was engaged in substantial gainful activity. Id. (“the ALJ can consider other information, including whether the work performed was ‘comparable to that of unimpaired ...


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