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Roberts v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

August 17, 2017




         Plaintiff, James Joseph Roberts, seeks judicial review of the denial of his claim for disability insurance benefits. As the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”) decision was based on substantial evidence and employed proper legal standards, the decision is affirmed.


         A. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits on July 10, 2013. (Tr. 168- 69.) The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's claims both initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 94- 97, 104-09.) Plaintiff then requested an administrative hearing. (Tr. 110-11.) Upon Plaintiff's request, the ALJ held a hearing at which Plaintiff appeared and testified. (Tr. 29-69.) Following the hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding Plaintiff not disabled and accordingly denied Plaintiff's claims for benefits. (Tr. 13-28.) Subsequently, Plaintiff requested review from the Appeals Council, which the Appeals Council denied. (Tr. 1-7.) Plaintiff then timely filed a complaint with this Court. (Dkt. 1.) The case is now ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3).

         B. Factual Background and the ALJ's Decision

         Plaintiff, who was born in 1950, claimed disability beginning on October 17, 2008. (Tr. 34, 70.) Plaintiff has a college degree and additional certification as a teacher in the state of Missouri. (Tr. 35.) Plaintiff alleged disability due to hypothyroidism, high blood pressure, and metastatic, advanced, stage III prostate cancer. (Tr. 70.)

         In rendering the decision, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff did not perform substantial gainful activity between October 17, 2008, the alleged onset date, and December 31, 2012, the date Plaintiff was last insured. (Tr. 18.) After conducting a hearing and reviewing the evidence of record, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: hypothyroidism, obesity, and a history of prostate cancer, including a history of prostatectomy and a recent recurrence termed “micrometastasis, ” which necessitated radiation and hormone therapy. (Tr. 18.) Notwithstanding the noted impairments, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (“Listing”). (Tr. 18-19.) The ALJ then concluded that Plaintiff retained the following residual functional capacity (“RFC”):

to perform sedentary work . . . except he requires a sit/stand option allowing the claimant to change positions every 30 to 60 minutes, while still achieving the requisite amount of sitting and standing for the sedentary exertional category. He can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, but can occasionally climb ramps and stairs and occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. Finally, the claimant must avoid concentrated exposure to excessive vibrations, and avoid all exposure to hazardous machinery and unprotected heights.

(Tr. 19.) In formulating Plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ considered Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined that, although the evidence established the presence of underlying impairments that reasonably could be expected to produce the symptoms alleged, Plaintiff's statements as to the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of his symptoms were not fully credible. (Tr. 20.)

         The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff is capable of performing his past relevant work as a consultant, regional manager, vice president, and “public relations.” (Tr. 23.) Accordingly, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled. (Tr. 24.)


         To be entitled to benefits, a claimant must be disabled, meaning that the claimant must be unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). A “physical or mental impairment” is an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities that are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(3), 1382c(a)(3)(D).

         The Social Security Administration, in order to regularize the adjudicative process, promulgated the detailed regulations currently in effect. These regulations establish a “sequential evaluation process” to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. If an individual is found disabled at any point in the sequential review, further inquiry is unnecessary. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a). Under this process, the ALJ must determine, in sequence, the following: (1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment, i.e., one that significantly limits the ability to perform work-related functions; (3) whether the severe impairment meets or equals the medical criteria of 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; and, (4) whether the claimant can perform his or her past relevant work. If the claimant cannot perform the tasks required of his or her prior work, step five of the evaluation requires the ALJ to decide if the claimant can do other work in the national economy in view of the claimant's age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a). A claimant is entitled to benefits only if unable to perform other work. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-42 (1987); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(g).

         A determination by the Commissioner that a claimant is not disabled must be upheld if it is supported by substantial evidence and comports with applicable legal standards. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)); Miles v. Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996). While the court reviews the Commissioner's decision with deference to the ...

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