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Richmond v. Berryhill

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

August 23, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL,[1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER[2]


         I. Status

         June Richmond (“Plaintiff”) is appealing the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration's final decision denying her claim for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and disabled widow's benefits (“DWB”). Plaintiff's alleged inability to work is a result of “[c]omplex regional pain syndrome.” Transcript of Administrative Proceedings (Doc. No. 10; “Tr.” or “administrative transcript”), filed August 11, 2016, at 93, 110, 126, 145, 356. On November 27, 2012, Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and DWB, alleging an onset disability date of December 2, 2011. Tr. at 93 (DIB), 110 (DWB). Plaintiff's applications were denied initially, see Tr. at 91, 92-107 (DIB); 108, 109-24 (DWB), and were denied upon reconsideration, see Tr. at 125, 126-42, 185-88 (DIB); 143, 144-61, 181-83 (DWB).

         On October 16, 2014, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing, during which the ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, and a vocational expert (“VE”). Tr. at 64-89. At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was fifty-two (52) years old. Tr. at 72. Following the hearing, the ALJ issued a Decision on December 19, 2014, finding Plaintiff not disabled through the date of the ALJ's Decision. Tr. at 47-56.

         The Appeals Council then accepted additional evidence consisting of medical records from Southeast Spine Center dated October 20, 2014 to November 17, 2014. Tr. at 5-6; see Tr. at 1225-31 (records). On April 28, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, Tr. at 1-4, thereby making the ALJ's Decision the final decision of the Commissioner. On June 2, 2016, Plaintiff commenced this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), by filing a Complaint (Doc. No. 1), seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision.

         Plaintiff makes the following argument on appeal: “the [ALJ] erred by not indicating the weight to be afforded to the opinions of Dr. [Daniel] Most and Dr. [Ortelio] Bosch.” Memorandum in Support of Complaint (Doc. 15; “Pl.'s Mem.”), filed August 19, 2016, at 5 (emphasis and capitalization omitted). Although Plaintiff frames the memorandum as raising this one issue only, she also asserts that the ALJ failed to “discuss the effects of pain” and “[did] not analyze in any great depth the medical opinions from [Dr. Most and Dr. Bosch].” Pl.'s Mem. at 9. On December 9, 2016, Defendant filed a Memorandum in Support of the Commissioner's Decision (Doc. No. 16; “Def.'s Mem.”) addressing the issues raised by Plaintiff. After a thorough review of the entire record and consideration of the parties' respective filings, the undersigned finds that the Commissioner's final decision is due to be reversed and remanded for further administrative proceedings.

         II. The ALJ's Decision

         When determining whether an individual is disabled, [3] an ALJ must follow the five-step sequential inquiry set forth in the Code of Federal Regulations (“Regulations”), determining as appropriate whether the claimant (1) is currently employed or engaging in substantial gainful activity; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one listed in the Regulations; (4) can perform past relevant work; and (5) retains the ability to perform any work in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; see also Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1237 (11th Cir. 2004). The claimant bears the burden of persuasion through step four and, at step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987).

         Here, the ALJ followed the five-step sequential inquiry. See Tr. at 50-56. At step one, the ALJ determined that “[Plaintiff] engaged in some substantial gainful activity after December 2, 2011, the alleged onset date.” Tr. at 50 (emphasis and citation omitted). At step two, the ALJ found that “[Plaintiff] has the following severe impairment: reflex sympathetic dystrophy [(“RSD”)] syndrome.” Tr. at 50 (emphasis and citation omitted). At step three, the ALJ ascertained that “[Plaintiff] does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.” Tr. at 51 (emphasis and citations omitted).

         The ALJ determined Plaintiff has the following RFC:

[Plaintiff can] perform light work as defined in 20 CFR [§] 404.1567(b) except she can no more than occasionally push/pull five pounds or less with the right-upper extremity or more than occasionally handle and finger with the right (dominant) hand/upper extremity. [Plaintiff] has no limitation affecting the non-dominant left-upper extremity. She must avoid climbing ladders, ropes and scaffolds and avoid crawling. [Plaintiff] has no limitation affecting her ability to stoop, crouch or kneel.

         Tr. at 51 (emphasis omitted). At step four, the ALJ relied on the testimony of the VE and found that “[Plaintiff] is unable to perform any past relevant work.” Tr. at 54-55 (emphasis and citation omitted). At step five, after considering Plaintiff's age (“49 years old . . . on the alleged disability onset date”), education (“at least a high school education”), work experience, and RFC, the ALJ again relied on the testimony of the VE and found “there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that [Plaintiff] can perform, ” Tr. at 55 (emphasis and citations omitted), including “parking lot attendant, ” “blade balancer, ” and “marker II.” Tr. at 55-56. The ALJ concluded “[Plaintiff] has not been under a disability . . . from December 2, 2011, through the date of th[e D]ecision.”[4] Tr. At 56 (emphasis and citation omitted).

         III. Standard of Review

         This Court reviews the Commissioner's final decision as to disability pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). Although no deference is given to the ALJ's conclusions of law, findings of fact “are conclusive if . . . supported by ‘substantial evidence' . . . .” Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001) (citing Falge v. Apfel, 150 F.3d 1320, 1322 (11th Cir. 1998)). “Substantial evidence is something ‘more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance.'” Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005) (quoting Hale v. Bowen, 831 F.2d 1007, 1011 (11th Cir. 1987)). The substantial evidence standard is met when there is “‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Falge, 150 F.3d at 1322 (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). It is not for this Court to reweigh the evidence; rather, the entire record is reviewed to determine whether “the decision reached is reasonable and supported by substantial evidence.” Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145 (11th Cir. 1991) (internal quotation and citations omitted); see also McRoberts v. Bowen, 841 F.2d 1077, 1080 (11th Cir. 1988); Walker v. Bowen, 826 F.2d 996, 999 (11th Cir. 1987). The decision reached by the Commissioner must be affirmed if it is supported by substantial evidence-even if the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's findings. Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158-59 (11th Cir. 2004) (per curiam).

         IV. ...

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