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Edwards v. Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration

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

September 7, 2017




         THIS CAUSE is before the Court on Plaintiff's appeal of an administrative decision denying his re-application for supplemental security income (“SSI”) upon turning 18 years-old after previously being awarded SSI benefits. In his initial application, Plaintiff alleged that he became disabled on October 1, 2009. (Tr. 198-201.) In March 2010, Plaintiff was found disabled and entitled to SSI benefits. (Tr. 22.) In April 2012, the agency reviewed Plaintiff's eligibility for SSI under the rules for determining disability in adults when Plaintiff attained the age of 18, and the agency determined that Plaintiff was no longer disabled as of April 1, 2012. (Tr. 22, 90.) The agency upheld the redetermination on reconsideration. (Tr. 91.) A hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on November 4, 2014. (Tr. 40-89.) On November 19, 2014, the ALJ rendered a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled as of April 1, 2012. (Tr. 22-33.) Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council, but the Appeals Council denied review of the decision. (Tr. 1-6.)

         Plaintiff is appealing the Commissioner's decision that he was not disabled during the relevant time period. Plaintiff has exhausted his 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 undersigned determines that the Commissioner's decision is due to be AFFIRMED.

         I. Standard of Review

         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).

         II. Discussion

         Plaintiff argues two general points on appeal. First, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in evaluating whether he met Listing 12.05(C) with respect to his intellectual impairments. Namely, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff does not have a severe “other impairment” is contrary to binding Eleventh Circuit precedent. Second, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's credibility determination is not supported by substantial evidence.

         Defendant responds that the ALJ's determination that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet Listing 12.05(C) is supported by substantial evidence because the record shows that Plaintiff's impairments failed to meet the fundamental criterion for Listing 12.05(C). Moreover, Defendant responds that the ALJ applied the proper legal standards for evaluating Plaintiff's credibility and the ALJ's credibility decision is supported by substantial evidence

         A. The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ determined that since April 1, 2012, Plaintiff had severe impairments, including osteochondromas/Multiple Hereditary Exostoses (“MHE”) and borderline intellectual functioning. (Tr. 24.) The ALJ then determined that since April 1, 2012, Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments. (Tr. 25)

         Continuing on with the evaluation, the ALJ made the following residual functional capacity (“RFC”) determination:

[T]he undersigned finds that since April 1, 2012, the claimant has had the [RFC] to perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(c) with the following non-exertional mental limitations. He has poor ability to read, write, and use numbers. He is limited to simple, routine tasks with no intense or prolonged social contact; therefore, is limited to only brief, occasional superficial contact with others. He can have no production quotas, time pressures, or deadlines; only gradually introduced changes; and needs help setting goals.

(Tr. 26.) In making this finding, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause Plaintiff's alleged symptoms, but that Plaintiff's statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of his symptoms were not entirely credible for the reasons explained in the decision. (Tr. 28.)

         With the benefit of testimony from the VE, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was capable of performing jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 32.) As such, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's disability ended on April 1, 2012, and that Plaintiff has not become disabled again since that date. (Id.)

         B. Substantial Evidence Supports the ALJ's Step 3 Findings

         Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in determining that Plaintiff no longer met Listing 12.05(C). Specifically, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ accepted Plaintiff's full-scale IQ score of 70 and made no findings with respect to whether Plaintiff had deficits in adaptive functioning, but erred in concluding that Plaintiff failed to meet Listing 12.05(C) because he did not have an additional physical or mental impairment that imposes an additional and significant work-related limitation of functioning. Plaintiff reasons that the ALJ should have determined that Plaintiff had another physical impairment that imposes an additional and significant work-related limitation of functioning because the ALJ found Plaintiff's osteochondromos/MHE to be a “severe” impairment, in accordance with Eleventh Circuit case law that mandates such a determination.

         The Commissioner agrees with Plaintiff's argument with respect to Plaintiff's “other” impairment, but contends that the ALJ's error is harmless because substantial evidence supports the determination that Plaintiff does not meet Listing 12.05(C) in that Plaintiff does not meet the fundamental requirements of the Listing. The undersigned agrees with the Commissioner.

         At step three of the sequential evaluation process, the Commissioner must determine whether a claimant meets or equals a disability described in the Listing of Impairments, which describes impairments severe enough to prevent a person from working. Davis v. Shalala, 985 F.2d 528, 532 (11th Cir. 1993). Plaintiff bears the burden of showing that his or her condition meets or equals a Listing. Wilkinson ex rel. ...

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