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Moore v. Berryhill

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

September 13, 2017

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

          OPINION AND ORDER [2]


         I. Status

         Lorinda Moore (“Plaintiff”) is appealing the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration's final decision denying her claim for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). Plaintiff's alleged inability to work is a result of problems in “[b]oth knees, ” a “right hip [being] slightly out of place, ” “lower back pain, ” “osteoarthritis in all four areas, ” and “inflammation.” Transcript of Administrative Proceedings (Doc. No. 11; “Tr.” or “administrative transcript”), filed September 8, 2016, at 91, 102; see also Tr. at 201. On February 1, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB, alleging an onset disability date of May 3, 2010. Tr. at 185-87. Plaintiff's application was denied initially, see Tr. at 91-100, 101, 117-22, and was denied upon reconsideration, see Tr. at 102-11, 112, 126-30.

         On January 27, 2015, 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 29-64. During the hearing, Plaintiff amended her alleged onset disability date to July 28, 2012.[3] Tr. at 32. The ALJ issued a Decision on February 25, 2015, finding Plaintiff not disabled through the date of the Decision. Tr. at 13-23. The Appeals Council then received additional evidence in the form of correspondence from Plaintiff, a housing record, and medical records. Tr. at 4-5; see Tr. at 295-98 (correspondence), 816 (housing record), 817-32 (medical record). On June 7, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, Tr. at 1-3, thereby making the ALJ's Decision the final decision of the Commissioner. On June 29, 2016, Plaintiff commenced this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) by timely filing a Complaint (Doc. No. 1), seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision.

         Plaintiff makes one primary argument on appeal: the ALJ erred in relying on the testimony of the VE at step five regarding the work she can perform. Memorandum in Support of Complaint (Doc. No. 16; “Pl.'s Mem.”), filed September 19, 2016, at 5. Plaintiff's argument focuses on the transferability of her skills and her advanced aged. See id. at 5-10. On January 6, 2017, Defendant filed a Memorandum in Support of the Commissioner's Decision (Doc. No. 17; “Def.'s Mem.”) addressing the argument raised by Plaintiff. After a thorough review of the entire record and consideration of the parties' respective memoranda, the undersigned determines that the Commissioner's final decision is due to be affirmed.

         II. The ALJ's Decision

         When determining whether an individual is disabled, [4] 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 15-22. A t s t e p o n e, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff “has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 28, 2012, the amended alleged onset date.” Tr. at 15 (emphasis and citation omitted). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff “has the following severe impairments: morbid obesity, osteoarthritis of the bilateral knees, and disorders of the spine.” Tr. at 15 (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 15 (emphasis and citation omitted).

         The ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the following residual functional capacity (“RFC”):

[Plaintiff can] perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR [§] 404.1567(a) except with no climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolding, and only occasional climbing of stairs/ramps; occasional stooping and crouching, occasional push/pull with the lower extremities; no kneeling or crawling, or exposure to vibrations, hazards, or concentrated wet environments; [Plaintiff] must use a cane for ambulation and be able to perform her work from either a seated or standing position to allow for her to change positions at will.

Tr. at 16 (emphasis omitted). At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff “is unable to perform any past relevant work” as a “service observer.” Tr. at 21 (some emphasis, capitalization, and citation omitted). At step five, the ALJ considered Plaintiff's age (“53 years old, which is defined as an individual closely approaching advanced age, on the amended alleged disability onset date” with a subsequent “changed age category to advanced age”), education (“a least a high school education and is able to communicate in English”), work experience, and RFC, and relied on the testimony of the VE to find Plaintiff is capable of performing work that “exist[s] in significant numbers in the national economy.” Tr. at 21 (emphasis and citations omitted). Namely, the ALJ identified representative jobs of “Telephone Operator” and “Telephone Answering Service Operator.” Tr. at 22. The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff “has not been under a disability . . . from May 3, 2010, through the date of th[e D]ecision.”[5] Tr. at 22 (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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