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Gonzalez v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

September 14, 2017




         Plaintiff, Diana Gonzalez, seeks judicial review of the denial of her claims for a period of disability, disability insurance, and supplemental security income. 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 applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income on December 5, 2012. (Tr. 216-17.) The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's claims both initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 88-131.) Plaintiff then requested an administrative hearing. (Tr. 32.) Upon Plaintiff's request, the ALJ held a hearing at which Plaintiff appeared and testified. (Tr. 65-87.) Following the hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision, finding Plaintiff not disabled and accordingly denied Plaintiff's claims for benefits. (Tr. 42-59.) Subsequently, Plaintiff requested review from the Appeals Council, which the Appeals Council denied. (Tr. 1-4.) 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 1969, claimed disability beginning on September 6, 2012. (Tr. 88-96.) Plaintiff has a ninth-grade education. (Tr. 69.) Plaintiff's past relevant work experience includes work as a housekeeping cleaner, houskeeping supervisor, school bus attendant, and kitchen helper. (Tr. 57.) Plaintiff alleged disability due to wrist pain, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis of the knees, joint pain, muscle spasms, irritable bowel syndrome, neck pain, back and spinal pain, and hip pain. (Tr. 88, 229, 285, 355.)

         In rendering the decision, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had not performed substantial gainful activity since September 6, 2012, the alleged onset date. (Tr. 47.) After conducting a hearing and reviewing the evidence of record, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: fibromyalgia, arthritis of the knees, degenerative disc disease, and depression. (Id.) 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. (Tr. 48.) The ALJ then concluded that Plaintiff retained the following residual functional capacity (“RFC”):

to perform less than the full range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). The claimant remains able to lift up to 20 pounds occasionally and lift/ carry up to 10 pounds frequently. The claimant can stand or walk for approximately 6 hours per 8-hour workday, and sit for approximately 6 hours per 8-hour workday with normal breaks. Occasional [sic] all the postural limitations, including climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, climbing ramps or stairs, balancing, stooping, crouching, kneeling, and crawling. Work is limited to unskilled work, specific vocational preparation (SVP) 1 or 2, simple, routine, repetitive tasks.

(Tr. 49.) 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 her symptoms were not fully credible. (Tr. 49-50.)

         Considering Plaintiff's noted impairments and the assessment of a vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that Plaintiff could perform her past relevant work as a housekeeping cleaner and school bus attendant. (Tr. 57.) The ALJ also found that Plaintiff could perform other work which exists in significant numbers in the national economy, including work as a deli worker, fast food worker, and cafeteria attendant. (Tr. 58.) Accordingly, based on Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, RFC, and the testimony of the VE, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled. (Tr. 57-59.)


         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 ...

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