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Hooper v. Berryhill

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

September 18, 2017

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

          OPINION AND ORDER[2]


         I. Status

         Siebert Hooper, III (“Plaintiff”) is appealing the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration's final decision denying his claims for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”). Plaintiff's alleged inability to work is a result of high blood pressure, “[p]roblems with both hips, ” “[p]roblems with both legs, ” depression, headaches, lower back pain, and “[s]leeping problems.” Transcript of Administrative Proceedings (Doc. No. 11; “Tr.” or “administrative transcript”), filed September 20, 2016, at 94, 107, 118, 131, 247 (emphasis omitted). On June 25, 2012 Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI, alleging an onset disability date of November 30, 2007. Tr. at 94-104 (DIB), 107-17 (SSI). Plaintiff's applications were denied initially, see Tr. at 94-104, 105, 146, 147-51 (DIB); Tr. at 106, 107-17, 152-57, 158 (SSI), and were denied upon reconsideration, see Tr. at 118-30, 144, 161, 162-66 (DIB); Tr. at 131-43, 145, 167 (SSI).

         On August 18, 2014, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing, during which the ALJ heard from Plaintiff, who was represented by a non-attorney representative, and a vocational expert (“VE”). Tr. at 31-73. The ALJ issued a Decision on October 24, 2014, finding Plaintiff not disabled through the date of the Decision. Tr. at 12-25.

         The Appeals Council then received additional evidence in the form of a brief authored by Plaintiff's representative. Tr. at 5; see Tr. at 320-21 (brief). On June 21, 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 July 14, 2016, Plaintiff commenced this action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) by timely filing a Complaint (Doc. No. 1), seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision.

         On appeal, Plaintiff makes the following argument: “The ALJ erred by not appropriately evaluating the medical evidence.” Memorandum in Support of Complaint (Doc. No. 16; “Pl.'s Mem.”), filed October 4, 2016, at 8 (emphasis and some capitalization omitted). Plaintiff apparently takes issue with the ALJ's assessment of the opinions of Dr. Judella Haddad-Lacle and Dr. Ghania Masri, two of Plaintiff's treating physicians. See id. at 8-13. On February 21, 2017, Defendant filed a Memorandum in Support of the Commissioner's Decision (Doc. No. 19; “Def.'s Mem.”) addressing Plaintiff's arguments. 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, [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 14-24. At step one, the ALJ determined that “[Plaintiff] has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 30, 2007 the alleged onset date.” Tr. at 14 (emphasis and citations omitted). At step two, the ALJ found that “[Plaintiff] has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, generalized arthritis of the lower extremities, status post history of crushing injury, history of headaches[, ] bipolar disorder[, ] and anxiety.” Tr. at 14 (emphasis and citations 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 citations 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) and 416.967(a). Specifically, he can lift and carry, push and pull ten pounds occasionally and five pounds frequently. [Plaintiff] is able to sit for four hours at a time, for a total of eight hours during an eight-hour workday; and stand and/or walk for [thirty] minutes at a time, for a total of two hours during an eight-hour workday. [Plaintiff] cannot climb ropes ladders or scaffolds. He can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl. [Plaintiff] should avoid concentrated exposure to vibrations and work hazards including unprotected heights and dangerous machinery. Mentally, [Plaintiff] cannot perform complex tasks but he is fully capable of performing simple to detailed tasks consistent with semi-skilled work with a[ Specific Vocational Preparation] of three or four with concentration on those tasks for two-hour periods with normal break and a lunch.

Tr. at 16-17 (emphasis omitted). At step four, the ALJ found that “[Plaintiff] is unable to perform any past relevant work.”[4] Tr. at 22 (emphasis and citations omitted). At step five, after considering Plaintiff's age (“42 years old . . . on the alleged disability onset date”), education (“at least a high school education”), work experience, and RFC, the ALJ 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, ” including “[c]harge [a]ccount [c]lerk, ” “[s]urveillance systems monitor, ” and “[d]ocument preparer, microfilm.” Tr. at 23-24. The ALJ concluded that “[Plaintiff] has not been under a disability . . . from November 30, 2007, through the date of th[e D]ecision.” Tr. at 24 (emphasis and citations 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. Discussion

         The undersigned first sets out the applicable law. Then, the issue ...

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