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Pratt v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

November 3, 2017

CARL PRATT, Plaintiff,

          ORDER [1]

          THOMAS B. SMITH United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Carl Pratt appeals to this Court from Defendant the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision to deny his application for disability insurance benefits. After due consideration, the Commissioner's final decision is reversed.

         Background [2]

         At the time of the administrative hearing, Plaintiff was forty-one years old. He holds a master's degree in management and has past work experience as a traffic clerk, demonstrator, election clerk, financial aid counselor, and radio dispatcher (Tr. 24, 37). On April 17, 2015, Plaintiff applied for benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 423, and alleged a disability onset date of February 26, 2015 (Tr. 14, 26). His claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration (Tr. 82-108). At Plaintiff's request, a hearing was held on August 3, 2016 before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) (Tr. 33- 81). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on September 16, 2016 (Tr. 12-26). On October 14, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's petition for review of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 1-4). Accordingly, the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision and this appeal timely followed (Doc. 1). Plaintiff has exhausted his administrative remedies and his case is ripe for review.

         The ALJ's Decision

         When determining whether an individual is disabled, the ALJ must follow the Commissioner's five-step sequential evaluation process set out in 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). The evaluation process requires the ALJ to determine whether the claimant: (1) is currently employed; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals an impairment listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; (4) can perform past relevant work; and (5) retains the ability to perform work in the national economy. See Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1237-1240 (11th Cir. 2004). The claimant bears the burden of persuasion through step four and at step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. Id., at 1241 n.10; Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n. 5 (1987).

         The ALJ determined at step one that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his February 26, 2015 application date (Tr. 14). At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff severely impaired by lumbar and cervical degenerative disc disease, headaches, right index finger laceration, depression, anxiety disorder, affective disorder, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and arthritis (Id. at 14-16). At step three, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526) (Tr. 14-16). Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ decided that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to,

[P]erform less than the full range of sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a), which is unskilled. The claimant cannot perform production-rate work. The claimant can tolerate occasional changes in the routine work setting. The claimant is able to sit for two hours at a time, but then will need to stand or walk for no more than five minutes before resuming a seated position. The claimant can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl, but can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. The claimant can occasionally climb ramps or stairs. The claimant should avoid exposure to hazards, such as heights or machinery with moving parts. The claimant can frequently handle and finger with the right upper extremity.

(Tr. 16-24). At step four, the ALJ found Plaintiff unable to perform past relevant work (Tr. 24). But, the ALJ ultimately concluded at step five that there are jobs in the national economy-like addresser, call out operator, and charge account clerk-that Plaintiff could perform and therefore, he was not disabled (Tr. 24-25).

         Standard of Review

          The scope of the Court's review is limited to determining whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence. Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004). The Commissioner's findings of fact are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is “more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance. It is such relevant evidence that a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (citation omitted).

         When 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 preponderance of the evidence is against the Commissioner's decision. Miles v. Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996). The district court “may not decide facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute our judgment for that of the [Commissioner.]” Id. "The district court must view the record 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) (per curiam); accord Lowery v. Sullivan, 979 F.2d 835, 837 (11th Cir. 1992) (the court must scrutinize the entire record to determine the reasonableness of the factual findings).


         A. The ALJ Failed to Adequately Explain His Assessment of ...

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