United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
B. SMITH UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Maria De Lourdes Arroyo appeals to this Court from Defendant,
the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision to
deny her application for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income. I have reviewed the record,
including the administrative law judge's
(“ALJ”) decision, the exhibits, and joint
memorandum submitted by the parties. For the following
reasons, I respectfully recommend that the Commissioner's
final decision be reversed and the case be
remanded, pursuant to sentence four of 42
U.S.C. § 405(g).
the ALJ made her administrative decision, Plaintiff was
fifty-two years old, with a GED, and past work experience as
a cleaner and “cook helper” (Tr. 62-63, 300,
332). On August 1, 2011, Plaintiff applied for benefits under
Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C.
§ 416, 423, alleging a disability onset date of April 1,
2011(Tr. 300-307, 328). Her claims were denied initially and
on reconsideration (Tr. 170- 180, 188-197). At
Plaintiff's request, the ALJ held an administrative
hearing on January 9, 2013 (Tr. 72-107, 198). The ALJ issued
an unfavorable decision on March 22, 2013 (Tr. 146-163).
Plaintiff petitioned the Appeals Council for review of the
ALJ's decision and on August 20, 2014, the Appeals
Council remanded the case back to the Commissioner for
further review (Tr. 164-169). A different ALJ held another
administrative hearing on December 22, 2014 (Tr. 43-71). On
February 17, 2015 the new ALJ issued a second unfavorable
decision (Tr. 26-36). On September 7, 2016, the Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the
second decision (Tr. 1-8). Thus, the second decision became
the Commissioner's final decision and this appeal timely
followed (Doc. 1). Plaintiff has exhausted her administrative
remedies and her case is ripe for review.
determining whether an individual is disabled, the ALJ must
follow the Commissioner's five-step sequential evaluation
process codified at 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). The
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).
determined at step one that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date
(Tr. 29). At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff severely
impaired by mild degenerative disc disease and obesity (Tr.
29). 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 C.F.R.
Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1 (20 CFR §§ 404.1520(d),
404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926) (Tr.
29-30). Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ decided that
Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to,
[P]erform a wide range of light work as defined in 20 CFR
404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). The claimant can lift twenty
pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently and sit, stand,
or walk throughout the workday. The claimant can occasionally
stoop and crouch and occasionally push and pull with her
upper and lower extremities.
(Tr. 30-34). At step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff
was unable to perform her past relevant work (Tr. 34). But,
the ALJ ultimately concluded at step five that there were
other jobs in the national economy-like bottling line
attendant, egg washer, and street cleaner- that Plaintiff
could perform and therefore, she was not disabled (Tr.
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).
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).
The ALJ Failed to Apply the Proper Legal Standard to the
Opinion of Plaintiff's Treating Physician, Dr. Stephen
argues that the ALJ committed reversible error by relying on
the conclusions of non-examining state agency consultant
Thomas Peele, M.D., to discredit and discount the opinion of