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Murphy v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, M.D. Florida

November 14, 2017




         This cause is before the Court on Plaintiff Charles Murphy's (“Plaintiff”) Complaint for review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the “Commissioner”) denying benefits to Plaintiff.

         The United States Magistrate Judge has submitted a report recommending that the decision of the Commissioner be AFFIRMED. Doc. 17. After an independent de novo review of the record in this matter, including the Objections filed by the Charles Murphy (Doc. 18), [1] the Court agrees entirely with the findings of fact and conclusions of law in the Report and Recommendation.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Court briefly sets forth the relevant procedural history. On July 11, 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning on January 1, 2009, which he later amended to July 11, 2012, when he filed for SSI benefits. R. 40, 191-200, 208. After his application was denied initially and on reconsideration, on November 7, 2014, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing at Plaintiff's request. R. 37-69. On March 19, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. R. 18-31.

         Based on the ALJ's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) assessment and the testimony of the vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ found that Plaintiff could perform other work available in the national economy. R. 30-31. Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council, which denied Plaintiff's request for review. R. 1-7. Thereafter, on November 14, 2016, Plaintiff filed his Complaint in this Court. Doc. 1.


         A. Review of Magistrate Judge's Report & Recommendation

         In the Eleventh Circuit, a district judge may accept, reject or modify a magistrate judge's report and recommendation after conducting a careful and complete review of the findings and recommendations. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Williams v. Wainwright, 681 F.2d 732, 732 (11th Cir. 1982), cert. denied, 459 U.S. 1112, 103 S.Ct. 744, 74 L.Ed.2d 964 (1983). A district judge must conduct a de novo review of the portions of a magistrate judge's report and recommendation to which a party objects. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) (C). The district judge “may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate.” Id. This requires that the district judge “give fresh consideration to those issues to which specific objection has been made by a party.” Jeffrey S. v. State Bd. of Educ., 896 F.2d 507, 512 (11th Cir.1990) (citing H.R.Rep. No. 94-1609, 94th Cong., 2nd Sess., reprinted in 1976 U.S.Code Cong. & Admin. News 6162, 6163). A district judge reviews legal conclusions de novo, even in the absence of an objection. See Cooper-Houston v. Southern Ry., 37 F.3d 603, 604 (11th Cir.1994).

         B. Social Security Sequential Evaluation Process

         When an ALJ makes a disability determination, the ALJ follows a five-step evaluation process: (1) whether Plaintiff is currently performing substantial gainful activity; (2) whether Plaintiff has a severe impairment; (3) whether the severe impairment meets or exceeds an impairment in the listings; (4) whether the Plaintiff can perform his past relevant work; and (5) whether Plaintiff can perform other jobs that exist in the national economy. See Wright v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 327 F. App'x 135, 136-37 (11th Cir. 2009) (per curiam) (citations omitted). The Plaintiff has the burden of proof on the first four steps; the Commissioner carries the burden on the fifth step. Id. at 137 (citation omitted).

         When reviewing the ALJ's findings of fact, the Social Security Act mandates that “findings of the Secretary as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive.” Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1995) (per curiam) (citation omitted). Substantial evidence is evidence that is “more than a scintilla, i.e., evidence that must do more than create a suspicion of the existence of the fact to be established, and such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support the conclusion.” Id. at 1560 (citations omitted). The Court also reviews de novo the ALJ's conclusions of law. Ingram v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 496 F.3d 1253, 1260 (11th Cir. 2007). If the ALJ fails to apply the correct law or provide the Court with sufficient reasoning for determining that the proper legal analysis was conducted, then the Court must reverse. Id. (citation omitted).


         Plaintiff's objections are limited to the ALJ's findings regarding Plaintiff's ability to perform a significant number of relevant jobs in the national economy at Step 5. Doc. 18. He argues that the ALJ erred in finding he could perform the jobs identified by the vocational expert despite the limitation to use of “one hand, ” given his need to use a cane for ambulation due to vertigo, and the need for frequent handling potentially using both hands in order to perform the requirements of the jobs listed by the VE. Plaintiff's representative asked the VE how the additional limitation of occasional handling, fingering, and feeling with the left hand would impact those jobs (R. 66), and the VE opined the restriction to one hand would not impact the specified jobs because “they can be done with one hand.” R. 66. Plaintiff also argues the ...

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