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Nieves v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

November 30, 2017

OBEL NIEVES, Plaintiff,


          Roy B. Dalton JR., United States District Judge

         In the instant appeal, Plaintiff Obel Nieves challenges the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration's (the “Commissioner”) final decision denying him social security benefits. (Doc. 1.) On referral, U.S. Magistrate Judge Gregory J. Kelly recommended that the Court affirm the Commissioner's final decision. (Doc. 17 (“R&R”).) Plaintiff objected to the R&R (Doc. 18 (“Objection”)), and the Commissioner responded (Doc. 19). Upon consideration, the Court finds that the Objection is due to be overruled, and the R&R is due to be adopted.

         I.Legal Standards

         When a party objects to a magistrate judge's findings, the district court must “make a de novo determination of those portions of the report . . . to which objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The district court “may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” Id. The district court must consider the record and factual issues based on the record independent of the magistrate judge's report. Ernest S. ex rel. Jeffrey S. v. State Bd. of Educ., 896 F.2d 507, 513 (11th Cir. 1990).

         II. Background

         Plaintiff first filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on July 27, 2012, alleging disability beginning May 24, 2012. (Doc. 13-2, p. 21.) His claim was initially denied and denied again upon reconsideration. (Id.) Plaintiff then requested a hearing, which was held on June 15, 2015, before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) with counsel present. (Id.) On July 7, 2015, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision, concluding that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Id. at 21, 33.) Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision before the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration, which was denied. (Doc. 1-2.) As such, the ALJ's decision finding no disability became the Commissioner's final decision.

         Plaintiff then filed the instant appeal, requesting review and reversal of the Commissioner's decision for an award of benefits or remand. (Doc. 1.) As grounds, Plaintiff proffers that the ALJ committed reversible error because she: (1) failed to consider all of Plaintiff's impairments when determining whether he suffered from a severe impairment at step two of the sequential process; and (2) understated the effects of Plaintiff's disability in a number of ways when making her residual functional capacity (“RFC”) determination at step four. (Doc. 16.) In finding for the Commissioner, Magistrate Judge Kelly found no error with the ALJ's findings and conclusions at either step. (Doc. 17, pp. 4-7, 9, 10.)

         Plaintiff now objects to the R&R's conclusion that the ALJ properly determined Plaintiff's RFC. (Doc. 18.) As the matter has been fully briefed (see Doc. 19), it is now ripe for the Court's consideration.

         III. Analysis

         A person who applies for social security disability benefits must prove his disability. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1512. To that end, the Social Security Regulations outline a five-step sequential evaluation process to evaluate whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; Hargress v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 874 F.3d 1284, 1285-86 (11th Cir. 2017) (per curiam); Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1237 (11th Cir. 2004). Only two of those steps are relevant here.

         A. Step Two: Severe Impairment

         As an initial matter, Plaintiff does not object to the R&R's conclusion that the ALJ properly found at step two that Plaintiff suffered from three severe impairments. (See Doc. 18.) Because Plaintiff did not offer specific objections to that portion of the R&R, the Court reviews it only for clear error. See Wiand v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., No. 8:12-cv-557-T-27EAJ, 2016 WL 355490, at *1 (M.D. Fla. Jan. 28, 2016); see also Marcort v. Prem, Inc., 208 F. App'x 781, 784 (11th Cir. 2006).[1] Finding no clear error, the Court finds that this portion of the R&R is due to be adopted.

         B. Step Four: RFC Determination

         The Objection focuses only on the ALJ's analysis at step four. (See Doc. 18, p. 1.) At this step, the ALJ must assess Plaintiff's RFC and ability to return to his past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). The RFC is the most work that a claimant can do despite the limitations caused by his impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1). The RFC determination is used to decide whether the claimant: (1) can return to his past relevant work; and (2) can adjust to other work ...

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