United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division
CECELEE A. RODRIGUEZ, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
C. IRICK UNITES STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
A. Rodriguez (Claimant) appeals to the District Court from a
final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
terminating her disability insurance benefits. Doc. 1; R.
1-6. Claimant argues that the Administrative Law Judge (the
ALJ) erred by: 1) failing to apply the correct legal
standards when finding that medical improvement occurred as
of April 3, 2014; and 2) failing to apply the correct legal
standards to Claimant's testimony. Doc. 18. For the
reasons set forth below, it is RECOMMENDED
that the Commissioner's final decision be
REVERSED and REMANDED for
THE ALJ'S DECISION
9, 2003, the Commissioner found that Claimant was disabled.
R. 13. On March 16, 2012, the Commissioner determined that
Claimant's disability continued. R. 13. Approximately two
years later, upon periodic review, the Commissioner
determined that Claimant was no longer disabled as of April
3, 2014. R. 13. After this determination was upheld upon
reconsideration, Claimant timely filed a written request for
a hearing before an ALJ. R. 13.
issued his decision on May 22, 2015. R. 13-31. In his
decision, the ALJ found that Claimant had the following
medically determinable impairments: systemic lupus
erythematosus (SLE), rheumatoid arthritis, hyperthyroidism,
and chronic kidney disease - stage one. R. 16. The ALJ then
found that medical improvement had occurred as of April 3,
2014, and that Claimant's medical improvement was related
to her ability to work. R. 16-17. Specifically, the ALJ found
that medical improvement had occurred due to the existence of
a medical progress note in which it was recorded that
Claimant's lupus had been in remission for “the
last couple of years.” R. 16. The ALJ also stated that
he did not consider the limiting effects of impairments that
developed after the comparison point decision
(CPD). R. 16. The ALJ provided no further basis
for his finding that Claimant had medically improved. R. 16.
then found that Claimant had a residual functional capacity
(RFC) to perform less than a full range of light work as
defined by 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b). R. 17. Specifically, the ALJ found as
Beginning on April 3, 2014, . . . claimant has had the
residual functional capacity to perform less than the full
range of light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b). The claimant can lift and carry and push and pull
twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently. The
claimant can stand and/or walk six hours total in an eight
hour workday with normal breaks. The claimant can sit for six
hours total in an eight hour workday. The claimant can
occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, and stoop. The
claimant cannot work in proximity to moving machinery,
mechanical parts or in high, exposed places. The claimant can
never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds and can never kneel,
crouch or crawl.
Id. The ALJ posed a hypothetical question to the
vocational expert (VE) that was lar gely consistent with the
foregoing RFC determination,  and the VE testified that
Claimant was capable of performing jobs in the national
economy. R. 65-66. The ALJ also asked the VE if Claimant
would be capable of performing jobs in the national economy
if Claimant was restricted to sedentary work instead of light
work. R. 66-67. The ALJ thus found that Claimant was capable
of performing jobs that existed in significant numbers in the
national economy. R. 23-24. Therefore, the ALJ found that
Claimant was no longer disabled as of April 3, 2014. R. 24.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Social Security appeals, [the court] must determine whether
the Commissioner's decision is ‘supported by
substantial evidence and based on proper legal
standards.'” Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (citations
omitted). 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
- i.e., the evidence must do more than merely create a
suspicion of the existence of a fact, and must include such
relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as
adequate to support the conclusion. Foote v. Chater,
67 F.3d 1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1995) (citing Walden v.
Schweiker, 672 F.2d 835, 838 (11th Cir. 1982) and
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)).
Where 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 evidence
preponderates against the Commissioner's decision.
Edwards v. Sullivan, 937 F.2d 580, 584 n.3 (11th
Cir. 1991); Barnes v. Sullivan, 932 F.2d 1356, 1358
(11th Cir. 1991). The Court must view the evidence as a
whole, taking into account evidence favorable as well as
unfavorable to the decision. Foote, 67 F.3d at 1560.
The District Court “‘may not decide the facts
anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its] judgment for
that of the [Commissioner].'” Phillips v.
Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1240 n.8 (11th Cir. 2004)
(quoting Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239
(11th Cir. 1983)).
Failure to Apply the Correct Legal Standards When Finding
That Medical Improvement Occurred as of April 3,
to 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594, the Commissioner will
periodically review a claimant's entitlement to benefits
to determine whether the claimant's disability has ended.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(a); see also 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.994(a). When making this determination, the ALJ
must follow an eight-step sequential inquiry to determine:
(1) whether the claimant is engaging in substantial gainful
activity; (2) whether the claimant has an impairment or
combination of impairments that meets or equals one listed in
the Regulations; (3) whether there has been medical
improvement; (4) whether such medical improvement is
related to the claimant's ability to do work; (5) whether
any exceptions apply to the requirement that there has been
“medical improvement” related to the
claimant's ability to do work; (6) whether the
claimant's current combination of impairments are severe;
(7) whether the claimant can perform past relevant work; and
(8) whether the claimant can perform other work that exists
in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f);
see also, e.g., 20 C.F.R. § 416.994(b)(5);
Senior v. Colvin, 3:12-cv-589-J-12-JRK, 2013 WL
4781044, at *3 (M.D. Fla. Sept. 6, 2013). “[T]he burden
is on the Commissioner to prove that the claimant is no
longer disabled as of the cessation date because the
[claimant] had experienced ‘medical
improvement.'” Olivo v. Colvin,
6:16-cv-259-Orl-40JRK, 2017 WL 708743, at *2 (M.D. Fla. Jan.
30, 2017) (citations omitted), report and recommendation
adopted, 2017 WL 700367 (M.D. Fla. Feb. 22, 2017).
Claimant takes issue with the ALJ's determination at
steps three and four - that Claimant has experienced medical
improvement related to her ability to do work. Doc. 18 at
8-11. Specifically, Claimant argues that the ALJ's
finding that medical improvement occurred as of April 3, 2014
was not based on the correct legal standards because the ALJ
failed to compare the prior medical evidence against the