United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division
OPINION AND ORDER
MIRANDO United States Magistrate Judge.
Priscilla Lynn Dixon seeks judicial review of the denial of
her claim for a period of disability and disability insurance
benefits (“DIB”) by the Commissioner of the
Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”).
The Court has reviewed the record, the briefs and the
applicable law. For the reasons discussed herein, the
decision of the Commissioner is
Issues on Appeal
raises three issues on appeal: (1) whether the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) findings of the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) adequately
account for Plaintiff's moderate limitations in
concentration, persistence and pace; (2) whether the ALJ
properly relied upon the testimony of the Vocational Expert
(“VE”) at step five; and (3) whether substantial
evidence supports the ALJ's assessment of Plaintiff's
Summary of the ALJ's Decision
was 53 years old at the time of the hearing before ALJ
Hortensia Haaversen on January 21, 2015. Tr. 13, 18.
Plaintiff alleged disability due to arthritis and chronic
pain in her back, anxiety and depression. Tr. 18, 199. On
April 16, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff
not disabled from November 23, 2010, the alleged disability
onset date, through December 31, 2011, the date last insured.
Tr. 13-23. In her decision, at step two of the sequential
process, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the severe
impairments of “lumbosacral myofascial pain syndrome
status post a history of two lumbar spinal surgeries on June
23, 2003 for an L4-5 disc herniation and November 23, 2010
for recurrent herniation with hemilaminectomy, medial
facetectomy, foraminotomy, and removal of the extruded disc;
depression; and anxiety.” Tr. 15-16. At step three, the
ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that met or medically equaled a
listing. Tr. 16-17. In doing so, she found that Plaintiff had
mild restrictions in activities of daily living and social
functioning and a moderate limitation in concentration,
persistence or pace. Tr. 16-17. Prior to step four, the ALJ
then determined that during the relevant period Plaintiff had
the RFC to perform light work with additional physical
restrictions. Tr. 17. To account for Plaintiff's mental
limitations, the ALJ limited Plaintiff to jobs that required
her to perform simple, routine tasks. Tr. 17. Next, at step
four the ALJ found that Plaintiff could not perform her past
relevant work as a meat wrapper, because the job is generally
performed at the medium exertional level. Tr. 21-22. At step
five, however, based on Plaintiff's age (49 on the
alleged disability onset date and 50 as of the date last
insured), education, work experience and RFC, and based on
the testimony of the VE, the ALJ found there were unskilled
jobs at the light exertional level existing in significant
numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform.
Tr. 22-23. As a result, she found Plaintiff was not disabled.
Standard of Review
scope of this Court's review is limited to determining
whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and
whether the findings are supported by substantial evidence.
McRoberts v. Bowen, 841 F.2d 1077, 1080 (11th Cir.
1988) (citing Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389,
390 (1971)). 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., 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.” Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553,
1560 (11th Cir. 1995) (internal citations omitted).
Eleventh Circuit has restated that “[i]n determining
whether substantial evidence supports a decision, we give
great deference to the ALJ's fact findings.”
Hunter v. Soc. Sec. Admin., Comm'r, 808 F.3d
818, 822 (11th Cir. 2015) (citation omitted). 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 or found that the preponderance of the evidence is
against the Commissioner's decision. Edwards v. Su
livan, 937 F.2d 580, 584 n.3 (11th Cir.
1991); Barnes v. Sullivan, 932 F.2d 1356, 1358 (11th
Cir. 1991); see also Lowery v. Sullivan, 979 F.2d
835, 837 (11th Cir. 1992) (stating that the court must
scrutinize the entire record to determine the reasonableness
of the factual findings). The Court reviews the
Commissioner's conclusions of law under a de
novo standard of review. Ingram v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec. Admin., 496 F.3d 1253, 1260 (11th Cir. 2007)
(citing Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529
(11th Cir. 1990)).
Plainti f's RFC
finding Plaintiff could perform light work, the ALJ
restricted Plaintiff to jobs requiring no more than simple,
routine tasks based on nonexertional limitations. Tr. 17, 21.
Plaintiff first argues this restriction did not adequately
account for the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff had moderate
limitations in sustaining concentration, persistence and pace
and moderate limitations in social functioning. Doc. 19 at 7
(citing Tr. 17, 21). Moreover, she argues the ALJ failed to
sufficiently explain how this restriction accommodated these
limitations, and instead the ALJ should have performed a
“function by function assessment of limitations
stemming from Plaintiff's mental impairments” and
included them in the hypothetical to the VE. Id. at
7-8 (citing to Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.,
631 F.3d 1176, 1180 (11th Cir. 2011)). The Commissioner
responds that the ALJ's RFC finding and hypothetical
adequately account for Plaintiff's moderate difficulties
with concentration, persistence and pace. Doc. 20 at 5
(citing Tr. 17, 49-50). The Court finds the ALJ properly
considered Plaintiff's mental limitations and included
them in her hypothetical to the VE; and thus substantial
evidence supports the RFC.
the ALJ found Plaintiff's anxiety and depression, among
other physical impairments, to be severe, she discussed
whether Plaintiff's impairments or combination of
impairments met or equaled a listing. Tr. 15-16. In doing so,
the ALJ considered four broad functional areas for evaluating
mental disorders known as the “paragraph B”
criteria. Tr. 16-17. The ALJ determined Plaintiff
had mild restrictions in activities of daily living and
social functioning and moderate difficulties in
concentration, persistence and pace. Tr. 16-17. The ALJ
discussed her reasoning for these findings:
In activities of daily living, [Plaintiff] had mild
restriction. The medical records show that during the period
at issue, [Plaintiff] was able to perform activities of daily
living with minimal limitation. Even after the period at
issue, [Plaintiff] was able to care for her ill mother,
perform household chores, and take care of pets and horses.
Furthermore, any limitation in this domain would appear to be
from her physical impairments, and not due to any mental
In social functioning, [Plaintiff] had mild difficulties.
[Plaintiff] reported that after her daughter's passing,
she isolated herself and stopped socializing. In her function
report, she states that she has no social activity
whatsoever. (Exhibit 5E/5) However, the undersigned notes
that [Plaintiff] reported that a neighbor helps her with
chores on a weekly basis. [Plaintiff] is close to her mother,
and has reported spending extensive time caring for her
mother during illnesses. [Plaintiff] is able to go to public
places without difficulty, and has no history of violence.
She admits to her treating physicians that her panic attacks
are well-controlled with medication. At most, any limitation
in this domain is only mild.
With regard to concentration, persistence or pace,
[Plaintiff] had moderate difficulties. In her function
report, [Plaintiff] states that she is only able to pay
attention for about ten minutes. However, she admits that she
is able to follow instructions well. As will be discussed in
full later in this decision, [Plaintiff] has admitted being
able to drive long distances and care for her ill mother
without any particular assistance. The medical records
reflect no significant ...