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Moore v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Florida, Panama City Division

December 14, 2017

OLIVIA L. MOORE, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         This case is before the court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for review of a final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying Olivia L. Moore's application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (“Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-34. The parties have consented to Magistrate Judge jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73 for all proceedings in the case, including entry of final judgment. Upon review of the record before the court, I conclude the findings of fact and determinations of the Commissioner are supported by substantial evidence. The decision of the Commissioner, therefore, will be affirmed and claimant's application for benefits will be denied.


         Ms. Moore, who will be referred to as claimant, plaintiff, or by name, raises 3 issue on appeal, arguing the ALJ erred in (1) disregarding the opinion of her treating physician, Michael Barnes, M.D.; (2) failing to consider the combination of her impairments; and (3) failing to find obesity a medically determinable severe impairment, either singly or in combination with her other impairments.


         Ms. Moore filed an application for DIB in February 2013, alleging disability beginning March 1, 2009. T. 84, 165-70.[1] Her claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. T. 92, 105-10. After filing a request for a hearing, Ms. Moore appeared before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on February 3, 2015. T. 51-83. On March 20, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision denying Ms. Moore's claim for benefits. T. 8-50. Ms. Moore petitioned the Appeals Council for review of the ALJ's decision. T.6. The Appeals Council denied the request; as a result, the ALJ's decision became the final determination of the Commissioner. T. 1-4.


         In his written decision, the ALJ made a number of findings relevant to the issues raised in this appeal:

• “Through the date last insured, the claimant had the following severe impairments: major depression, recurrent, in remission; dysthymic disorder; generalized anxiety disorder; and panic disorder; hypertension; arthritis; degenerative joint disease; and chronic fatigue syndrome (20 CFR 404.1520(c).” T. 13.
• “Through the date last insured, the claimant did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526).” T. 14.
• “[T]hrough the date last insured, the claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) except th[at] she could have frequently used both hands for repetitive action such as in pushing and pulling of arm controls, simple grasping, reaching (including overhead), and for fine manipulation. She could have occasionally used either foot for pushing or pulling leg controls. She could have frequently balanced, stooped, and crouched; occasionally kneeled, crawled, and climbed stairs and ramps; and never climbed ladders, ropes or scaffolds. She could have tolerated occasional exposure to moving machinery, driving automotive equipment with a clutch, and marked changes in temperature and humidity. She could have tolerated no exposure to unprotected heights. She experienced a moderate degree of pain which occasionally interfered with concentration, persistence, and pace but did not require abandonment of the work or workstation. This was not a continuous concept and occurred intermittently. The claimant could respond appropriately to supervisors, but interaction should be casual and nonconfrontational and feedback should be supportive. The claimant could respond appropriately to coworkers, but interaction should be casual and nonconfrontational. The claimant could respond appropriately to customers or other members of the general public, but interaction should be casual and nonconfrontational. The claimant could use judgment in simple one or two-step work-related decisions. The claimant could not use judgment in detailed or complex work-related decisions. The claimant could deal with changes in a routine work setting, but changes should be infrequent and presented gradually. The claimant could understand, remember, and carry out simple one and two-step instructions. The claimant could not understand, remember, and carry out detailed or complex instructions. The claimant could maintain attention, concentration, or pace for periods of at least two hours, with regular breaks sufficient to perform simple, routine, and repetitive tasks. The claimant could maintain activities of daily living. The claimant experienced no episodes of decompensation that were of extended duration.” T. 15-16.
• “Through the date last insured, the claimant was capable of performing past relevant work as a janitor. This work did not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the claimant's residual functional capacity (20 CFR 404.1565.)” T. 44. Plaintiff also was capable of performing other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy, including kitchen assistant, produce packer, and laundry worker. T. 44-46.
• “The claimant was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, at any time from March 1, 2009, the alleged onset date, through December 31, 2013, the date last insured (20 CFR 404.1520(f)).” T. 46.


         A federal court reviews the “Commissioner's decision to determine if it is supported by substantial evidence and based upon proper legal standards.” Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1439 (11th Cir. 1997); see also Carnes v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1215, 1218 (11th Cir. 1991) (“[T]his Court may reverse the decision of the [Commissioner] only when convinced that it is not supported by substantial evidence or that proper legal standards were not applied.”). Substantial evidence is “‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). “Substantial evidence is something ‘more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance.'” Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005) (quoting Hale v. Bowen, 831 F.2d 1007, 1011 (11th Cir. 1987)). Even if the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's decision, the decision must be affirmed if supported by substantial evidence. Sewell v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 1065, 1067 (11th Cir. 1986).

         When reviewing a Social Security disability case, the court “‘may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the [Commissioner.]'” Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990) (quoting Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983)); see also Hunter v. Soc. Sec. Admin., Comm'r, 808 F.3d 818, 822 (11th Cir. 2015) (“In determining whether substantial evidence supports a decision, we give great deference to the ALJ's factfindings.”) (citing Black Diamond Coal Min. Co. v. Dir., OWCP, 95 F.3d 1079, 1082 (11th Cir. 1996)). A reviewing court also may not look “only to those parts of the record which support the ALJ[, ]” but instead “must view the entire record and take account of evidence in the record which detracts from the evidence relied on by the ALJ.” Tieniber v. Heckler, 720 F.2d 1251, 1253 (11th Cir. 1983). Review is deferential to a point, but the reviewing court conducts what has been referred to as “an independent review of the record.” Flynn v. Heckler, 768 F.2d 1273 (11th Cir. 1985).[1]

         The Social Security Act defines disability as an “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). To qualify as a disability, the physical or mental impairment must be so severe that the plaintiff not only is unable to do her previous work, “but cannot, considering [her] age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy[.]” Id. § 423(d)(2)(A).

         Pursuant to 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4) and 416.920(a)(4), the Commissioner ...

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