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Booker v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

December 14, 2017

ROMONA M. BOOKER, Plaintiff,

          ORDER [1]


         Plaintiff Romona M. Booker appeals to this Court from a final decision of Defendant, the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her application for disability insurance benefits under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §416. After due consideration, the Commissioner's final decision is reversed and this case is remanded.


         On February 2, 2013, Plaintiff applied for benefits, alleging disability arising from a variety of impairments, including major depressive disorder (“MDD”), psychosocial disorder, panic and anxiety attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), an eating disorder, sleep disorder, chronic asthma, severe chondromalysia, and fibrocystic breast disease (Tr. 229). She was 47 years old on her June 1, 2010 alleged onset date (Tr. 211), with past relevant work experience as a Project Manager/CAD designer and Project Coordinator/Property Manager at various properties (Tr. 88-89, 236). Her claims were denied at the initial and reconsideration levels (Tr. 110, 127, 130-31, 137-39, 269, 286), and Plaintiff requested and received an administrative hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) (Tr. 34-97). The ALJ rendered an unfavorable decision on June 15, 2015 (Tr. 6-28). On October 31, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-4). Accordingly, the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision and this appeal timely followed (Doc. 1).

         The ALJ's Decision

         When determining whether an individual is disabled, the ALJ must follow the five-step sequential evaluation process which appears at 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4) and 416.920(a)(4). Specifically, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant: (1) is currently employed; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals an impairment listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; (4) can perform past relevant work; and (5) retains the ability to perform any work in the national economy. See Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1237-1240 (11th Cir. 2004). The claimant bears the burden of persuasion through step four and, at step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove that other jobs exist in the national economy that the claimant can perform. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n. 5 (1987); Phillips, 357 F.3d at 1241 n.10.

         Here, the ALJ performed the required sequential analysis. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date (Tr. 11).[2] At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of “mild degenerative disc disease at ¶ 5-S1; deformity of right small finger with surgery in 2014; asthma/chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); chronic bilateral joint disease/chondromalacia patella; post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and panic attacks, status post sexual trauma; major depression; and history of marijuana and alcohol abuse” (Tr. 11). The ALJ held that claimant's history of cysts in her breasts and a sleep disorder were not severe (Tr. 11-13).

         At step three, the ALJ found that, through her date last insured, Plaintiff 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 (Tr.13). Next, the ALJ decided that, through her date last insured, Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform a limited range of light work, as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) (Tr. 15). The ALJ said:

Specifically, the claimant has the following exertional and non-exertional limitations: she can lift/carry no more than 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; no standing/walking more than six hours out of an eight hour day and for no more than 30 minutes at one time; no sitting more than six hours out of an eight hour day and for no more than one hour at a time; can do unlimited pushing/pulling up to the exertional limitations; no more than frequent balancing; no more than occasional stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling, or climbing ramps or stairs; no climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; no work in areas of concentrates dusts, fumes, gases, or other pulmonary irritants; no work around dangerous, moving machinery or unprotected heights; no more than simple, routine work; can maintain attention and concentration for two-hour intervals necessary to complete simple tasks; no more than occasional interaction with co-workers or supervisors but no contact with the general public; no more than occasional changes to the workplace setting.

(Tr. 15).

         At step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work (Tr. 26). But, based on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ determined at step five that, considering the Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that she can perform (Tr. 26-27). Consequently, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not under a disability from her alleged onset date through her date last insured (Tr. 27).

         Standard of Review

         The scope of the Court's review is limited to determining whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence. Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004). Findings of fact are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is “more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance. It is such relevant evidence that a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (citation omitted). When 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 preponderance of the evidence is against the Commissioner's decision. Miles v. Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996). The district court “may not decide facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute our judgment for that of the [Commissioner.]” Id. "The district court must view the record as a whole, taking into account evidence favorable as well as unfavorable to the decision." Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1995) (per curiam); accord Lowery v. Sullivan, 979 F.2d 835, 837 (11th Cir. 1992) (the court must scrutinize the entire record to determine the reasonableness of the factual findings).


         Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in weighing the medical opinions of record and in evaluating Plaintiff's allegations of disabling limitations. On review, I find remand for additional consideration and explanation is required.

         Evaluation of ...

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