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Haughie v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division

December 27, 2017

JILL HAUGHIE, Plaintiff,



         Before the Court is Plaintiff Jill Haughie's Complaint (Doc. 1) filed on October 17, 2016. Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denying her claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. The Commissioner filed the Transcript of the proceedings (hereinafter referred to as “Tr.” followed by the appropriate page number), and the parties filed legal memoranda in support of their positions. For the reasons set out herein, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED pursuant to § 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         I. Social Security Act Eligibility, the ALJ Decision, and Standard of Review

         A. Eligibility

         The law defines disability as the inability to do any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months. 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505, 416.905. The impairment must be severe, making the claimant unable to do her previous work or any other substantial gainful activity that exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2), 1382c(a)(3); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505 - 404.1511, 416.905 - 416.911. Plaintiff bears the burden of persuasion through step four, while the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987).

         B. Procedural History

         On May 10, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits. (Tr. at 90, 185-86). Plaintiff asserted an onset date of July 8, 2012. (Id. at 185). Plaintiff's application was denied initially on August 13, 2013 and on reconsideration on October 4, 2013. (Id. at 90, 106). A hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Marty Turner on January 26, 2015. (Id. at 31-79). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on March 24, 2015. (Id. at 12-26). The ALJ found Plaintiff not to be under a disability from July 8, 2012, through the date of the decision. (Id. at 26).

         On August 12, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Id. at 1-5). Plaintiff filed a Complaint (Doc. 1) in the United States District Court on October 17, 2016. This case is ripe for review. The parties consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge for all proceedings. (See Doc. 12).

         C. Summary of the ALJ's Decision

         An ALJ must follow a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine if a claimant has proven that she is disabled. Packer v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 542 Fed.Appx. 890, 891 (11th Cir. 2013) (citing Jones v. Apfel, 190 F.3d 1224, 1228 (11th Cir. 1999)).[1] An ALJ must determine whether the claimant: (1) is performing substantial gainful activity; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has a severe impairment that meets or equals an impairment specifically listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; (4) can perform her past relevant work; and (5) can perform other work of the sort found in the national economy. Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1237-40 (11th Cir. 2004). The claimant has the burden of proof through step four and then the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five. Hines-Sharp v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 511 Fed.Appx. 913, 915 n.2 (11th Cir. 2013).

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements through June 30, 2015. (Tr. at 14). At step one of the sequential evaluation, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had engaged in substantial gainful activity during the following period: October 2012 through March 2013. (Id.). The ALJ further found that there had been a continuous 12-month period during which Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity and the ALJ addressed this period in the decision. (Id. at 15). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: seizure disorder, migraine headaches, anxiety, and depression (20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c)). (Id.). At step three, the ALJ determined that 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 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, and 404.1526). (Id. at 15).

         At step four, the ALJ found the following:

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform medium work as defined in 20 [C.F.R. §] 404.1567(c), with limitations. She cannot climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. She cannot be exposed to workplace hazards such as unprotected heights and operating hazardous machinery. She can understand, remember and carry out simple and low-level detailed work instructions. She can only occasionally interact with the general public.

(Id. at 17).

         The ALJ determined that Plaintiff was unable to perform her past relevant work as a registered nurse or real estate manager. (Id. at 24). Through the date last insured, the ALJ considered Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, and found that there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. (Id. at 24-26). The ALJ noted that the vocational expert identified five types of jobs that Plaintiff was able to perform, namely: (1) hospital cleaner, DOT # 323.687-010; (2) janitor, DOT # 381.687-018; (3) dishwasher, DOT # 318.687-010; (4) housekeeper, DOT # 323.687-014; and (5) office helper, DOT # 239.567-010. (Id. at 25).[2] The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not under a disability at any time from July 8, 2012, through the date of the decision. (Id. at 26).

         D. Standard of Review

         The scope of this Court's review is limited to determining whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standard, McRoberts v. Bowen, 841 F.2d 1077, 1080 (11th Cir. 1988), and whether the findings are supported by substantial evidence, 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., 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 ...

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