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Lane v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

January 12, 2018



          THOMAS B. SMITH, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Donnie Ray Lane appeals to this Court from Defendant, the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision to deny his applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. I have reviewed the record, including the administrative law judge's (“ALJ”) decision, the exhibits, and the joint memorandum submitted by the parties. For the following reasons, I respectfully recommend that the Commissioner's final decision be affirmed, pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).


         At the time of the administrative hearing, Plaintiff was fifty-two years old (Tr. 40-41). He had a general education diploma and past work experience as a donut baker and dough mixer (Id.; Tr. 57). On March 8, 2013, Plaintiff applied for benefits under Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 416, 423, alleging a disability onset date of October 18, 2012 (Tr. 17, 203-216). His claims were denied initially and on reconsideration (Tr. 132-142, 146-150). At Plaintiff's request, the ALJ held a hearing on April 8, 2015 (Tr. 37-62). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on May 18, 2015 (Tr. 12-36). Plaintiff asked the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision and on October 14, 2016, the Appeals Council denied the request for review (Tr. 3-10). The ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision and this appeal timely followed (Doc. 1). Plaintiff has exhausted his administrative remedies and his case is ripe for review.

         The ALJ's Decision

         When determining whether an individual is disabled, the ALJ must follow the Commissioner's five-step sequential evaluation process which appears in 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). 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 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. Id., at 1241 n.10; Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n. 5 (1987).

         The ALJ determined at step one that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his October 18, 2012 alleged onset date (Tr. 17). At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff was severely impaired by: hypertension and degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine (Id.). At step three, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1 (20 CFR §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926) (Tr. 17-18). Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ decided that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to,

[P]erform less than the full range of light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). Specifically, the claimant can sit, stand and walk six hours in an eight-hour workday, and he can lift 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. The claimant would require work which is simple and unskilled, or very low semi-skilled in nature, which are tasks performed so frequently as to be considered routine, even though the tasks themselves might not be considered simple. The claimant needs to avoid frequent ascending and descending stairs. The claimant should avoid frequent pushing and pulling motions with his lower extremities within the aforementioned weight restrictions. Due to mild to moderate pain and medication side effects, the claimant should avoid hazards in the work place such as unprotected areas of moving machinery; heights; ramps; ladders; scaffolding; and on the ground, unprotected areas of holes and pits. The claimant could perform each of the following postural activities occasionally: balancing, stooping, couching, kneeling and crawling, but not climbing of ropes or scaffolds and ladders exceeding 6 feet. The claimant has non-exertional mental limitations which frequently affect his ability to concentrate upon complex or detailed tasks, but he would remain capable of understanding, remembering and carrying out job instructions as defined earlier; making work related judgments and decisions; responding appropriately to supervision, co-workers and work situations; and dealing with changes in a routine work setting.

(Tr. 19-27). At step four, the ALJ found Plaintiff unable to perform past relevant work (Tr. 27). But, the ALJ ultimately concluded at step five that there were jobs in the national economy-like cafeteria attendant, luncheon room attendant, and advertising material distributor-that Plaintiff could perform and therefore, he was not disabled (Tr. 27-28).

         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). 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 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).


         A. Plaintiff's RFC Assessment was Based on ...

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