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Colon v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

January 12, 2018

IVETTE COLON, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          THOMAS B. SMITH, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act (“Act”), as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and1383 (c)(3), to obtain judicial review of a final decision of Defendant, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying her claim for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under the Act. Upon a review of the record, I respectfully recommend that the Commissioner's final decision in this case be AFFIRMED.

         Background[1]

         Plaintiff filed for benefits alleging that she became disabled on June 25, 2013, due to fibromyalgia, pain (body, hands, abdominal), allergies, and issues with her blood pressure and thyroid (Tr. 174-190, 220). Her applications were denied initially and on reconsideration, and she requested and received a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) (Tr. 109-127, 30-67). On the date of the hearing, Plaintiff was forty-seven years old, with a GED and past relevant work experience as a customer service representative (Tr. 22-23, 33-36, 221).

         On June 24, 2015, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled (Tr.10-29). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-8), making the ALJ's June 2015 decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff brings this action after exhausting her available administrative remedies. The issues have been fully briefed, and the matter was referred to me for a report and recommendation.

         The ALJ's Decision

         When determining whether an individual is disabled, the ALJ must follow the five-step sequential evaluation process in 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.

         In this case 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. 15). At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of fibromyalgia; a history of hypertension; hypothyroidism; arthritis; and obesity (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)) (Tr. 15). At step three, the ALJ found 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. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (Tr. 17). Next, the ALJ decided that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform

light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) with additional restrictions. Specifically, the claimant is capable of: lifting and carrying up to 20 pounds on an occasional basis and 10 pounds on a frequent basis; standing and/or walking for approximately six hours during an eight-hour workday; and sitting for approximately six hours during an eight-hour workday. The claimant is limited to work that allows her to sit or stand alternatively, at will, provide [sic] a person is within employer tolerances for off-task behavior. The claimant can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps or stairs, but cannot climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. The claimant must avoid concentrated exposure to the use of moving machinery or exposure to unprotected heights.

(Tr. 17).

         At step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work (Tr. 22). But, based on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ concluded at step five that, considering 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. 23-24). As a result, the ALJ held that Plaintiff was not under a disability from June 25, 2013, through the date of the Commissioner's decision (Tr. 24).

         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 ...


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