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Warriner v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

January 16, 2018

KIMBERLY WARRINER, Petitioner,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          MAC R. MCCOY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Plaintiff Kimberly A. Warriner's Complaint (Doc. 1) filed on January 13, 2017. 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 REVERSED AND REMANDED 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 January 16, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits. (Tr. at 129, 190-97). Plaintiff asserted an onset date of December 21, 2012. (Id. at 190). Plaintiff's application was denied initially on April 25, 2013 and on reconsideration on June 3, 2013. (Id. at 105, 129). A hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) T. Whitaker on May 14, 2015. (Id. at 62-103). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on July 20, 2015. (Id. at 12-25). The ALJ found Plaintiff not to be under a disability from December 21, 2012, through the date of the decision. (Id. at 25).

         On December 22, 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 January 13, 2017. This case is ripe for review. The parties consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge for all proceedings. (See Doc. 16).

         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 December 31, 2017. (Tr. at 14). At step one of the sequential evaluation, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 21, 2012, the alleged onset date. (Id.). At step two, the ALJ determined that:

[Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments:] back pain, intrascapular numbness, and right anterio thigh numbness status post scoliosis surgery fusion and rod placement; dextroscoliosis and stenosis of thoracic spine; cervical degenerative disc disease; spondylolisthesis, facet hypertrophy, spondyloysis, levoscoliosis, facet anterolisthesis, and stenosis of lumbar spine with chronic low back pain syndrome and radiculopathy; history of left knee radiculopathy; foot drop; recurrent sacroiliitis; degenerative joint disease and recurrent trochanteric bursitis of right hip; obesity; depressive disorder; bipolar syndrome; anxiety; panic disorder; and history of bereavement (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. ...


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