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Dewitt v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

January 16, 2018

BRUCE DEWITT, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          MAC R. MCCOY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This cause is before the Court on Plaintiff Bruce Dewitt's Complaint (Doc. 1) filed on January 31, 2017. Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denying his claim for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income. 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. In addition, Plaintiff filed a Response (Doc. 30) on November 15, 2017. 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's 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 his previous work, or any other substantial gainful activity that exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2), 1382c(a)(3)(B); 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 April 4, 2013, Plaintiff filed applications for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income, asserting an onset date of May 30, 2011. (Tr. at 87, 196-211). Plaintiff subsequently amended his onset date to March 21, 2012. (Id. at 290-91). Plaintiff's applications were denied initially on May 15, 2013 and upon reconsideration on September 3, 2013. (Id. at 87, 88, 107, 108). A hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Lisa B. Martin on September 11, 2015. (Id. at 26-54). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on September 21, 2015. (Id. at 12-20). The ALJ found Plaintiff not to be under a disability from May 30, 2011, through the date of the decision. (Id. at 24-25).

         On December 7, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Id. at 1-5). Plaintiff filed a Complaint (Doc. 1) in this Court on January 31, 2017. The parties consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge for all proceedings. (See Doc. 20). This case is ripe for review.

         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 he is disabled. Packer v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 542 F. App'x 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) has the residual functioning capacity (“RFC”) to 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. 2013).

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements through December 31, 2016. (Tr. at 14). At step one of the sequential evaluation, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 21, 2012, the alleged onset date. (Id.). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: “degenerative disc disease, shoulder strain, history of pancreatitis, diabetes mellitus, essential hypertension, and obesity (20 [C.F.R. §§] 404.1520(c) and 416.920(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, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925, and 416.926). (Id. at 15).

         At step four, the ALJ found the following:

[T]he claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of light work as defined in 20 [C.F.R. §§] 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), except for the following additional restrictions. The claimant needs a change of position opportunity as often as every 45 minutes for 1-2 minutes. He must not perform ladders, ropes or scaffolds climbing [sic], and is limited to occasional postural motions otherwise. He must avoid all exposure to dangerous work hazards (unprotected heights and exposed moving machinery), and all exposure to extreme heat, humidity and cold conditions. He is limited to detailed, but uninvolved tasks not requiring a fast assembly quota pace.

(Id.).

         The ALJ determined that Plaintiff was unable to perform his past relevant work as a truck driver. (Id. at 18). 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.). The ALJ noted that the vocational expert identified the following representative occupations that Plaintiff was able to perform: (1) parking lot cashier, DOT # 211.462-018, light, unskilled work with an SVP of 2; (2) self-service cashier, DOT # 211.462-010, light, unskilled work with an SVP of 2; and (3) shipping and receiving weigher, DOT # 222.387-074, light, unskilled work with an SVP of 2. (Id. at 19).[2]

         The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not under a disability from May 30, 2011, ...


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