United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division
BARBARA C. LETT, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
MCCOY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
cause comes before the Court on Plaintiff Barbara C.
Lett's Complaint (Doc. 1) filed on July 11, 2016.
Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the final decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“SSA”) denying her claims 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).
Social Security Act Eligibility, Procedural History, the
ALJ's Decision, and Standard of
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); 20 C.F.R. §
404.1505. 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); 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1505 -404.1511. 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).
January 4, 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for a period
of disability and disability insurance benefits with an
alleged onset date of December 16, 2010. (Tr. at 253).
Plaintiff's application was denied initially on May 2,
2012 and upon reconsideration on August 6, 2012. (Tr. at
139-40). A video hearing was held before Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) Roxanne Fuller on January 6, 2015.
(Tr. at 97-127). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on
April 3, 2015. (Tr. at 76-96). The ALJ found Plaintiff not to
be under a disability from December 16, 2010 through the date
of the decision. (Tr. at 90).
5, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request
for review. (Tr. at 1-5). Plaintiff filed a Complaint (Doc.
1) in this Court on July 11, 2016. Defendant filed an Answer
(Doc. 18) on February 14, 2017. The parties filed a memoranda
in support. (Docs. 27-28). The parties consented to proceed
before a United States Magistrate Judge for all proceedings.
(See Doc. 21). This case is ripe for review.
Summary of the ALJ's Decision
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 F. App'x
890, 891 (11th Cir. 2013) (citing Jones v. Apfel,
190 F.3d 1224, 1228 (11th Cir. 1999)). 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 functional 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. 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 F. App'x 913, 915 n.2 (11th Cir.
initial matter, the ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured
status requirements through December 31, 2015. (Tr. at 81).
At step one of the sequential evaluation, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since December 16, 2010, the alleged onset date.
(Id.). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
suffered from the following severe impairments:
“neuropathy, hip fracture with replacement surgery,
history of foot fracture, degenerative disc disease of the
spine, and arthritis.” (Id.). At step three,
the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have an impairment
or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals
the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart. P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526). (Tr. at 83).
on the evidence, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the
RFC to perform “sedentary work” except that
occasionally climb ramps or stairs; occasionally climb
ladders, ropes or scaffolds; occasionally balance, stoop,
crouch, kneel, crawl; frequently handle objects, that is
gross manipulation with both hands; frequently finger, that
is fine manipulation with both hands; have occasional
exposure to moving mechanical parts; occasionally operate a
motor vehicle; and have occasional exposure to unprotected
(Tr. at 84).
four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff “is capable of
performing past relevant work as an administrative assistant
and caseworker.” (Tr. at 90). The ALJ found that
“[t]his work does not require the performance of
work-related activities precluded by the claimant's
residual functional capacity.” (Id.).
Specifically, in comparing Plaintiff's RFC with the
physical and mental demands of this work, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff was able to perform it as actually and generally
performed. (Id.). In making this finding, the ALJ
noted the vocational expert's (“VE”)
testimony that Plaintiff's past work experience was that
of an administrative assistant and a caseworker.
(Id.). The VE testified that “those jobs
generally occur at the sedentary exertion level and that the
claimant specifically performed the work at that
level.” (Id.). The VE further testified that a
hypothetical person with Plaintiff's RFC “could
perform the work both as [Plaintiff] specifically did it and
as the jobs are generally done in the national
economy.” (Id.). Pursuant to Social Security
Ruling 00-4p, the ALJ found Plaintiff's work history and
the Dictionary of Occupational Titles to be consistent with
the VE's testimony. (Id.).
the ALJ found Plaintiff could perform past relevant work at
step four, the ALJ did not proceed to make findings at step
five. (See id.). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff was not under a disability from December 16, 2010
through the date of decision. (Id.).
Standard of Review
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 support the conclusion. Foote v. Chater,
67 F.3d 1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1995) (citing Walden v.
Schweiker, 672 F.2d 835, 838 (11th Cir. 1982);
Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401).
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 evidence
preponderates against” the Commissioner's decision.
Edwards v. Sullivan, 937 F.2d 580, 584 n.3 (11th
Cir. 1991); Barnes v. Sullivan, 932 F.2d 1356, 1358
(11th Cir. 1991). The district court must view the evidence
as a whole, taking into account evidence favorable as well as
unfavorable to the decision. Foote, 67 F.3d at 1560;
accord Lowery v. Sullivan, 979 F.2d 835, 837 (11th
Cir. 1992) (stating that the court must scrutinize the entire
record to determine reasonableness of factual findings).
raises two issues on appeal. First, Plaintiff argues that
“[t]he Commissioner improperly rejected the opinion of
the state agency examining and nonexamining consultants as
far as Ms. Lett's mental limitations.” (Doc. 27 at
1). Second, Plaintiff argues that “[t]he Commissioner
failed to articulate good cause for not adopting the opinions
of Dr. Mufdi regarding Ms. Lett's limitations and the