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Gutierrez v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

February 12, 2018

MOSES MELENDEZ GUTIERREZ, JR., 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) and 1383(c)(3), to obtain judicial review of a final decision of Defendant, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) denying his claims for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income under the Act. Upon review, I respectfully recommend that the Commissioner's final decision in this case be AFFIRMED, pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         Background[1]

         On April 1, 2014, Plaintiff protectively filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income, alleging disability commencing on March 15, 2014, due to “back and emotional conditions, ” anxiety, panic disorder, depression and arthritis (Tr. 214-225, 258). His claims were denied initially and on reconsideration (Tr. 126-133, 140-151), and he requested and received a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) (Tr. 35-63, 152-153, 166). On December 12, 2016, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled and issued his unfavorable decision (Tr. 16-34).

         Plaintiff requested Appeals Council review of the hearing decision (Tr. 14-15), contending that his file was “missing both crucial mental health and physical medical records” (Tr. 15). He provided the names of two physicians and a hospital that had medical records that were not submitted to the ALJ. Id. The Appeals Council requested that Plaintiff obtain and provide the missing records (Tr. 7) and Plaintiff submitted additional medical records and statements (Tr. 4-6, 319-325, 560-617). On March 24, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-6), making the ALJ's December 12, 2016 decision the final decision of the Commissioner.

         Plaintiff brings this action after exhausting his available administrative remedies. This dispute has been fully briefed, and 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 appearing at 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 his alleged onset date (Tr. 21). At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of disorders of the cervical and lumbar spine s/p surgery; anxiety-related disorder; affective mood disorder; osteoarthritis; and history of angina (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c) (Tr. 21). 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 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (Tr. 21-22). Next, the ALJ decided that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform

light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except he needs to avoid ladders or unprotected heights; he needs to avoid the operation of heavy moving machinery; he needs simple tasks with low stress and no production line; he needs to avoid contact with the public; he is limited to occasional bending, crouching, kneeling and stooping; he needs to avoid squatting and crawling; and he needs to be allowed to use a mono-cane for ambulation.

(Tr. 23).

         At step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work (Tr. 27).[2] 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 he can perform (Tr. 28-29). As a result, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not under a disability from March 15, 2014, through the date of the decision (Tr. 29).

         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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