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Williams v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

February 21, 2018




         Plaintiff, Carl Jerome Williams, seeks judicial review of the denial of his claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. As the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”) decision was based on substantial evidence and employed proper legal standards, the decision is affirmed.


         A. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability on April 24, 2015. (Tr. 20.) The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's claims both initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 94, 112, 118.) Plaintiff then requested an administrative hearing. (Tr. 123.) Upon Plaintiff's request, the ALJ held a hearing at which Plaintiff appeared and testified. (Tr. 40-84.) Following the hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding Plaintiff not disabled and accordingly denied Plaintiff's claims for benefits. (Tr. 20.) Subsequently, Plaintiff requested review from the Appeals Council, which the Appeals Council denied. (Tr. 1-4.) Plaintiff then timely filed a complaint with this Court. (Dkt. 1.) The case is now ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3).

         B. Factual Background and the ALJ's Decision

         Plaintiff, who was born in 1965, claimed disability beginning on February 1, 2015. (Tr. 211.) Plaintiff has a high school education. (Tr. 250.) Plaintiff's past relevant work experience included work as security guard and customer service clerk. (Id.) Plaintiff alleged disability due to heart problems, uncontrolled high blood pressure, post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), depression, and anxiety. (Tr. 249.)

         In rendering the decision, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had not performed substantial gainful activity since February 1, 2015, the alleged onset date. (Tr. 22.) After conducting a hearing and reviewing the evidence of record, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: mild degenerative spondylosis and osseous encroachment of the C5-C6 foramen, moderate acromioclavicular arthrosis, patellar spurring in the right knee, mild coronary artery disease, angina, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, major depression, PTSD, and moderate alcohol use disorder. (Id.) Notwithstanding the noted impairments, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Id.) The ALJ then concluded that Plaintiff retained a residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work with additional limitations. (Tr. 24.) Specifically, the ALJ found the following RFC:

[Plaintiff] can only occasionally push/pull with the bilateral upper extremities, as well as only occasionally operate foot controls with the bilateral lower extremities. The claimant can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds and never crawl. He can occasionally climb ramps and stairs and occasionally stoop, kneel, and crouch. The claimant can frequently balance. He can occasionally reach overhead with the right upper extremity. The claimant can frequently handle and finger with the left upper extremity. He is limited to jobs that can be performed while using a handheld assistive device required for prolonged ambulation or ambulation across uneven terrain, and the contralateral upper extremity can be used to lift and carry up to the exertional limit. The claimant must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme temperatures and excessive vibration. He must avoid all exposure to hazardous machinery and unprotected heights. The claimant is further limited to simple, routine, repetitive tasks in a low-stress job (defined as having only occasional decision making, only occasional changes in the work setting, and only occasional social interaction with the general public and coworkers after the completion of the orientation/training period).

(Id.) In formulating Plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ considered Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined that, although the evidence established the presence of underlying impairments that reasonably could be expected to produce the symptoms alleged, Plaintiff's statements as to the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of his symptoms were not fully credible. (Tr. 25.)

         Considering Plaintiff's noted impairments and the assessment of a vocational expert (“VE”), however, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff could not perform his past relevant work. (Tr.31.) Given Plaintiff's background and RFC, the VE testified that Plaintiff could perform other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy, such as a garment sorter, copy machine operator, and small parts assembler. (Tr. 32.) Accordingly, based on Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, RFC, and the testimony of the VE, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled. (Tr. 33.)


         To be entitled to benefits, a claimant must be disabled, meaning that the claimant must be unable to engage in 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. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). A “physical or mental impairment” is an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities that are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(3), 1382c(a)(3)(D).

         The Social Security Administration, in order to regularize the adjudicative process, promulgated the detailed regulations currently in effect. These regulations establish a “sequential evaluation process” to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. If an individual is found disabled at any point in the sequential review, further inquiry is unnecessary. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a). Under this process, the ALJ must determine, in sequence, the following: (1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment, i.e., one that significantly limits the ability to perform work-related functions; (3) whether the severe impairment meets or equals the medical criteria of 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; and, (4) whether the claimant can perform his or her past relevant work. If the claimant cannot perform the tasks required of his or her prior work, step five of the evaluation requires the ALJ to decide if the claimant can do other ...

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