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Burke v. Acting Commissioner of Social Security

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

February 22, 2018




          THIS CAUSE is before the Court on Plaintiff's appeal of an administrative decision denying his application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). Plaintiff claims he became disabled on February 12, 2011. (Tr. 21.) Plaintiff's claims were denied initially and on reconsideration. The administrative law judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing on February 12, 2015 (Tr. 39-61), and subsequently issued a decision on April 2, 2015, finding that the Plaintiff was not disabled (Tr. 21-33).

         Plaintiff is appealing the Commissioner's decision that he was not disabled from February 12, 2011 through the date of the ALJ's decision.[2] Plaintiff has exhausted his available administrative remedies and the case is properly brought before the Court. The Court has reviewed the record, the briefs, and the applicable law. For the reasons stated herein, the Commissioner's decision is REVERSED AND REMANDED.

          I. Standard

         The scope of this Court's review is limited to determining whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards, McRoberts v. Bowen, 841 F.2d 1077, 1080 (11th Cir. 1988), and whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence, Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971). “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004). Where 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 (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 v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1995); accord Lowery v. Sullivan, 979 F.2d 835, 837 (11th Cir. 1992)(stating the court must scrutinize the entire record to determine the reasonableness of the Commissioner's findings).

         II. Discussion

         Plaintiff argues three points on appeal. First, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ improperly failed to analyze the impact of obesity on his hip impairment. Plaintiff also argues the ALJ erred by concluding that he had no ongoing issues in his left hip after hip replacement surgery in February of 2014. Second, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in rejecting the opinions of the evaluating physician Dr. Choisser. Finally, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to adequately explain why he rejected the opinions of the state agency reviewing physician. The Commissioner argues that the ALJ sufficiently considered Plaintiff's obesity and properly evaluated the record medical opinions.

         A. The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: lumbar degenerative disc disease and bilateral hip osteoarthritis status post total left hip arthroplasty. (Tr. 23.) The ALJ then found that Plaintiff did not have any 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. (Tr. 24.) At step four, [3] the ALJ found, in relevant part, that Plaintiff had the residual functioning capacity (“RFC”) to:

perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except that he needs a sit/stand option every 30 minutes and he requires the use of a handheld assistive device to reach the workstation, but not while working at the workstation. He is limited to no more than frequent handling and fingering of the right hand. He needs to avoid unprotected heights.

(Id.) The ALJ then determined that while Plaintiff was unable to perform his past relevant work, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that he could perform. (Tr. 31.) As such, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff was not disabled during the relevant period. (Id.)

         B. Analysis

         Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred by failing to consider his obesity in combination with his other severe impairments at step four of the disability analysis. The undersigned agrees.

         The Social Security Administration has issued special guidance for consideration of obesity. See SSR 02-01p, 2002 WL 3486281 (Sept. 12, 2002). The ruling advises that the combined effects of obesity with other impairments may be greater than the effects of each impairment separately, and that obesity can affect both physical and mental health. Id. at *1, *3. The Social Security Administration “will not make any assumptions about the severity or functional effects of obesity combined ...

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