United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
ANTHONY E. PORCELLI United States Magistrate Judge.
seeks judicial review of the denial of her claim for a period
of disability, and disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”). As the Administrative Law Judge's
(“ALJ”) decision was not based on substantial
evidence and did not employed proper legal standards, it is
recommended that the Commissioner's decision be reversed
filed an application for a period of disability and DIB (Tr.
21). The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's claims both
initially and upon reconsideration (Tr. 102-08). Plaintiff
then requested an administrative hearing (Tr. 115-16). Per
Plaintiff's request, the ALJ held a hearing at which
Plaintiff appeared and testified (Tr. 37-74). Following the
hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding
Plaintiff not disabled and accordingly denied Plaintiff's
claims for benefits (Tr. 21-31). Subsequently, Plaintiff
requested review from the Appeals Council, which the Appeals
Council denied (Tr. 1-3). Plaintiff then timely filed a
complaint with this Court (Doc. 1). The case is now ripe for
review under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).
Factual Background and the ALJ's Decision
who was born in 1977, claimed disability beginning March 13,
2011 (Tr. 21). Plaintiff has high school education (Tr. 30).
Plaintiff's past relevant work experience included work
as phlebotomist, warehouse worker, and telephone solicitor
(Tr. 30). Plaintiff alleged disability due to tinnitus,
arthritis, fibromyalgia, depressive disorder,
gastroesophageal reflux disease, lumbar strain,
hypothyroidism, migraines, hypertension, adrenalin
insufficiency, and cervical degenerative joint disease (Tr.
87). In rendering the administrative decision, the ALJ
concluded that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements
through June 30, 2017, and had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since March 13, 2011, the alleged onset date
(Tr. 23). After conducting a hearing and reviewing the
evidence of record, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the
following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease,
obesity, history of fibromyalgia, Post-traumatic Stress
Disorder (“PTSD”), and major depressive disorder
(Tr. 23). Notwithstanding the noted impairments, the ALJ
determined 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 (Tr. 24). The ALJ then concluded that Plaintiff
retained a residual functional capacity (“RFC”)
to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b)
except: prohibited from climbing ladders, ropes, and
scaffolds; occasional climbing of ramps and stairs,
balancing, kneeling, stooping, crouching, and crawling; avoid
slippery and uneven surfaces, hazardous machinery, and
unprotected heights; limited to simple, routine, and
repetitive tasks; and work in a low stress job, which is
defined as having no fixed production quotas, no hazardous
conditions, only occasional decision making required and only
occasional changes in the work setting (Tr. 26). 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 her symptoms
were not entirely credible (Tr. 27).
Plaintiff's noted impairments and the assessment of a
vocational expert (“VE”), however, the ALJ
determined Plaintiff could not perform her past relevant work
(Tr. 30). 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
telephone information clerk, account clerk, and order clerk
(Tr. 31). Accordingly, based on Plaintiff's age,
education, work experience, RFC, and the testimony of the VE,
the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled (Tr. 31-2).
entitled to benefits, a claimant must be disabled, meaning he
or she must be unable to engage in any substantial gainful
activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or
mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or
which 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,
which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques. 42 U.S.C. §§
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. §§
404.1520, 416.920. If an individual is found disabled at any
point in the sequential review, further inquiry is
unnecessary. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a).
Under this process, the ALJ must determine, in sequence, the
following: whether the claimant is currently engaged in
substantial gainful activity; whether the claimant has a
severe impairment, i.e., one that significantly
limits the ability to perform work-related functions; whether
the severe impairment meets or equals the medical criteria of
20 C.F.R. Part 404 Subpart P, Appendix 1; and 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 work in the national
economy in view of his or her age, education, and work
experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a). A
claimant is entitled to benefits only if unable to perform
other work. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-42
(1987); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g).
determination by the Commissioner that a claimant is not
disabled must be upheld if it is supported by substantial
evidence and comports with applicable legal standards.
See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).
Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB,
305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938) (internal quotation marks omitted));
Miles v. Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir.
1996). While the court reviews the Commissioner's
decision with deference to the factual findings, no such
deference is given to the legal conclusions. Keeton v.
Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 21 F.3d 1064,
1066 (11th Cir. 1994) (citations omitted).
reviewing the Commissioner's decision, the court may not
re-weigh the evidence or substitute its own judgment for that
of the ALJ even if it finds that the evidence preponderates
against the ALJ's decision. Bloodsworth v.
Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983). The
Commissioner's failure to apply the correct law, or to
give the reviewing court sufficient reasoning for determining
that he or she has conducted the proper legal analysis,
mandates reversal. Keeton, 21 F.3d at 1066. The
scope of review is thus limited to determining whether the
findings of the Commissioner are supported ...