United States District Court, N.D. Florida, Pensacola Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
ELIZABETH M. TIMOTHY, CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
case was referred to the undersigned magistrate judge
pursuant to the authority of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and
Local Rules 72.1(A), 72.2(D) and 72.3 of this court relating
to review of administrative determinations under the Social
Security Act (“Act”) and related statutes, 42
U.S.C. § 401, et seq. It is now before the
court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the Act for
review of a final determination of the Commissioner of Social
Security (“Commissioner”) denying Plaintiff's
application for Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) benefits under Title XVI of the Act, 42
U.S.C. §§ 1381-83.
review of the record before this court, it is the opinion of
the undersigned that the findings of fact and determinations
of the Commissioner are not supported by substantial
evidence; thus, the decision of the Commissioner should be
reversed and remanded.
28, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI, and in the
application he alleged disability beginning December 31, 2008
(tr. 19). His application was denied initially and
on reconsideration, and thereafter Plaintiff requested a
hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”). A hearing was held on November 3, 2015,
and on November 25, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision in which
he found Plaintiff “Not Disabled, ” as defined
under the Act, at any time through the date of his decision
(tr. 19-26). On December 30, 2016, the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review (tr. 1). Thus, the
decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the
Commissioner, subject to review in this court. Ingram v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 496 F.3d 1253, 1262
(11th Cir. 2007). This appeal followed.
FINDINGS OF THE ALJ
written decision of November 25, 2015, the ALJ made several
findings relative to the issues raised in this appeal (tr.
1) Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since May 28, 2013, the date he applied for SSI;
2) Plaintiff had the following severe impairments during the
relevant period: lumbar spine degenerative disc disease and
3) 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 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
4) Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in 20
C.F.R. § 416.967(b), with certain
5) Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work;
6) Plaintiff was born on March 8, 1974, and was 39 years old
and thus a “younger individual” (i.e., one aged
between 18 and 49) on the date he applied for SSI;
7) Plaintiff has a limited education and is able to
communicate in English;
8) Transferability of job skills is not material to the
determination of disability because using the
Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding
that Plaintiff is “not disabled, ” whether or not
he has transferable job skills;
9) Considering Plaintiff's age, education, work
experience, and RFC, there were jobs that Plaintiff could
have performed that existed in significant numbers in the
10) Plaintiff was not under a disability, as defined in the
Act, between the date of his application for SSI, May 28,
2013, and the date of the ALJ's decision, November 25,
STANDARD OF REVIEW
of the Commissioner's final decision is limited to
determining whether the decision is supported by substantial
evidence from the record and was a result of the application
of proper legal standards. Carnes v. Sullivan, 936
F.2d 1215, 1218 (11th Cir. 1991) (“[T]his Court may
reverse the decision of the [Commissioner] only when
convinced that it is not supported by substantial evidence or
that proper legal standards were not applied.”);
see also Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1439
(11th Cir. 1997); Walker v. Bowen, 826 F.2d 996, 999
(11th Cir. 1987). “A determination that is supported by
substantial evidence may be meaningless . . . if it is
coupled with or derived from faulty legal principles.”
Boyd v. Heckler, 704 F.2d 1207, 1209 (11th Cir.
1983), superseded by statute on other grounds as stated
in Elam v. R.R. Ret. Bd., 921 F.2d 1210, 1214 (11th Cir.
1991). As long as proper legal standards were applied, the
Commissioner's decision will not be disturbed if in light
of the record as a whole the decision appears to be supported
by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Falge
v. Apfel, 150 F.3d 1320, 1322 (11th Cir. 1998);
Lewis, 125 F.3d at 1439; Foote v. Chater,
67 F.3d 1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1995). Substantial evidence is
more than a scintilla, but not a preponderance; it is
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct.
1420, 1427, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971) (quoting Consolidated
Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 59 S.Ct. 206, 217, 83
L.Ed. 126 (1938)); Lewis, 125 F.3d at 1439. The
court may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or
substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner.
Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir.
1990) (citations omitted). Even if the evidence preponderates
against the Commissioner's decision, the decision must be
affirmed if supported by substantial evidence. Sewell v.
Bowen, 792 F.2d 1065, 1067 (11th Cir. 1986).
defines a disability as an “inability 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 12
months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). To qualify as a
disability the physical or mental impairment must be so
severe that the claimant is not only unable to do his
previous work, “but cannot, considering his age,
education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of
substantial gainful work which exists in the national
economy.” Id. § 423(d)(2)(A).
to 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)-(g), the Commissioner analyzes
a disability claim in five steps:
1. If the claimant is performing substantial gainful
activity, he is not disabled.
2. If the claimant is not performing substantial gainful
activity, his impairments must be severe before he can be
3. If the claimant is not performing substantial gainful
activity and he has severe impairments that have lasted or
are expected to last for a continuous period of at least
twelve months, and if his impairments meet or medically equal
the criteria of any impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1, the claimant is presumed disabled
without further inquiry.
4. If the claimant's impairments do not prevent him from
doing his past relevant work, he is not disabled.
5. Even if the claimant's impairments prevent him from
performing his past relevant work, if other work exists in
significant numbers in the national economy that accommodates
his RFC and vocational factors, he is not disabled.
claimant bears the burden of establishing a severe impairment
that keeps him from performing his past work. 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.912. If the claimant establishes such an
impairment, the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step
five to show the existence of other jobs in the national
economy which, given the claimant's impairments, the
claimant can perform. MacGregor v. Bowen, 786 F.2d
1050, 1052 (11th Cir. 1986). If the Commissioner carries this
burden, the claimant must then prove he cannot perform the
work suggested by the Commissioner. Hale v. Bowen,
831 F.2d 1007, 1011 (11th Cir. 1987).
SUMMARY OF RELEVANT EVIDENCE
Plaintiff's Statements and Testimony
1, 2013, Plaintiff was interviewed in connection with his
claim for SSI. He advised the interviewer that he could walk
a block, could care for his own “grooming, ”
could drive, could perform “light household chores
unassisted, ” could lift a gallon of milk, that he
shopped, and that he was able to cook a simple meal (tr.
171). Plaintiff made similar reports in an interview
conducted on September 18, 2013, although he additionally
advised that he was able to bathe and dress without
assistance (tr. 59).
Plaintiff's hearing, held November 3, 2015, Plaintiff
testified that he was forty-one years of age and had
completed the eleventh grade (tr. 36). He noted that he was
5'7” and weighed 270 pounds (tr. 37). Plaintiff
stated he previously worked as a delivery driver but stopped
working in or about 2012 due to constant back pain (tr. 38,
When asked why he was presently unable to work, Plaintiff
stated that he cannot “be seated that long, ” his
legs give out unexpectedly, and he can “hardly
lift” with his right (dominant) arm (tr. 39, 37). He
explained that the issue with his legs began “over a
year ago” when he “first fell” (tr. 39).
then testified that the “worst pain in [his]
body” was his back pain and that it occurred on a daily
basis (tr. 40). He rated his pain at a ten (the worst) on a
ten-point scale when he does not take his medication and at
“about a six” with medication (id.).
With respect to personal grooming and various daily
activities, Plaintiff indicated he could feed himself, but he
could not put on socks, he occasionally struggled with
putting on pants and underwear, and he could not wash his own
hair (tr. 42, 44). He testified that he did not shop for
groceries or cook (tr. 42). Plaintiff estimated that he could
stand for five to ten minutes before having to sit, sit for
fifteen to twenty minutes before having to stand, ...