United States District Court, N.D. Florida, Gainesville Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
R. JONES UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
appeals to this Court from a final decision of the Acting
Commissioner of Social Security (the
“Commissioner”) denying Plaintiff's
application for supplemental security income
(“SSI”) pursuant to Title XVI of the Social
Security Act. (ECF No. 1.) The Commissioner has answered (ECF
No. 9), and both parties have filed briefs outlining their
respective positions. (ECF Nos. 20, 22.) For the reasons
discussed below, it is recommended that the
Commissioner's decision be affirmed.
filed her application for SSI on December 14, 2012, alleging
disability beginning December 5, 2012, due to a back injury,
asthma, and depression. (R. 292-97, 325.) At the time of her
application, Plaintiff reported that her weight was 260
pounds. Id. at 325. Her application was denied
initially and upon reconsideration. (R. 134-39, 145-49.)
Following a hearing on September 4, 2015, an administrative
law judge (“ALJ”) issued a decision unfavorable
to Plaintiff. (R. 15-34.) The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review. (R. 1-4.)
then filed the instant appeal. (ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff argues
that she should have been found disabled because the
ALJ's residual functional capacity (“RFC”)
finding is not supported by the record, in light of her
morbid obesity, back pain, and radiculopathy which precludes
her from standing for six hours out of an eight-hour workday.
Plaintiff also argues that the ALJ erred in assessing
Plaintiff's credibility. (ECF No. 20.)
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Commissioner's findings of fact are conclusive if
supported by substantial evidence. See 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g) (2012). Substantial evidence is more than a
scintilla, i.e., the evidence must do more than merely create
a suspicion of the existence of a fact, and must include such
relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as
adequate to support the conclusion. Foote v. Chater,
67 F.3d 1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1995) (citing Walden v.
Schweiker, 672 F.2d 835, 838 (11th Cir. 1982),
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971));
accord Edwards v. Sullivan, 937 F.2d 580, 584 n.3
(11th Cir. 1991).
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, 937 F.2d at 584 n.3; 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, 67 F.3d at 1560; accord Lowery
v. Sullivan, 979 F.2d 835, 837 (11th Cir. 1992) (holding
that the court must scrutinize the entire record to determine
reasonableness of factual findings); Parker v.
Bowen, 793 F.2d 1177 (11th Cir. 1986) (finding that the
court must also consider evidence detracting from evidence on
which the Commissioner relied). However, the district court
will reverse the Commissioner's decision on plenary
review if the decision applies incorrect law, or if the
decision fails to provide the district court with sufficient
reasoning to determine that the Commissioner properly applied
the law. Keeton v. Dep't Health & Human
Servs., 21 F.3d 1064, 1066 (11th Cir. 1994).
defines disability as the inability to do any substantial
gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable
physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result
in death, or has lasted or can be expected to last for a
continuous period of not less than twelve months. 42 U.S.C.
§§ 416(I), 423(d)(1) (2012); 20 C.F.R. §
404.1505 (2015). The impairment must be severe, making
Plaintiff unable to do her previous work, or any other
substantial gainful activity which exists in the national
economy. § 423(d)(2); 20 C.F.R. §§
must follow five steps in evaluating a claim of disability.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The claimant has the burden of
proving the existence of a disability as defined by the
Social Security Act. Carnes v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d
1215, 1218 (11th Cir. 1991). First, if a claimant is working
at a substantial gainful activity, she is not disabled.
§ 404.1520(b). Second, if a claimant does not have any
impairment or combination of impairments which significantly
limit her physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities, then she does not have a severe impairment and is
not disabled. § 404.1520(c). Third, if a claimant's
impairments meet or equal an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, she is disabled. §
404.1520(d). Fourth, if a claimant's impairments do not
prevent her from doing past relevant work, she is not
disabled. §§ 404.1520(e)-(f). Fifth, if a
claimant's impairments (considering her RFC, age,
education, and past work) prevent her from doing other work
that exists in the national economy, then she is disabled.
burden of proof regarding the plaintiff's inability to
perform past relevant work initially lies with the plaintiff.
Walker v. Bowen, 826 F.2d 996, 1002 (11th Cir.
1987); see also Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274,
1278 (11th Cir. 2001). The burden then temporarily shifts to
the Commissioner to demonstrate that “other work”
which the claimant can perform currently exists in the
national economy. Doughty, 245 F.3d at 1278
SUMMARY OF THE RECORD
determined that Plaintiff has the severe impairments of
sciatica, inflammatory arthritis, right cubital tunnel
syndrome, obesity, mood disorder, and panic disorder. R. 20.
Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or equals the listings. The ALJ
determined that Plaintiff has the RFC for light work, with
additional postural and mental limitations. The ALJ concluded
that Plaintiff's subjective complaints regarding the
limiting effects of her impairments were not entirely
credible, in view of the objective medical evidence which
reflected very conservative treatment, and in view of the
evidence reflecting her ability to perform ADL's such as
caring for her personal needs, driving, shopping for
necessities, preparing simple meals, handling finances, and
following written and spoken instructions. R. 23-24. To
support this finding, the ALJ extensively discussed the
relevant medical evidence, including the assessment of an
examining consulting physician, Dr. Humphreys, and the
opinions of non-examining consultants, who concluded that
Plaintiff could perform work at the medium exertional level.
In finding that Plaintiff had the RFC for a reduced range of
light work, the ALJ explained that he did so out of an
abundance of caution and viewing Plaintiff's subjective
complaints in a light most favorable to her. R. 27.
had no past relevant work. Based upon the testimony of a VE,
the ALJ determined that in view of Plaintiff's age,
education, work experience, and RFC, there are jobs that
exist in significant numbers in the national economy that
Plaintiff can perform, such as office helper, marker, and
mail clerk. The ALJ therefore found that Plaintiff was not
disabled. R. 28-29.
Medical and Opinion Evidence
arguments on appeal focus on asserted disability stemming
from her obesity, back pain, and radiculopathy which she
contends prevent her from standing for six hours in an
eight-hour workday, as required to maintain full-time
employment. (ECF No. 20 at 27.) Therefore, the Court's
summary of the evidence focuses on those impairments.
was treated at UF Physicians in 2012 for complaints of back,
hip, and leg pain and history of falls as well as other
conditions, such as asthma, that are not relevant to her
appeal. At one visit, Plaintiff reported that her problems
started following a motor vehicle accident in 2008. Plaintiff
stated that the falls occurred because her left leg gave
away. R. 416. In April 2012, Plaintiff presented with a right
arm injury due to a fall on her stairs. R. 422-23. In May
2012, Plaintiff related that her symptoms were initially on
the left side but had progressed to the right. She complained
of right leg weakness resulting in falls. Her neurological
exam was positive for weakness. R. 419-21. As of June 2012,
Plaintiff was not willing to repeat imaging studies that
reportedly were done in the past. Plaintiff complained of
weight gain, but stated that she was unable to exercise due
to falls. R. 416-18.
her application for SSI, Plaintiff sought care at UF
Health's neurology clinic in December 2012 for lower back
and right leg pain. Plaintiff related a history of being hit
by a patient in 2008 when she was working as a CNA, resulting
in a back injury. She alleged inability to sit for long
periods, frequent falling, right leg weakness, and right hip
pain. R. 390. Plaintiff had a positive straight leg raising
test, but all other tests reflected 5/5 strength in upper and
lower extremities. The physician expressed concern about
L5-S1 radiculopathy, and the plan was to order imaging of the
lumbar spine and hip. Plaintiff's weight was reported as
265 pounds. The neurologist prescribed Mobic for pain. R.
followup visit with her family practitioner, Plaintiff's
physical examination findings were normal and her psychiatric
status was assessed as normal. Plaintiff reported some relief
from the Mobic. R. 396-97. Plaintiff did not follow up ...