United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division
BREANNA SCHNITZLEIN, substituted party for Tina L. Schnitzlein (deceased), Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
MCCOY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
cause comes before the Court on Plaintiff Breanna
Schnitzlein's Complaint (Doc. 1) filed on October 21,
2016. Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the final decision
of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
denying the claim of Tina L. Schnitzlein
(“claimant”) for a period of disability and
disability insurance benefits. The Commissioner filed the
Transcript of the proceedings (hereinafter referred to as
“Tr.” followed by the appropriate page number),
and the parties filed legal memoranda in support of their
positions. For the reasons set out herein, the decision of
the Commissioner is REVERSED AND REMANDED
pursuant to § 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42
U.S.C. § 405(g).
Social Security Act Eligibility, Procedural History, the
ALJ's Decision, and Standard of
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 that 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)(A); 20 C.F.R. §
404.1505. The impairment must be severe, making the
claimant unable to do her previous work, or any other
substantial gainful activity that exists in the national
economy. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2); 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1505 -404.1511. Plaintiff bears the burden of persuasion
through step four, while the burden shifts to the
Commissioner at step five. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482
U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987).
August 30, 2014, the claimant filed an application for a
period of disability and disability insurance benefits with
an alleged onset date of December 31, 2010. (Tr. at 168). The
application was denied initially on September 26, 2013 and
upon reconsideration on December 2, 2013. (Tr. at 88, 104). A
hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) William G. Reamon on October 22, 2015.
(Tr. at 31-64). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on
November 4, 2015. (Tr. at 13-30). The ALJ found the claimant
not to be under a disability at any time from December 31,
2010, the alleged onset date, through September 30, 2015, the
date last insured. (Tr. at 25).
6, 2016, the Appeals Council denied the claimant's
request for review. (Tr. at 5-10). Plaintiff filed a
Complaint (Doc. 1) in this Court on October 21, 2016.
Defendant filed an Answer (Doc. 8) on December 16, 2016. The
parties filed memoranda in support. (Docs. 12, 15, 18). The
parties consented to proceed before a United States
Magistrate Judge for all proceedings. (See Doc. 20).
This case is ripe for review.
Summary of the ALJ's Decision
must follow a five-step sequential evaluation process to
determine if a claimant has proven that she is disabled.
Packer v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 542 F. App'x
890, 891 (11th Cir. 2013) (citing Jones v. Apfel,
190 F.3d 1224, 1228 (11th Cir. 1999)). An ALJ must
determine whether the claimant: (1) is performing substantial
gainful activity; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has a
severe impairment that meets or equals an impairment
specifically listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1; (4) has the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform her past relevant work; and
(5) can perform other work of the sort found in the national
economy. Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232,
1237-40 (11th Cir. 2004). The claimant has the burden of
proof through step four and then the burden shifts to the
Commissioner at step five. Hines-Sharp v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 511 F. App'x 913, 915 n.2 (11th Cir.
initial matter, the ALJ found that the claimant last met the
insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on
September 30, 2015. (Tr. at 18). At step one of the
sequential evaluation, the ALJ found that the claimant had
not engaged in substantial gainful activity during the period
from December 31, 2010, the alleged onset date, through
September 30, 2015, the date last insured. (Id.). At
step two, the ALJ found that the claimant suffered from the
following severe impairments: “neuropathy, low back
disc bulge and fibromyalgia.” (Id.). At step
three, the ALJ determined that the claimant did not have an
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 (20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526)). (Tr.
on the evidence, the ALJ determined that the claimant had the
RFC to perform “light work” except the claimant
“is further limited to occasional climbing and
balancing of ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes and scaffolds; and
should avoid concentrated exposure to vibration; and should
avoid concentrated exposure to hazards (dangerous moving
machinery, unprotected heights, etc.).” (Tr. at 20).
four, the ALJ determined that “[t]hrough the date last
insured, the claimant was capable of performing past relevant
work as a waitress” because “[t]his work did not
require the performance of work-related activities precluded
by the claimant's residual functional capacity.”
(Tr. at 25). Specifically, the ALJ noted and found persuasive
the vocational expert's (“VE”) testimony that
the claimant is able to perform her past work.
(Id.). In comparing the claimant's RFC with the
physical and mental demands of her past relevant work, the
ALJ found that the work did not exceed the claimant's
RFC. (Id.). The ALJ found, therefore, that
“the claimant is able to perform this type of work as
actually and generally performed.” (Id.).
the ALJ found that the claimant could perform her past
relevant work, the ALJ did not proceed to step five. (See
id.). In sum, the ALJ concluded that the claimant was
not under a disability, at any time from December 31, 2010,
the alleged onset date, through September 30, 2015, the date
last insured. (Id.).
Standard of Review
scope of this Court's review is limited to determining
whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standard,
McRoberts v. Bowen, 841 F.2d 1077, 1080 (11th Cir.
1988), and whether the findings are supported by substantial
evidence, Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390
(1971). The Commissioner's findings of fact are
conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). 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, 402 U.S. at 401).
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 n.3 (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, 67 F.3d at 1560;