United States District Court, S.D. Florida, Miami Division
ORDER ON CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
JONATHAN GOODMAN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
case challenges a denial of social security benefits.
Plaintiff Carolyn Veronica Childress and Defendant Nancy A.
Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration, filed cross-motions for summary judgment.
[ECF Nos. 2');">23-2');">2; 2');">26]. The Commissioner's motion also
served as her opposition response to Plaintiff's motion.
[ECF No. 2');">27]. Although the Undersigned's scheduling order
required Plaintiff to file a response to the
Commissioner's motion and authorized Plaintiff to file a
reply in support of her motion [ECF No. 2');">22');">2, ¶¶
3-4], Plaintiff did not file the mandatory response or
optional reply, and the time to do so has long expired. After
the parties consented to full magistrate-judge jurisdiction,
United States District Judge Joan A. Lenard referred the
entire case to the Undersigned. [ECF Nos. 2');">20-2');">21].
explained below, the Court denies Plaintiff's summary
judgment motion, grants the Commissioner's summary
judgment motion, and enters a final judgment in the
the Administrative Law Judge (the “ALJ”) rendered
her decision, Plaintiff was 54 years old and approximately
two months from turning 55. (R. 17, 57).[2');">2" name="FN2');">2" id="FN2');">2">2');">2] Plaintiff worked
previously as a janitor, personal care aide, food deliverer,
and parking lot attendant. (R. 37-38, 2');">259-2');">260, 300). She also
briefly worked as a janitor at Walmart after her alleged
impairments began. (R. 37-38). She has a high-school
education. (R. 55).
November 2');">2012');">2, Plaintiff applied for social security
benefits, alleging disability with an onset date of August
2');">2012');">2, due to chronic right knee pain, disc problems in the
lower back, arthritis in her hands, and depression and
anxiety. (R. 103-04, 110-11, 119, 12');">28). The Commissioner
denied the applications initially and on reconsideration, and
Plaintiff asked for a hearing. (R. 103-38, 168). In June
2');">2015, Plaintiff appeared with an attorney before the ALJ. (R.
50-102');">2). A vocational expert (the “VE”) provided
testimony at the hearing. (R. 90-100).
September 2');">2015, the ALJ issued an opinion, concluding that
Plaintiff was not disabled. (R. 17-44). The Appeals Council
denied Plaintiff's request for review. (R. 1-5). The
Commissioner's final decision is now subject to review.
The Five-Step Evaluation Process for Disability
evaluating a claim for disability benefits, an ALJ must
follow the five steps outlined in 2');">20 C.F.R. §§
416.92');">20(a) and 404.152');">20, which the Court summarizes as
1. Step one. Is the claimant performing
substantial gainful activity? If not, then an ALJ next
2');">2. Step two. Does the claimant have one or
more severe impairments? If the claimant does, then an ALJ
3. Step three. Does the claimant have a
severe impairment that meets or equals an impairment
specifically listed in 2');">20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1? If so, then the claimant is disabled; if not,
then an ALJ must determine claimant's RFC residual
functional capacity (“RFC”); and then determine:
4. Step four. Based on the RFC, can claimant
perform his or her past relevant work? If so, then the
claimant is not disabled. If the claimant cannot perform his
or her past relevant work, then an ALJ must finally
5. Step five. Based on the claimant's
age, education, and work experience, and the RFC, can he or
she perform other work? If so, then the claimant is not
disabled. If not, then the claimant is disabled and entitled
See, e.g., Phillips v. Barnhart, 2');">232');">2');">357 F.3d 12');">232');">2, 12');">237
(11th Cir. 2');">2004).
reviewing the decision, the Court must consider the record as
a whole and determine whether the ALJ applied the correct
legal standard and whether substantial evidence in the record
supports his or her findings of fact. Powers v.
Heckler, 2');">2d 1151');">738 F.2');">2d 1151, 1152');">2 (11th Cir. 1984).
“Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, but
less than a preponderance. It is such relevant evidence as a
reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Phillips, 357 F.3d at 12');">240 n. 8
(internal citation omitted).
the Court applies a presumption in favor of an ALJ's
finding of fact, no such presumption applies to an ALJ's
legal conclusions. Thus, the Court must reverse if an ALJ
incorrectly applied the law or if the decision fails to
provide the Court with sufficient reasoning to determine
whether the law was properly applied. Perez v. Comm'r
of Soc. Sec., No. 6:06-CV-1648-ORL-19KRS, 2');">2008 WL
191036, at *5 (M.D. Fla. Jan. 2');">22');">2, 2');">2008). An ALJ's failure
to specify the weight given to evidence contrary to her
decision, or failure to give the reason for discrediting
evidence, is reversible error. Hart v. Astrue, No.
3:10-cv-531-J-TEM, 2');">2011 WL 4356149, at *5 (M.D. Fla. Sept.
Court is authorized to enter a judgment affirming, modifying,
or reversing the decision of an ALJ, with or without remand.
42');">2 U.S.C. § 405(g); Perez, 2');">2008 WL 191036, at *
The ALJ's Decision
step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date.
(R. 2');">24). Although Plaintiff did work at Walmart for a short
period after the onset date, the ALJ classified the
employment as an “unsuccessful work attempt that
occurred after a significant break in the continuity of her
work and ended due to her impairments.” (R. 2');">24).
step two, the ALJ found that claimant had several severe
physical and mental impediments. (R. 2');">24-2');">25). The severe
physical impairments were osteoarthritis of the spine and
obesity. (R. 2');">24).
step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that meets or
medically equals the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 2');">20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (R.
step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has an RFC to perform
“medium work” subject to some other limitations.
(R. 31). The additional physical limitations are that
Plaintiff “can occasionally climb ramps/stairs,
balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl, but never climb
ladders/ropes/scaffolds.” (R. 31). The ALJ also found
that Plaintiff “can tolerate frequent exposure to cold,
humidity, and hazards such as dangerous machinery and
unprotected heights.” (R. 31).
step five, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was able to perform
her past relevant work as a janitor. (R. 37). But the ALJ
also made two alternative findings. First, she found that the
Medical-Vocational Guidelines, known as the “Grids,
” dictated a finding of “not disabled”
given that Plaintiff was an individual closely approaching
advanced age, had at least a high school education, and could
communicate in English. (R. 39). Second, through the help of
the VE, the ALJ also found that Plaintiff would ...