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Rivero v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division

March 26, 2018

GILDA E. RIVERO, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          CAROL MIRANDO, United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Gilda E. Rivero seeks judicial review of the denial of her claims for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”) by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”). The Court has reviewed the record, the briefs and the applicable law. For the reasons discussed herein, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.[1]

         I. Issue on Appeal[2]

         Plaintiff raises three issues on appeal:[3] (1) whether the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) properly found Plaintiff's mental impairments do not meet listings; (2) whether the ALJ properly assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”); and (3) whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's findings at step five.

         II. Summary of the ALJ's Decision

         Plaintiff filed her applications for DIB on May 10, 2012 and SSI on May 18, 2012, alleging her disability began November 12, 2010[4] due to her generalized anxiety disorder, hypoglycemia, panic attacks, constant worry, depression, constant crying and lack of concentration. Tr. 84, 95, 216-31. On April 13, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled from November 12, 2011 through the date of the decision. Tr. 13-29. At step two of the sequential process, [5] the ALJ found Plaintiff had several impairments. Tr. 15. At step three, the ALJ found Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled a listing. Tr. 16. Prior to step four, the ALJ then determined Plaintiff had the RFC to perform a range of medium work[6] with limitations:

[Plaintiff] can lift, carry, push, and pull 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently. [Plaintiff] can sit, stand and walk each 6 hours of 8hour workday. [Plaintiff's] work is limited to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks, with “simple” defined as unskilled tasks. [Plaintiff] is limited to work with no interaction with the public and is limited to work that allows the individual to be off task five percent of the workday in addition to regularly scheduled breaks.

Tr. 20. Next, at step four, the ALJ found Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. Tr. 26. Relying on the testimony of the vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. Tr. 27-28. As a result, she found Plaintiff was not disabled. Tr. 28.

         III. Standard of Review

         The scope of this Court's review is limited to determining whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and whether the findings are supported by substantial evidence. McRoberts v. Bowen, 841 F.2d 1077, 1080 (11th Cir. 1988) (citing 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).[7] Substantial evidence is “more than a scintilla, i.e., evidence that must do more than create a suspicion of the existence of the fact to be established, and 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) (internal citations omitted).

         The Eleventh Circuit has restated that “[i]n determining whether substantial evidence supports a decision, we give great deference to the ALJ's fact findings.” Hunter v. Soc. Sec. Admin., Comm'r, 808 F.3d 818, 822 (11th Cir. 2015) (citation omitted). Where 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 or found that the preponderance of the evidence is 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); see also Lowery v. Sullivan, 979 F.2d 835, 837 (11th Cir. 1992) (stating that the court must scrutinize the entire record to determine the reasonableness of the factual findings). The Court reviews the Commissioner's conclusions of law under a de novo standard of review. Ingram v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 496 F.3d 1253, 1260 (11th Cir. 2007) (citing Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990)).

         IV. Discussion

         A. Whether the ALJ properly found Plaintiff's mental impairments not meet listings

         The ALJ found Plaintiff's major depressive disorder, depressive order not otherwise specified (“NOS”), bipolar disorder, mood disorder NOS, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorders with or without acrophobia, alcohol dependence and poly-substance abuse disorder are severe impairments. Tr. 15. Next, the ALJ considered whether Plaintiff's mental impairments meet any listings and decided they do not. Tr. 17-19. In support, the ALJ considered four broad functional areas known as the “paragraph B” criteria.[8] Tr. 19. The ALJ determined Plaintiff has mild limitations in activities of daily living and moderate limitations in social functioning and concentration, persistence or pace, and has experienced no episodes of decompensation of an extended duration. Id. Thus, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff's mental impairments do not satisfy the paragraph B criteria and:

The mental [RFC] assessment . . . requires a more detailed assessment by itemizing various functions contained in the broad categories found in paragraph B of the adult mental disorders listings in 12.00 of the Listing of Impairments (SSR 96-8p). Therefore, the following [RFC] assessment reflects the degree of limitation [the ALJ] found in the “paragraph B” mental function analysis.

Id.

         In assessing Plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ further considered various assessments of Plaintiff's mental RFC, including those of the state agency's psychologists, Michelle Butler, Psy.D and James L. Meyers, Psy.D. Tr. 25-26, 99-103, 114-18. The ALJ discussed:

The state agency's psychological assessors, Michelle Butler, Psy.D and James L. Meyers, Psy.D., after reviewing [Plaintiff's] record, concluded that [Plaintiff] has mild restrictions in activities of daily living, mild difficulties in maintaining social functioning, moderate difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence or pace, and no episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration. They also opined [Plaintiff] can understand, retain, and carry out simple instructions. [Plaintiff] can consistently and usefully perform routine tasks on a sustained basis, with minimal (normal) supervision, and can cooperate effectively with public and coworkers in completing simple tasks and transactions. [Plaintiff] can adjust to the mental demands of most new task settings (Exhibits 1A, 2A, 5A, 6A). Partial weight is given to these opinions as they are only partially supported by the evidence and they did not have the benefit of reviewing all of the evidence which establishes that [Plaintiff] is more limited than originally opined.

Tr. 25-26.

         Based on the assessments of Drs. Butler and Meyers, Plaintiff argues the ALJ should have found that she has marked limitations in concentration, persistence and pace and social functioning. Doc. 23 at 16-18. Plaintiff asserts these findings would have led to the ALJ's determination that her anxiety disorder meets Listing 12.06. Id. The Commissioner responds the assessments of Drs. Butler and Meyers do not support Plaintiff's arguments, and substantial evidence supports the ALJ's evaluation of Plaintiff's mental impairments. Doc. 27 at 22-26.

         A claimant's mental impairment satisfies Listing 12.06 if the requirements in both paragraphs A and B or in both paragraphs A and C are satisfied. 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1, § 12.06. Paragraph A contains the types of symptoms a claimant must show. Id., ยง ...


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