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Pace v. Berryhill

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division

March 28, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER[1]

          JAMES R. KLINDT United States Magistrate Judge

         I. Status

         Jonathan Pace (“Plaintiff”) is appealing the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration's final decision denying his claims for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”). Plaintiff's alleged inability to work is a result of “[g]out, ” “arthritis, ” “depression, ” “sleep apnea, ” “shortness of breath, ” “edema, ” “olecr[]a[non] bursitis, ” “congestive heart failure, ” “heart murmur, ” “h[igh ]b[lood ]p[ressure], ” “aortic valve problems, ” “hyperlipidemia, ” “hypertension, ” and problems with the “discs in [his] back.” Transcript of Administrative Proceedings (Doc. No. 12; “Tr.” or “administrative transcript”), filed April 14, 2017, at 195-96, 207-08, 221, 234, 383. On August 8, 2013, Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI, alleging an onset disability date of June 12, 2013. Tr. at 318-21 (DIB), 322-27 (SSI). Plaintiff's applications were denied initially, see Tr. at 195-206, 219, 251-53 (DIB), 207-18, 220, 254-56 (SSI), and were denied upon reconsideration, see Tr. at 221-33, 260-64, 247 (DIB), 234-46, 248, 265-69 (SSI).

         On August 11, 2015, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing, during which the ALJ heard from Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, and a vocational expert (“VE”). Tr. at 151-82. At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was forty-nine (49) years old. Tr. at 155. The ALJ issued a Decision on December 4, 2015, finding Plaintiff not disabled through the date of the Decision. Tr. at 135-45. Plaintiff then submitted additional evidence to the Appeals Council in the form of a brief authored by his counsel (with attached job descriptions and case law) and medical records. Tr. at 5-6 (Appeals Council exhibit list[2]); see Tr. at 423-48 (brief with attached job descriptions and case law), 8-122 (medical records). On December 16, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, Tr. at 1-4, thereby making the ALJ's Decision the final decision of the Commissioner. On January 24, 2017, Plaintiff commenced this action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) by timely filing a Complaint (Doc. No. 1), seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision.

         On appeal, Plaintiff makes a single argument: that the ALJ erred “in misinterpreting [VE] testimony or relying on misleading [VE] testimony which was not supported by the substantial evidence.” Memorandum in Opposition to the Commissioner's Decision (Doc. No. 21; “Pl.'s Mem.”), filed September 15, 2017, at 2; see id . at 5-9. On December 13, 2017, Defendant filed a Memorandum in Support of the Commissioner's Decision (Doc. No. 24; “Def.'s Mem.”) addressing Plaintiff's argument.

         After a thorough review of the entire record and consideration of the parties' respective memoranda, the undersigned determines that the Commissioner's final decision is due to be affirmed.

         II. The ALJ's Decision

         When determining whether an individual is disabled, [3] an ALJ must follow the five-step sequential inquiry set forth in the Code of Federal Regulations (“Regulations”), determining as appropriate whether the claimant (1) is currently employed or engaging in substantial gainful activity; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one listed in the Regulations; (4) can perform past relevant work; and (5) retains the ability to perform any work in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; see also Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1237 (11th Cir. 2004). The claimant bears the burden of persuasion through step four and, at step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987).

         Here, the ALJ followed the five-step sequential inquiry. See Tr. at 137-45. At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff “has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 12, 2013, the alleged onset date.” Tr. at 137 (emphasis and citation omitted). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff “has the following severe impairments: cardiomyopathy status post valve replacement surgery, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), degenerative joint disc disease with bone spurs, status post left shoulder rotator cuff repair, gout, hypertension, obesity, degenerative disc disease, depression, and anxiety.” Tr. at 137 (emphasis and citation omitted). At step three, the ALJ ascertained that “[Plaintiff] does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.” Tr. at 138 (emphasis and citation omitted).

         The ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the following residual functional capacity (“RFC”):

[Plaintiff can] perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR [§§] 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a), including the ability to lift 10 pounds occasionally, less than 10 pounds frequently, pushing and pulling also limited to these weights, and stand and/or walk 2 hours and sit 6 hours in an 8-hour workday. He can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, kneel, stoop, crouch, and crawl; but can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He can occasionally reach with the left upper extremity, but never overhead. He must avoid concentrated exposure to temperature extremes, humidity, fumes, odors, dusts, gases, and poor ventilation, as well as hazardous machinery and unprotected heights. He is able to understand, remember, and carry out detailed but not complex instructions. He is able to interact appropriately with supervisors, coworkers, and the general public. Finally, he is able to maintain attention and concentration for 2 hours at a time and adapt to routine changes in the work place.

Tr. at 139-40 (emphasis omitted). At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff “is unable to perform any past relevant work.”[4] Tr. at 143 (some emphasis and citations omitted). At step five, the ALJ considered Plaintiff's age (“47 years old . . . on the alleged disability onset date”), education (“at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English”), work experience, and RFC, and relied on the testimony of the VE to find Plaintiff is capable of performing work that “exist[s] in significant numbers in the national economy.” Tr. at 143-44 (emphasis and citations omitted). Namely, the ALJ identified representative jobs of “Table Worker, ” “Assembler, ” and “Stuffer.” Tr. at 144. The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff “has not been under a disability . . . from June 12, 2013, through the date of th[e D]ecision.” Tr. at 145 (emphasis and citation omitted).

         III. Standard of Review

         This Court reviews the Commissioner's final decision as to disability pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). Although no deference is given to the ALJ's conclusions of law, findings of fact “are conclusive if . . . supported by ‘substantial evidence' . . . .” Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001) (citing Falge v. Apfel, 150 F.3d 1320, 1322 (11th Cir. 1998)). “Substantial evidence is something ‘more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance.'” Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005) (quoting Hale v. Bowen, 831 F.2d 1007, 1011 (11th Cir. 1987)). The substantial evidence standard is met when there is “‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Falge, 150 F.3d at 1322 (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). It is not for this Court to reweigh the evidence; rather, the entire record is reviewed to determine whether “the decision reached is reasonable and supported by substantial evidence.” Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145 (11th Cir. 1991) (internal quotation and citations omitted); see also McRoberts v. Bowen, 841 F.2d 1077, 1080 (11th ...

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