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Smith v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

April 25, 2018

ANDREA SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER [1]

          THOMAS B. SMITH UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Ac t (“Act”), as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) denying her claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. Upon review, the Commissioner's final decision is AFFIRMED.

         Background[2]

         On April 17, 2009, Plaintiff filed for benefits, alleging an onset date of December 31, 2008 (Tr. 327-329). She claimed that she was disabled due to “problem with left hip, pain in left hip, pain in right knee, swelling in both feet, pain in legs and feet, heart problems, problems with bladder, hysterectomy, high blood pressure, thyroid problems, high cholesterol, anxiety, depression nervousness, trouble sleeping, fatigue and cysts on left breast” (Tr. 361). In May of 2010, Administrative Law Judge David Daugherty issued a fully favorable decision granting Plaintiff's application (Tr. 169-72). Five years later, the Commissioner informed Plaintiff that her eligibility for benefits would need to be re-determined because there was reason to believe that she had been awarded benefits as the result of fraud (Tr. 210-13). In 2016, Administrative Law Judge A. Benton (the “ALJ”) held a new hearing and issued a decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled between December 31, 2008, through May 3, 2010, the date the agency initially allowed the claim, and terminated Plaintiff's benefits (Tr. 10-32, 139-61). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of that decision (Tr. 1-6), making the ALJ's October 12, 2016 decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Having exhausted the available administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed this action for judicial review (Doc. 1).[3]

         The ALJ 's Decision

         In determining whether an individual is disabled, the ALJ must follow the five-step sequential evaluation process established by the Social Security Administration and published in 20 CFR §§ 404.1520(a)(4) and 416.920(a)(4). Specifically, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant: (1) is currently employed; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals an impairment listed at 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; (4) can perform past relevant work; and (5) retains the ability to perform any work in the national economy. See Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1237-1240 (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); Phillips, 357 F.3d at 1241 n.10.

         Here, the ALJ performed the required five-step sequential analysis. At step one, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset date of December 31, 2008, through her date last insured (Tr. 17). At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of lumbar facet degeneration, osteoarthritis of the right knee, status-post meniscus repair of right knee, and obesity (20 CFR 404.1520(c)) (Tr. 17). But, at step three the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (Tr. 20). Next, the ALJ found that, through May 3, 2010, Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to:

perform a range of light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except she could only lift up to 15 pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently. She could balance, stoop, kneel, and crouch occasionally but never crawl. The beneficiary could occasionally climb ramps and stairs but never climb ladders or scaffolds. She could sit for a total of six hours in an eight-hour workday and stand and/or walk for six hours in an eight-hour workday. Lastly, she needed to avoid concentrated exposure to hazards, such as unprotected heights or moving mechanical parts.

(Tr. 20).

         At step four, with the assistance of a vocational expert's (“VE”) testimony, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was capable of performing past relevant work as a storeowner, and so was not under a disability at any time from December 31, 2008, through May 3, 2010 (Tr. 25).

         Standard of Review

         The scope of the Court's review is limited to determining whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence. Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004). Findings of fact are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is “more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance. It is such relevant evidence that a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (citation omitted).

         When 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 preponderance of the evidence is against the Commissioner's decision. Miles v. Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996). The district court “may not decide facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute our judgment for that of the [Commissioner.]” Id. "The district court must view the record as a whole, taking into account evidence favorable as well as unfavorable to the decision." Foote v. Chater,67 F.3d 1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1995) (perc ...


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