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Roberts v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

April 27, 2018




         Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), to obtain judicial review of a final decision of Defendant, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) denying his claims for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income. Upon review, I respectfully recommend that the Commissioner's final decision in this case be AFFIRMED, pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).


         On July 25, 2006, Plaintiff filed for benefits, alleging an onset date of January 1, 2003 (Tr. 255-262). He claimed he was disabled due to Hepatitis C, fatigue, weakness, headaches, shoulder and arm problems, and depression (Tr. 389). His claims were denied initially and on reconsideration (Tr. 144-147, 149-152, and 154-156). Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) and on February 23, 2007, ALJ David B. Daugherty issued a fully favorable decision finding, without a hearing, that Plaintiff was disabled as of November 18, 2005 (Tr. 132-138, 153).

         On May 18, 2015, the Commissioner informed Plaintiff that his eligibility for benefits needed to be re-determined because there was reason to believe his award was based on fraud (Tr. 157-163). In 2016, ALJ Amy Benton held an administrative hearing and, on June 29, 2016, she issued a decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled during the relevant time period of January 1, 2003 (Plaintiff's alleged onset date) through February 23, 2007 (the date of the prior decision) (Tr. 32-55, 58-83). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of this decision, making ALJ Benton's June 2016 decision the final decision of the Commissioner (Tr. 10-15).

         Having exhausted his available administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed this action for judicial review (Doc. 1).[2] The dispute has been fully briefed, and was referred to me for a report and recommendation.

         The ALJ's Decision

         When determining whether an individual is disabled, the ALJ must follow the five-step sequential evaluation process published in 20 C.F.R. §§ 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 C.F.R. 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 to prove that other jobs exist in the national economy that the claimant can perform. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n. 5 (1987); Phillips, 357 F.3d at 1241 n.10.

         The ALJ performed the required sequential analysis in this case. At step one, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date and through February 23, 2007 (Tr. 39). At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of carpal tunnel syndrome in the left upper extremity, left rotator cuff tear, history of substance abuse, borderline intellectual functioning, and antisocial personality disorder (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)) (Tr. 39). At step three, the ALJ found 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. 40-42). Next, the ALJ decided that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform

medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c) except the beneficiary could only occasionally reach overhead and frequently in all other directions with the upper non-dominant extremity. Further, the beneficiary (1) understand, remember and carry out simple instructions; (2) have occasional interaction with supervisors, coworkers and the public; (3) only make simple, work-related decisions; and (4) only tolerate occasional change in work location.

(Tr. 42).

         At step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had no past relevant work (Tr. 47).[3]Based on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ concluded at step five that considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that he could have performed during the relevant time period (Tr. 47-48, 78-79). As a result, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not under a disability from January 1, 2003, through February 23, 2007, the date of the prior decision (Tr. 48-49).

         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 ...

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