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Messer v. Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration

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

June 12, 2018

AMY MESSER, Plaintiff,



         THIS CAUSE is before the Court on Plaintiff's appeal of an administrative decision denying her applications for period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income. Plaintiff alleges she became disabled on May 10, 2014. Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. A hearing was held before the assigned Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on May 17, 2016, at which Plaintiff was represented by an attorney. (Tr. 42-96.) The ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled since May 10, 2014, the alleged onset date, through January 11, 2017, the date of the decision. (Tr. 26-36.)

         Plaintiff is appealing the Commissioner's decision that she was not disabled during the relevant time period. Plaintiff has exhausted her available administrative remedies and the case is properly before the Court. The undersigned has reviewed the record, the briefs, and the applicable law. For the reasons stated herein, the undersigned determines that the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

         I. Standard of Review

         The scope of this Court's review is limited to determining whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards, McRoberts v. Bowen, 841 F.2d 1077, 1080 (11th Cir. 1988), and whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence, Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971). “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004). 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, and even if the reviewer finds that the evidence preponderates 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). The district court must view the evidence 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); accord Lowery v. Sullivan, 979 F.2d 835, 837 (11th Cir. 1992) (stating the court must scrutinize the entire record to determine the reasonableness of the Commissioner's factual findings).

         II. Discussion

         Plaintiff argues on appeal that the ALJ did not adequately account for the opinions of consultative physician Thomas Falls, M.D., in his residual function capacity (“RFC”) assessment and failed to account for Dr. Falls' opinions when relying on the testimony of the vocational expert (“VE”). Specifically, Plaintiff argues that the limitations on Plaintiff's ability to lift as outlined in Dr. Falls' consultative report would render Plaintiff disabled. (Doc. 18.)

         Defendant responds that the ALJ properly considered the opinions of Dr. Falls when determining Plaintiff's RFC in this case. Defendant also contends that the ALJ presented a proper hypothetical question to the VE. (Doc. 19.)

         A. The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had severe impairments, including “chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (‘COPD'); osteoarthritis; chronic renal failure; lumbar degenerative disc disease; hypertension; and affective mood disorder.” (Tr. 25.) The ALJ then determined at step three that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments. (Tr. 26-27.)

         At step four, the ALJ made the following RFC determination:

[T]he [Plaintiff] has the [RFC] to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except with the option to alternate between sitting and standing every 30 minutes; only occasional climbing of ramps and stairs; no climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; occasional balancing and stooping; no kneeling, crouching, or crawling; no concentrated exposure to extreme heat or cold; no concentrated exposure to respiratory irritants, moving mechanical parts, or unprotected heights; can interact occasionally with the general public and coworkers; and can adequate[ly] relate to supervisors. The individual is limited to performing simple tasks with little variation that take short periods of time to learn (up to and including 30 days, such as SVP 1-2) and she is able to deal with changes in a routine work setting.

(Tr. 28.) In making his finding, the ALJ evaluated, inter alia, the medical opinion evidence and accorded significant weight to the opinions of state agency reviewing physician, Donna Sadler, M.D., who opined that Plaintiff was capable of lifting or carrying ten (10) pounds frequently and twenty (20) pounds occasionally. (Tr. 31 & 71.) Further, the ALJ accorded significant weight to the opinions of Dr.Falls because his assessment was “generally consistent with other evidence of record and [was] based on in-person examination observations, signs and findings.” (Tr. 32.) Dr. Falls opined that the Plaintiff would “not be able to lift greater than ten (10) pounds on a regular continued [sic] basis . . . and the [Plaintiff] would be able to perform non-physically vigorous jobs without limitation.” (Tr. 454.)

         With the benefit of testimony from the VE, the ALJ determined that there are other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform based on her age, education, work experience, and RFC, such as mail sorter, office helper, and ticket ...

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