Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Cassiani v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

June 14, 2018

HELEN CASSIANI, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          MAC R. MCCOY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This cause comes before the Court on Plaintiff Helen Cassiani's Complaint filed on April 12, 2017. (Doc. 1). Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying her claims for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. The Commissioner filed the Transcript of the proceedings (hereinafter referred to as “Tr.” followed by the appropriate page number), and the parties filed a Joint Memorandum (Doc. 17), which sets forth their positions. For the reasons set out herein, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED pursuant to § 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         I. Social Security Act Eligibility, Procedural History, the ALJ's Decision, and Standard of Review A. Eligibility

         The law defines disability as the inability to do any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months. 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423(d)(1)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505.[1] The impairment must be severe, making the claimant unable to do her previous work, or any other substantial gainful activity that exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505 -404.1511. Plaintiff bears the burden of persuasion through step four, while the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987).

         B. Procedural History

         On March 20, 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for period of disability and disability insurance benefits with an alleged onset date of November 1, 2011. (See Tr. at 192). The application was denied initially on June 6, 2012, and upon reconsideration on August 17, 2012. (Tr. at 90, 105). A video hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) David J. Begley on January 28, 2015. (Tr. at 34-74). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on April 21, 2015. (Tr. at 9-32). The ALJ found that Plaintiff had not been under a disability from November 1, 2011, through the date of this decision. (Tr. at 26).

         On September 14, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. at 4-9). Plaintiff filed a Complaint (Doc. 1) in this Court on April 12, 2017. Defendant filed an Answer (Doc. 8) on June 19, 2017. The parties filed a Joint Memorandum setting forth their positions on the relevant issues. (Doc. 17). The parties consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge for all proceedings. (See Doc. 14). This case is ripe for review.

         C. Summary of the ALJ's Decision

         An ALJ must follow a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine if a claimant has proven that she is disabled. Packer v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 542 Fed.Appx. 890, 891 (11th Cir. 2013) (citing Jones v. Apfel, 190 F.3d 1224, 1228 (11th Cir. 1999)).[2] An ALJ must determine whether the claimant: (1) is performing substantial gainful activity; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has a severe impairment that meets or equals an impairment specifically listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; (4) has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform her past relevant work; and (5) can perform other work of the sort found in the national economy. Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1237-40 (11th Cir. 2004). The claimant has the burden of proof through step four and then the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five. Hines-Sharp v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 511 Fed.Appx. 913, 915 n.2 (11th Cir. 2013).

         As an initial matter, the ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act though December 31, 2016. (Tr. at 17). At step one of the sequential evaluation, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 1, 2011, the alleged onset date. (Id.). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: “sleep apnea, hypersomnolence, mild carpal tunnel syndrome of the right hand, and fibromyalgia.” (Id.). At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart. P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526)). (Tr. at 20).

         Based on the evidence, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform “light work” except:

[Plaintiff] can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolding; never crawl; occasionally climb ramps and stairs; occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, and crouch; is limited to frequent handling, fingering and feeling with the right dominant hand; must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme heat and cold; must avoid irritants such as fumes, odors, dusts, gases, and poorly ventilated areas; must avoid slippery and uneven surfaces as well as hazardous machinery, unprotected heights, and open flames.

(Tr. at 20-21).

         At step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff is capable of performing past relevant work as a casino manager, arcade attendant, or retail sales clerk. (Tr. at 26). The ALJ found that this work does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by Plaintiff's RFC. (Id.). Additionally, the ALJ found that Plaintiff “performed these jobs for several years, which is sufficient to develop the necessary skills for each position.” (Id.). The ALJ further found the VE's testimony to be consistent with the DOT, with the exception of her testimony regarding tolerable workplace absences, which is based upon her over 20 years of experience as a vocational rehabilitation consultant. (Id.). Ultimately, the ALJ found the VE's testimony to be credible and uncontested. (Id.). Thus, the ALJ accepted the VE's testimony in accordance with SSR 00-4p. (Id.).

         As a final matter, the ALJ noted the VE's testimony that, even if Plaintiff were unable to return to her past relevant work, Plaintiff acquired cashiering and clerical recording skills in her past relevant work that would transfer to other jobs at the sedentary level. (Id.). Specifically, the VE opined that Plaintiff could perform work as a check clerk cashier (DOT #211.462-026), which is considered semi-skilled, sedentary work, and of which there are 31, 115 jobs in the national economy. (Id.).

         In sum, in comparing Plaintiff's RFC with the physical and mental demands of her past relevant work, [3] the ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the ability to perform it as it was generally performed. (Id.). Thus, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not been under a disability from November 1, 2011, through the date of this decision. (Id.).

         D. Standard of Review

         The scope of this Court's review is limited to determining whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standard, McRoberts v. Bowen, 841 F.2d 1077, 1080 (11th Cir. 1988), and whether the findings are supported by substantial evidence, 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). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla-i.e., the evidence must do more than merely create a suspicion of the existence of a fact, and must include 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) (citing Walden v. Schweiker, 672 F.2d 835, 838 (11th Cir. 1982); Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401).

         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, 67 F.3d at 1560; accord ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.