United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division
OPINION AND ORDER
MCCOY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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. §
Social Security Act Eligibility, Procedural History, the
ALJ's Decision, and Standard of
Review A. Eligibility
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. 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).
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).
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.
Summary of the ALJ's Decision
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)). 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).
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).
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).
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.
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 comparing Plaintiff's RFC with the physical and mental
demands of her past relevant work,  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.).
Standard of Review
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).
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;