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Assenza v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

June 14, 2018



          Julie S. Sneed, Judge

         Plaintiff, Dean Gerard Assenza, seeks judicial review of the denial of his claim for supplemental security income. As the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”) decision was based on substantial evidence and employed proper legal standards, the decision is affirmed.


         A. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income on May 7, 2008. (Tr. 461.) A hearing was held before an ALJ on July 19, 2010, and the ALJ subsequently issued an unfavorable decision. (Tr. 197-231, 235-50.) The Appeals Council remanded the case for further proceedings. (Tr. 254-58.) After a second hearing before an ALJ, Plaintiff again received an unfavorable decision on May 5, 2012. (Tr. 152-96, 262-77.) The Appeals Council again remanded the claim for further proceedings. (Tr. 283-86.) Plaintiff had a third hearing on August 12, 2015. (Tr. 79-151.) Following the hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding Plaintiff not disabled and accordingly denied Plaintiff's claims for benefits. (Tr. 15-37.) Subsequently, Plaintiff requested review from the Appeals Council, which the Appeals Council denied. (Tr. 1-4.) Plaintiff then timely filed a Complaint with this Court. (Dkt. 1.) The case is now ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3).

         B. Factual Background and the ALJ's Decision

         Plaintiff, who was born in 1965, claimed disability beginning on December 1, 2006. (Tr. 461.) Plaintiff has a limited education. (Tr. 518.) Plaintiff has no past relevant work experience. (Tr. 35.) Plaintiff alleged disability due to back, neck, and left knee injuries. (Tr. 514.)

         In rendering the decision, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had not performed substantial gainful activity since May 7, 2008, the application date. (Tr. 20.) After conducting a hearing and reviewing the evidence of record, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: disorders of the spine, left patellofemoral syndrome, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease with commingling tobacco dependence, a cognitive disorder/learning disorder, an affective disorder variously diagnosed as schizoaffective versus depressive versus mood disorders, generalized anxiety disorder, a personality disorder variously diagnosed as antisocial personality versus intermittent explosive personality disorders, and substance abuse disorder. (Id.)

         Notwithstanding the noted impairments, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 24.) The ALJ then concluded that Plaintiff retained a residual functional capacity (“RFC”) as follows:

[C]laimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b), except he can frequently climb ramps and stairs and never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. The claimant can occasionally stoop, can frequently crouch and crawl, and can occasionally reach overhead. He can have frequent exposure to extreme cold, heat, and humidity, as well as frequent exposure to fumes, odors, dusts, gases, and poor ventilation. The claimant can have frequent exposure to hazards, such as moving, mechanical parts of equipment, tools, and machinery. The claimant can understand, carryout, and remember short, simple instructions toward the goal of completing job tasks consisting of recurrent, uniform steps with only basic changes in the work setting and that does not involve assembly line pace or production quotas and does not involve more than occasional interaction with the general public, supervisors, and coworkers.

(Tr. 29.) In formulating Plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ considered Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined that, although the evidence established the presence of underlying impairments that reasonably could be expected to produce the symptoms alleged, Plaintiff's statements as to the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of his symptoms were not fully credible. (Tr. 30.)

         As noted, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have any past relevant work. (Tr. 35.) Given Plaintiff's background and RFC, the VE testified that Plaintiff could perform other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy, such as a produce sorter, laundry folder, and photo copy/scanner operator. (Tr. 36.) Accordingly, based on Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, RFC, and the testimony of the VE, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled. (Id.)


         To be entitled to benefits, a claimant must be disabled, meaning that the claimant must be unable to engage in 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. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). A “physical or mental impairment” is an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological ...

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