United States District Court, N.D. Florida, Pensacola Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
ELIZABETH M. TIMOTHY, CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
case has been referred to the undersigned magistrate judge
pursuant to the authority of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and
Local Rules 72.1(A), 72.2(D) and 72.3 of this court relating
to review of administrative determinations under the Social
Security Act (“Act”) and related statutes, 42
U.S.C. § 401, et seq. It is now before the
court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the Act for
review of a final determination of the Commissioner of Social
Security (“Commissioner”) denying Plaintiff's
application for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) under Title II of the Act, 42 U.S.C.
review of the record before this court, it is the opinion of
the undersigned that the findings of fact and determinations
of the Commissioner are supported by substantial evidence;
thus, the decision of the Commissioner should be affirmed.
April 12, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB, and
in the application she alleged disability beginning on May
15, 2008 (tr. 21, 250). Her application was denied initially
and on reconsideration, and thereafter Plaintiff requested a
hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”). A hearing was held on May 29, 2015 (tr.
21). On July 1, 2015, Plaintiff amended her onset date to
November 20, 2013 (tr. 172). On August 17, 2015, the ALJ
issued a decision in which he found Plaintiff “not
disabled, ” as defined under the Act, at any time
through the date of his decision (tr. 21-29). Next, on May
16, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request
for review (tr. 2). Thus, the decision of the ALJ stands as
the final decision of the Commissioner, subject to review in
this court. Ingram v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.
Admin., 496 F.3d 1253, 1262 (11th Cir. 2007). This
FINDINGS OF THE ALJ
August 17, 2015, the ALJ made several findings relative to
the issues raised in this appeal (tr. 21-29):
1) Plaintiff last met the insured status requirement of the
Act on December 31, 2013;
2) Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity
during the period from her initial alleged onset date of May
15, 2008, through her date last insured;
3) Through the date last insured, Plaintiff had the following
severe impairments: hypertension, hypothyroidism, obesity,
mild lumbar degenerative disc disease (“DDD”),
and lumbar facet disease;
4) Through the date last insured, Plaintiff had no impairment
or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled
the severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1;
5) Through the date last insured, Plaintiff had the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform the full
range of medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §
6) Through the date last insured, Plaintiff was able to
perform her past relevant work as a real estate agent, as
such work did not require the performance of work-related
activities precluded by her RFC;
7) Plaintiff was not under a disability, as defined in the
Act, at any time between May 15, 2008, the initial alleged
onset date, and December 31, 2013, the date last insured.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
of the Commissioner's final decision is limited to
determining whether the decision is supported by substantial
evidence from the record and was a result of the application
of proper legal standards. Carnes v. Sullivan, 936
F.2d 1215, 1218 (11th Cir. 1991) (“[T]his Court may
reverse the decision of the [Commissioner] only when
convinced that it is not supported by substantial evidence or
that proper legal standards were not applied.”);
see also Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1439
(11th Cir. 1997); Walker v. Bowen, 826 F.2d 996, 999
(11th Cir. 1987). “A determination that is supported by
substantial evidence may be meaningless . . . if it is
coupled with or derived from faulty legal principles.”
Boyd v. Heckler, 704 F.2d 1207, 1209 (11th Cir.
1983), superseded by statute on other grounds as stated
in Elam v. R.R. Ret. Bd., 921 F.2d 1210, 1214 (11th Cir.
1991). As long as proper legal standards were applied, the
Commissioner's decision will not be disturbed if in light
of the record as a whole the decision appears to be supported
by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Falge
v. Apfel, 150 F.3d 1320, 1322 (11th Cir. 1998);
Lewis, 125 F.3d at 1439; Foote v. Chater,
67 F.3d 1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1995). Substantial evidence is
more than a scintilla, but not a preponderance; it is
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct.
1420, 1427, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971) (quoting Consolidated
Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 59 S.Ct. 206, 217, 83
L.Ed. 126 (1938)); Lewis, 125 F.3d at 1439. The
court may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or
substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner.
Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir.
1990) (citations omitted). Even if the evidence preponderates
against the Commissioner's decision, the decision must be
affirmed if supported by substantial evidence. Sewell v.
Bowen, 792 F.2d 1065, 1067 (11th Cir. 1986).
defines a disability as an “inability to engage in any
substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically
determinable physical or mental impairment which can be
expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be
expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12
months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). To qualify as a
disability the physical or mental impairment must be so
severe that the claimant is not only unable to do her
previous work, “but cannot, considering [her] age,
education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of
substantial gainful work which exists in the national
economy.” Id. § 423(d)(2)(A).
to 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)-(g), the Commissioner
analyzes a disability claim in five steps:
the claimant is performing substantial gainful activity, she
is not disabled.
the claimant is not performing substantial gainful activity,
her impairments must be severe before she can be found
the claimant is not performing substantial gainful activity
and she has severe impairments that have lasted or are
expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve
months, and if her impairments meet or medically equal the
criteria of any impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1, the claimant is presumed disabled
without further inquiry.
the claimant's impairments do not prevent her from doing
her past relevant work, she is not disabled.
if the claimant's impairments prevent her from performing
her past relevant work, if other work exists in significant
numbers in the national economy that accommodates her RFC and
vocational factors, she is not disabled.
claimant bears the burden of establishing a severe impairment
that keeps her from performing her past work. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1512. If the claimant establishes such an
impairment, the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step
five to show the existence of other jobs in the national
economy which, given the claimant's impairments, the
claimant can perform. MacGregor v. Bowen, 786 F.2d
1050, 1052 (11th Cir. 1986). If the Commissioner carries this
burden, the claimant must then prove she cannot perform the
work suggested by the Commissioner. Hale v. Bowen,
831 F.2d 1007, 1011 (11th Cir. 1987).
case comes before the court with an unusual backdrop. As
noted above, Plaintiff amended her onset date in this case to
November 20, 2013, or slightly more than one month prior to
the expiration of her insured status for DIB purposes. And in
amending her onset date, Antonio Bruni, the attorney who