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Zaslow v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

July 11, 2018

RAY ZOSLOW, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff, Ray Zoslow, seeks judicial review of the denial of his claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. 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

         On June 23, 2006, Plaintiff was found disabled as of January 1, 2006. (Tr. 94.) During a continuing disability review, it was determined that Plaintiff had experienced a medical improvement and was no longer disabled as of May 9, 2013. (Tr. 94-96.) Upon Plaintiff's request, the ALJ held two hearings at which Plaintiff appeared and testified. (Tr. 36-79.) Following the hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding Plaintiff not disabled and accordingly denied Plaintiff's claims for benefits. (Tr. 15-25.) 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 1968, claimed continuing disability beginning on January 1, 2006. (Tr. 224, 236.) Plaintiff has a high school education. (Tr. 24.) Plaintiff's past relevant work experience includes work as a bagger and stocker. (Id.) Plaintiff alleged continued disability due to major depression, sleep disorder, learning disability, attention deficit disorder, and anxiety. (Tr. 225.)

         In rendering the decision, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had not performed substantial gainful activity since May 2, 2013. (Tr. 17.) After conducting a hearing and reviewing the evidence of record, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: depression, personality disorder, borderline intelligence quotient, attention deficit disorder, learning disability, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes mellitus, obesity, and obstructive sleep apnea. (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. (Id.) The ALJ then concluded that Plaintiff retained a residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work with additional limitations. (Tr. 22.) Specifically, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is precluded from climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds and can occasionally climb ramps and stairs. (Id.) The ALJ further found that Plaintiff is precluded from performing work around dust, fumes, gases, noxious odors, extreme heat, or extreme cold, and is capable of no more than unskilled work involving occasional interaction with the general public. (Id.) 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. 23.)

         Considering Plaintiff's noted impairments and the assessment of a vocational expert (“VE”), however, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff could not perform his past relevant work. (Tr. 24.) 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 sales attendant, an advertising material distributor, and an assembler. (Tr. 25.) Accordingly, based on Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, RFC, and the testimony of the VE, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's disability ended as of May 9, 2013. (Tr. 25.)


         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 abnormalities that are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(3), 1382c(a)(3)(D).

         The Social Security Administration, in order to regularize the adjudicative process, promulgated the detailed regulations currently in effect. These regulations establish a “sequential evaluation process” to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. If an individual is found disabled at any point in the sequential review, further inquiry is unnecessary. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a). Under this process, the ALJ must determine, in sequence, the following: (1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment, i.e., one that significantly limits the ability to perform work-related functions; (3) whether the severe impairment meets or equals the medical criteria of 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; and, (4) whether the claimant can perform his or her past relevant work. If the claimant cannot perform the tasks required of his or her prior work, step five of the evaluation requires the ALJ to decide whether the claimant can perform other work in the national economy in view of the claimant's age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a). A claimant is entitled to benefits only if unable to perform other work. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-42 (1987); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(g).

         When an ALJ assesses a claimant's continuing disability, the ALJ proceeds with the first two steps of the sequential evaluation process, then evaluates whether there has been a medical improvement. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(b)(1), (f)(3). A medical improvement is defined as any decrease in the medical severity of the claimant's impairments based on changes in the symptoms, signs, and/or laboratory findings associated with the claimant's impairments. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(b)(1). If there has been a medical improvement, the ALJ must determine whether it is related to the claimant's ability to do work and if his or her RFC has increased. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(4). The ALJ will then evaluate whether the claimant's current impairments in combination are severe, assess the claimant's current RFC, and determine whether the claimant can perform his or her past relevant work or other work. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(6)-(9). If the claimant is able to perform past or other work, the claimant's disability has ended. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(8).

         A determination by the Commissioner that a claimant is not disabled must be upheld if it is supported by substantial evidence and comports with applicable legal standards. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)); Miles v. Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996). While the court reviews the Commissioner's decision with deference to the ...

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