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Batarick v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

July 12, 2018

DAVID BRUCE BATARICK, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER [1]

          THOMAS B. SMITH UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Ac t (“Act”), as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), to obtain judicial review of a final decision of Defendant, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) denying his claims for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income under the Act. Upon review, the Commissioner's final decision in this case is affirmed.

         Background[2]

         On March 14, 2014, Plaintiff filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income, alleging disability commencing on February 26, 2011, due to back pain and knee problems, kidney stones, a brain tumor, and high blood pressure requiring several medications (Tr. 161, 163, 190, 199-200). His claims were denied initially and on reconsideration and Plaintiff requested and received a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) (Tr. 120, 123, 129, 140, 29-66). On February 8, 2017, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled and issued his unfavorable decision (Tr. 12-28). On September 13, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review (Tr.1-6). Accordingly, the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision. This appeal timely followed (Doc. 1).

         The ALJ 's Decision

         When determining whether an individual is disabled, the ALJ must follow the five-step sequential evaluation process established by the Social Security Administration and published in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4) and 416.920(a)(4). Specifically, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant (1) is currently employed; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals an impairment listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; (4) can perform past relevant work; and (5) retains the ability to perform any work in the national economy. See Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1237-1240 (11th Cir. 2004). The claimant bears the burden of persuasion through step four and, at step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n. 5 (1987); Phillips, 357 F.3d at 1241 n.10.

         Here, the ALJ performed the required five-step sequential analysis. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq.) (Tr. 17). At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of hypertension, morbid obesity, osteoarthritis of the knees, a history of kidney stones, lumbago, and a history of headaches (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)) (Tr. 17). At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (Tr. 18). Next, the ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to:

perform less than the full range of light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). The claimant can lift, carry, push, and pull 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. The claimant can sit four hours at one time and a total of eight hours per day and stand/walk two hours at one time and a total of six hours per eight-hour day with normal breaks. The claimant cannot climb ladders, but can occasionally climb stairs and ramps, balance, stoop, kneel, and crawl. The claimant can crouch without limitations. The claimant has no manipulative, communicative, or visual limitations. The claimant should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold or humidity, and even moderate exposure to work hazards, including unprotected heights and dangerous machinery.

(Tr. 18).

         At step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work (Tr. 22).[3] After applying the Medical-Vocational Guidelines as a framework for decision making and considering a vocational expert's testimony, Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ found, at step five, that Plaintiff could perform a significant number of jobs in the national economy (Tr. 23-24), and was therefore not under a disability (Tr. 24).

         Standard of R eview

         The scope of the Court's review is limited to determining whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence. Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004). Findings of fact are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is “more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance. It is such relevant evidence that a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (citation omitted).

         When 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 preponderance of the evidence is against the Commissioner's decision. Miles v. Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996). The district court “may not decide facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute our judgment for that of the [Commissioner.]” Id. "The district court must view the record as a whole, taking into account evidence favorable as well as unfavorable to the decision." Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1995) (per c uriam); accord Lowery v. Sullivan, 979 F.2d 835, 837 (11th Cir. 1992) (the court must scrutinize the entire record to determine the reasonableness of the factual findings).

         Discussion

         Evaluation of Medical Opinions

         Plaintiff contends that the ALJ failed to properly weigh and evaluate the opinion of his treating primary care ...


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