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Pavlica v. Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration

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

July 13, 2018




         THIS CAUSE is before the Court on Plaintiff's appeal of an administrative decision denying his application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. Following an administrative hearing held on July 23, 2015, the assigned Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found Plaintiff not disabled from May 10, 2012, the alleged disability onset date, through August 13, 2015, the date of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 23-60, 159.) Based on a review of the record, the briefs, and the applicable law, the Commissioner's decision is due to be REVERSED and REMANDED.

         I. Standard

         The scope of this Court's review is limited to determining whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards, McRoberts v. Bowen, 841 F.2d 1077, 1080 (11th Cir. 1988), and whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence, Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971). “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004). Where 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 v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1995); accord Lowery v. Sullivan, 979 F.2d 835, 837 (11th Cir. 1992) (stating the court must scrutinize the entire record to determine the reasonableness of the Commissioner's factual findings).

         II. Discussion

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence because she failed to properly evaluate the medical evidence of record when she found at step three of the sequential evaluation process[2] that Plaintiff's back impairment did not meet or medically equal the requirements of Listing 1.04(A). The Commissioner responds that the evidence does not establish listing-level severity and substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision that Plaintiff can perform sedentary work.

         At step two of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's degenerative disease of the spine with radiculopathy was a severe impairment. (Tr. 25.) At step three, the ALJ found 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. (Tr. 26.) The ALJ explained:

[T]he medical evidence in the record does not contain the precise signs, diagnostic findings, and objective observations required by [Listing 1.04(A)]. . . .
In the instant case, there are insufficient quantitative measurements to meet [L]isting 1.04. Although on a few occasions the claimant's clinicians have reported positive straight-leg raising tests in the seated position, none of the doctors who reported these findings provided any quantitative degrees at which this positive result occurred. (Exhibit 4F/6, 8; Exhibit 6F/19). Notably, the evidence also fails to establish any evidence of atrophy of any of the claimant's muscle groups. Moreover, the record also contains an analysis of the majority of the medical evidence conducted by Debra Troiano, M.D., a State agency medical consultant. Dr. Troiano reviewed the claimant's medical record and opined that the claimant's impairment did not meet listing levels. (Exhibit 3A/9).
Although the record contains a few additional records not reviewed by Dr. Troiano, this newly submitted evidence is largely duplicative of the prior evidence in the record. (Exhibit 8F; Exhibit 9F). Ultimately, this subsequent evidence does not contain any evidence that would suggest the claimant's degenerative disease of the spine meets [L]isting 1.04.


         The Court agrees with Plaintiff that the ALJ's findings at step three of the sequential evaluation process are not supported by substantial evidence. Listing 1.04(A) provides:

Disorders of the spine (e.g., herniated nucleus pulposus, spinal arachnoiditis, spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, facet arthritis, vertebral fracture), resulting in compromise of a nerve root (including the cauda equina) or the spinal cord. With:
A. Evidence of nerve root compression characterized by neuro-anatomic distribution of pain, limitation of motion of the spine, motor loss (atrophy with associated muscle weakness or muscle weakness) accompanied by sensory or reflex loss and, if there is involvement of the ...

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