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Best v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division

July 25, 2018

MELANIE BEST, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          MAC R. MCCOY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This cause comes before the Court on Plaintiff Melanie Best's Complaint (Doc. 1) filed on April 25, 2017. Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying her claims for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income. The Commissioner filed the Transcript of the proceedings (hereinafter referred to as “Tr.” followed by the appropriate page number), and the parties filed legal memoranda in support of their positions. For the reasons set out herein, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED pursuant to § 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         I. Social Security Act Eligibility, Procedural History, the ALJ's Decision, and Standard of Review

         A. Eligibility

         The law defines disability as the inability to do 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. §§ 416(i), 423(d)(1)(A); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505; 416.905.[1] The impairment must be severe, making the claimant unable to do her previous work, or any other substantial gainful activity that exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505 - 404.1511, 416.905 - 416.911. Plaintiff bears the burden of persuasion through step four, while the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987).

         B. Procedural History

         On September 19, 2013, Plaintiff filed applications for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income with an alleged onset date of August 23, 2011. (See Tr. at 29, 222, 229). The applications were denied initially on November 18, 2013 and upon reconsideration on January 30, 2014. (Tr. at 142-43, 168-69). A video hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Roxanne Fuller on October 5, 2015. (Tr. at 75-98). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on December 31, 2015. (Tr. at 26-45). The ALJ found that Plaintiff had not been disabled from August 23, 2011 through the date of the decision. (Tr. at 41).

         On March 1, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. at 1-6). Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this Court on April 25, 2017. (Doc. 1). Defendant filed an Answer on July 24, 2017. (Doc. 18). The parties filed a Joint Memorandum setting forth their positions and arguments on the issues. (Doc. 28). The parties consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge for all proceedings. (See Doc. 23). This case is ripe for review.

         C. Summary of the ALJ's Decision

         An ALJ must follow a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine if a claimant has proven that she is disabled. Packer v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 542 Fed.Appx. 890, 891 (11th Cir. 2013) (citing Jones v. Apfel, 190 F.3d 1224, 1228 (11th Cir. 1999)).[2] An ALJ must determine whether the claimant: (1) is performing substantial gainful activity; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has a severe impairment that meets or equals an impairment specifically listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; (4) has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform her past relevant work; and (5) can perform other work of the sort found in the national economy. Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1237-40 (11th Cir. 2004). The claimant has the burden of proof through step four and then the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five. Hines-Sharp v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 511 Fed.Appx. 913, 915 n.2 (11th Cir. 2013).

         As an initial matter, the ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2014. (Tr. at 32). At step one of the sequential evaluation, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 31, 2011, the alleged onset date. (Id.). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: “degenerative disc disease and depression.” (Id.). At step three, the ALJ determined 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 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926)). (Id.).

         Based on the evidence, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform “light work” except:

occasional climb ramps or stairs; never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; occasional balance, stoop, crouch, kneel, crawl; frequent reaching and overhead reaching with the right dominant arm; frequent handling objects, that is gross manipulation, with the right dominant hand; frequent fingering, that is fine manipulation, with the right dominant hand; occasional exposure to moving mechanical parts; occasional operating a motor vehicle; occasional exposure to unprotected heights; able to perform simple, repetitive, routine tasks.

(Tr. at 34).

         At step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff could not perform any past relevant work. (Tr. at 39). Specifically, using the testimony of the vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ found that Plaintiff is unable to perform the duties of her past relevant work as a real estate clerk, floor covering estimator, or office manager. (Id.).

         At step five, considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ found that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform. (Tr. at 40). Specifically, the ALJ asked the VE whether jobs exist in the national economy for an individual with Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC. (Id.). The VE testified that someone with Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC would be able to perform the requirements of representative occupations such as:

1. Housekeeper, DOT Code # 323.684-014, which is light, unskilled work with a SVP of 2
a. There are 900, 000 of these jobs in the national economy
2. Assembler, DOT Code # 729.687-010, which is light, unskilled work with a SVP of 2
a. There are 25, 000 of these jobs in the national economy
3. Office helper, DOT Code # 239.567-010, which is light, unskilled work with a SVP of 2
a. There are 112, 000 of these jobs in the national economy

(Id.).[3] Additionally, the VE testified that Plaintiff could perform the following jobs at the sedentary level, although the ALJ ...


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