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McCullough v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

July 30, 2018




         Before the Court is Plaintiff Kenya McCullough's Complaint, filed on May 9, 2017. (Doc. 1). Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denying her claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. The Commissioner filed the Transcript of the proceedings (hereinafter referred to as “Tr.” followed by the appropriate page number), and the parties filed their joint legal memorandum in support of their positions. For the reasons set out herein, the decision of the Commissioner is REVERSED and REMANDED pursuant to § 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         I. Social Security Act Eligibility, the ALJ 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), 1382c(a)(3)(A); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505, 416.905. 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), 1382c(a)(3); 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 February 4, 2014, Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits. (Tr. at 85, 171-72). Plaintiff asserted an onset date of January 1, 2009. (Id. at 171). Plaintiff's application was denied initially on April 3, 2014 and on reconsideration on June 25, 2014. (Id. at 85, 94). Administrative Law Judge Daniel A. Piloseno, Jr. (“ALJ”) held a hearing on March 30, 2016. (Id. at 54-77). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on April 29, 2016. (Id. at 39-48). The ALJ found Plaintiff not to be under a disability from January 1, 2009, the alleged onset date, through March 31, 2014, the date last insured. (Id. at 48).

         On March 8, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Id. at 1-6). Plaintiff filed a Complaint (Doc. 1) in the United States District Court on May 9, 2017. This case is ripe for review. The parties consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge for all proceedings. (See Doc. 15).

         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)).[1] 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) can 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).

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements through March 31, 2014. (Tr. at 41). At step one of the sequential evaluation, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity from her alleged onset date of January 1, 2009 through her date last insured of March 31, 2014. (Id.). At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: “morbid obesity, insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM), levocurvature of the lumbar spine, facet arthropathy, a history of deep venous thrombosis (DVT) of the left lower extremity, and hypothyroidism (20 CPR 404.1520(c)).” (Id.). 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 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, and 404.1526). (Id. at 42).

         At step four, the ALJ found the following:

After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that, through the date last insured, the claimant retained the residual functional capacity to lift and/or carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; stand and/or walk for less than 2 hours per workday, but no more than 30 minutes at a time, and sit for up to 8 hours per workday, but no more than 2 hours at a time; occasionally climbing stairs and ramps, but no climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolding; occasionally balancing, stopping, crouching, kneeling, or crawling; and likely missing work, or leaving work before completing 8 hours approximately 6 days per year.

         (Tr. at 42).

         The ALJ determined that through the date last insured, Plaintiff was capable of performing her past relevant work as an administrative assistant. (Id. at 46). In the alternative, the ALJ made findings for step five of the sequential evaluation. (Id. at 47). The ALJ considered Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, and found that there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. (Id.). The ALJ noted that the vocational expert identified the following representative occupations that Plaintiff was able to perform: (1) a charge account clerk, DOT # 205.367-010, sedentary, unskilled, SVP2; (2) order clerk, DOT # 209.567-014, sedentary, unskilled, SVP 2; and (3) surveillance monitor, DOT # 379.367-010, sedentary, ...

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