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Mobley v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

June 5, 2019

WILLIAM DAVID MOBLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          LESLIE R. HOFFMAN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         TO THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT:

         William David Mobley (“Claimant”) appeals the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”) partially granting his application for disability benefits. Doc. 1. Claimant raises two arguments challenging a portion of the Commissioner's final decision, and, based on those arguments, requests that the matter be remanded for further administrative proceedings. Doc. No. 15, at 23-26, 30-33, 36. The Commissioner asserts that the entire decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“the ALJ”) is supported by substantial evidence and should be affirmed. Id. at 27-30, 34-36. The undersigned RESPECTFULLY RECOMMENDS that the Court REVERSE IN PART and AFFIRM IN PART the final decision of the Commissioner and REMAND the case for further proceedings consistent with the Court's Order on this Report and Recommendation.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY.

         On May 8, 2015, Claimant filed an application for disability insurance benefits. He alleged that he became disabled on June 11, 2013. R. 79, 200-01. His claim was denied initially and on reconsideration, and he requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). R. 113, 117, 122. A hearing was held before the ALJ on August 15, 2017, at which Claimant was represented by an attorney. R. 40-67. Claimant and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified at the hearing. Id.

         After the hearing, the ALJ issued a partially favorable decision finding that Claimant became disabled on March 31, 2017, but that he had not established disability prior to that date. R. 23-32. Claimant sought review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council. R. 194. On April 16, 2018, the Appeals Council denied the request for review. R. 1-6. Claimant now seeks review by this Court of the portion of the Commissioner's final decision finding that Claimant was not disabled prior to March 31, 2017. Doc. Nos. 1, 15.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND.

         A. Claimant's Testimony.

         Claimant was born in 1962. R. 44. He completed the tenth grade, and subsequently obtained a license to work in gas. Id. He previously worked in air conditioning and was a sheet metal mechanic. Id. Thereafter, he worked in propane and natural gas. R. 45. In those positions, he sometimes had to lift over seventy-five pounds. Id.

         Claimant alleges that he became disabled on June 11, 2013. R. 45. Since the alleged onset of his disability, he had been working on small appliances, gas appliances and fireplaces, and running gas lines. Id. He worked approximately twenty to thirty hours per month. Id. His wife accompanied him and assisted with the job. Id. Claimant testified that he had not done any heavy lifting since 2013, but he estimated that he could life twenty to thirty pounds, depending on his body. R. 46. At the time of the hearing, Claimant was working approximately twenty hours per month; he worked on equipment such as stoves, fireplaces, and floor heaters. R. 59.

         After an accident in 2013, Claimant had herniated discs in his neck. R. 47. He had surgery in 2015 or 2016 where the herniated discs were replaced. Id. He still has radiating pain, although the surgery was successful and caused him to feel less pain. R. 47, 60. He feels the most pain in his back and his right leg. R. 60-61.

         Claimant also has arthritis in his hands, which causes difficulty in picking up items. R. 48. He has constant lower and middle back pain due to arthritis, which makes it uncomfortable to sit for periods of time. Id. He estimated that he can only walk thirty steps without stopping. R. 49. Claimant has Osgood-Schlatter disease in his right knee, which causes him to fall while walking. Id. He had a cane at the hearing, and he testified that he was prescribed the use of a cane which he uses at all times. Id. He uses a single point cane, but he also used a quad cane at one point. Id. Claimant has joint pain from arthritis in his hands, knees, ankles, back, and shoulders. R. 50. He also had blood clots in his lungs, which caused chest pain. Id. He also has type II diabetes, difficulty hearing, and asthma. R. 51-52. He experiences several headaches per week. Id. His pain affects his ability to sleep. R. 56. Claimant does not expect that his medical conditions would improve with treatment. R. 63.

         B. VE's Testimony.

         At the hearing, the ALJ posed a hypothetical to the VE concerning a person with the age, education, and vocational background of Claimant, who was further:

[l]imited to lifting 20 pounds occasionally, 10 pounds frequently, sitting, standing, and walking for up to six hours in an eight-hour workday. Limited to only occasional climbing, stooping, kneeling, and crawling. Who must never climb ropes, ladders, or scaffolds. Who should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, to vibration, to fumes, odors, gas, and poor ventilation, and hazards such as heights and machinery and loud noises.

         R. 65. The VE testified that such an individual would not be able to perform Claimant's past work. Id. Yet, other jobs would meet those requirements, such as the light exertional level jobs of housekeeping; fast food worker; and assembler, production. Id. However, upon inquiry by counsel for Claimant, the VE testified that if the hypothetical person needed a cane to ambulate, these jobs would not be available. R. 66. In addition, if the person were limited to occasional reaching, handling, and fingering bilaterally, these jobs would not be available. Id.

         C. The ALJ's Decision.

         After considering the hearing testimony and the evidence in the record, the ALJ found that Claimant met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through June 30, 2019. R. 25. The ALJ concluded that Claimant had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged disabilit y onset date. Id.[1] The ALJ found that Claimant had the following severe impairments: dysfunction of joints and spine disorder. R. 26. These impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Id.

         Based on a review of the record, the ALJ found that Claimant had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work, with the ability to lift and/or carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; stand and/or walk for 6 hours in an 8-hour work day; sit for 6 hours in an 8-hour work day; he could occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes and scaffolds; although he should avoid concentrated exposures to extreme cold, vibration, fumes, loud noises, as well as hazards like machinery and heights. Id. In making this finding, the ALJ concluded that Claimant's statements regarding the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of his symptoms were inconsistent with the record evidence. R. 27. Thus, the ALJ concluded that the record supported Claimant's severe impairments of dysfunction of joints and spine disorder, consideration for which was reflected in the RFC assessment. R. 30. However, the ALJ found that Claimant's allegations regarding functional restrictions were disproportionate to the clinical findings; and the ALJ only accepted Claimant's subjective complaints insofar as they were supported by objective evidence and the record as a whole. Id. The ALJ outlined the objective records on which she relied, which included:

• June 2013 emergency room records after Claimant was in a car accident and presented with complaints of neck and head pain. Claimant had multiple superficial abrasions and areas of moderate tenderness. Full range of motion in all extremities was noted; a CT scan of the cervical spine showed no evidence of acute radiographic abnormality; CT scan of head was unremarkable; the primary diagnosis was osteoarthritis. See R. 400, 409.
• July 2013 Access Health Care of Florida records demonstrating that Claimant had left shoulder and lumbar pain prior to the accident but reported increased pain after the accident. Claimant continued treatment until July 2013 with good results; assessments included cervicalgia, pain in thoracic spine, and lumbalgia. The records include results of MRIs of the lumbar and cervical spine from June 2013, the severity of which were consistent with the findings of the state agency consultants. See R. 416, 420, 455-57.
• September 2013 Physical Medicine and rehabilitation specialist records; no aggressive treatment modalities were recommended due to improvement; Claimant was ambulating without an assistive device, no limping or spasticity signs were noted, and muscle strength was 5/5 in the upper limbs. Examination of the spine and upper limbs showed no focal redness, ecchymosis or hematoma, ...

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