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Walker v. Saul

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

June 19, 2019

LOIS WALKER, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          ORDER

          HONORABLE CHRISTOPHER P. TUTTE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         The Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's denial of her claim for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments. For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.

         I.

         The Plaintiff was born in 1955 and has a high school education. (R. 442). In September 2014, she applied for SSI, alleging disability as of August 23, 2014. (R. 90- 99). The Social Security Administration (SSA) denied her application both initially and on reconsideration. (R. 37-39).

         At the Plaintiff's request, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) conducted a hearing on the matter on November 17, 2016. (R. 435-61). The Plaintiff was represented by counsel at that hearing and testified on her own behalf. (R. 440-55). A vocational expert (VE) also testified. (R. 455-60).

         In a decision dated April 5, 2017, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff: (1) had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her application date of September 15, 2014; (2) had the severe impairments of stenosis, sciatica, and degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine; (3) did not, however, have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of any of the listed impairments; (4) had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform sedentary work; and (5) based in part on the VE's testimony, could perform her past relevant work as a transcribing machine operator. (R. 23-29). In light of these findings, the ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff was not disabled. (R. 29-30).

         The Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's request for review. (R. 4-8). Accordingly, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner.

         II.

         The Social Security Act (the Act) defines disability as the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment . . . which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a); 416.905(a).[2] A physical or mental impairment under the Act “results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(3), 1382c(a)(3)(D).

         To determine whether a claimant is disabled, the Social Security Regulations (Regulations) prescribe “a five-step, sequential evaluation process.” Carter v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 726 Fed.Appx. 737, 739 (11th Cir. 2018) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4).[3] Under this process, 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 RFC to perform past relevant work; and (5) can perform other work in the national economy given her RFC, age, education, and work experience. Carter, 726 Fed.Appx. at 739 (citing Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1237 (11th Cir. 2004); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4)). While the claimant has the burden of proof through step four, the burden temporarily shifts to the Commissioner at step five. Sampson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 694 Fed.Appx. 727, 734 (11th Cir. 2017) (citing Jones v. Apfel, 190 F.3d 1224, 1228 (11th Cir. 1999)). If the Commissioner carries that burden, the claimant must then prove that he cannot perform the work identified by the Commissioner. Id. In the end, “the overall burden of demonstrating the existence of a disability . . . rests with the claimant.” Washington v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 906 F.3d 1353, 1359 (11th Cir. 2018) (quoting Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1280 (11th Cir. 2001)).

         A claimant who does not prevail at the administrative level may seek judicial review in federal court provided that the Commissioner has issued a final decision on the matter after a hearing. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Judicial review is limited to determining whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence and whether she applied the correct legal standards. See id.; Hargress v. Soc. Sec. Admin., Comm'r, 883 F.3d 1302, 1305 n.2 (11th Cir. 2018) (citation omitted). “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Hargress, 883 F.3d at 1305 n.2 (quoting Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004)). In evaluating whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision, the Court “may not decide the facts anew, make credibility determinations, or re-weigh the evidence.” Carter, 726 Fed.Appx. at 739 (citing Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211 (11th Cir. 2005)). While the court accords deference to the Commissioner's factual findings, “no such deference is given to [her] legal conclusions.” Keel-Desensi v. Berryhill, 2019 WL 1417326, at *2 (M.D. Fla. Mar. 29, 2019) (citations omitted).

         III.

         The Plaintiff's sole contention on appeal is that the ALJ failed to adequately develop the record relative to her past relevant work. (Doc. 16 at 5-8). In particular, she asserts the ALJ did not obtain sufficient information regarding her prior experience as a medical transcriptionist to deem it “past relevant work” under the Regulations. Id.[4]

         In response, the Commissioner asserts the ALJ complied with her duty to develop the record on the subject of the Plaintiff's past relevant work, and, in any event, the Plaintiff failed to meet her burden of showing both that she could not perform her past work as a transcribing ...


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