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Padilla v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Florida, Panama City Division

June 28, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         This case is before the Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3) for review of the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying Richard Milford Padilla's application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-83. The parties consented to Magistrate Judge jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73 for all proceedings in this case, including entry of final judgment. Upon review of the record before the Court, the Court concludes the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”) denial of SSI is supported by substantial evidence. The Commissioner's decision, therefore, will be affirmed.


         Mr. Padilla, who will be referred to as Claimant, Plaintiff, or by name, argues: (1) the ALJ erroneously evaluated the opinion evidence of record in determining Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”); (2) the ALJ erroneously evaluated Plaintiff's testimony regarding his symptoms and limitations; and (3) the vocational testimony relied upon by the ALJ is inconsistent with the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”). ECF Doc. 15 at 1.


         On February 10, 2015, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI, claiming disability with an onset date of November 21, 2011, related to a learning disability, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and being overweight. T. 74-75.[1] The Commissioner denied the application initially and on reconsideration. T. 85, 103. At the hearing, the Plaintiff amended the alleged onset date to February 10, 2015. T. 33. After the hearing on February 14, 2017, the ALJ found Claimant not disabled under the Act.[2] T. 15-26. The Appeals Council denied a request for further review and, as a result, the ALJ's decision became the final determination of the Commissioner. T. 1-3.

         On April 20, 2018, Claimant filed a complaint with this Court seeking review of the Commissioner's decision. ECF Doc. 1. The Commissioner filed an answer on August 7, 2018, accompanied by the record below. ECF Docs. 11, 12. On October 9, 2018, Claimant filed a memorandum in support of his complaint, outlining his assignments of error. ECF Doc. 15. The Commissioner filed a responsive memorandum in support of her decision on November 8, 2018. ECF Doc. 16.


         A federal court reviews the “Commissioner's decision to determine if it is supported by substantial evidence and based upon proper legal standards.” Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1439 (11th Cir. 1997); see also Carnes v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1215, 1218 (11th Cir. 1991) (“[T]his Court may reverse the decision of the [Commissioner] only when convinced that it is not supported by substantial evidence or that proper legal standards were not applied.”). Substantial evidence is ‘“such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”' Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). “Substantial evidence is something ‘more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance.'” Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005) (quoting Hale v. Bowen, 831 F.2d 1007, 1011 (11thCir. 1987)). “Even if the evidence preponderates against the [Commissioner], [the Court] must affirm if the decision is supported by substantial evidence.” Sewell v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 1065, 1067 (11th Cir. 1986).

         When reviewing a Social Security disability case, the Court ‘“may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the [Commissioner.]”' Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990) (quoting Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983)); see also Hunter v. Soc. Sec. Admin., Comm'r, 808 F.3d 818, 822 (11th Cir. 2015) (“In determining whether substantial evidence supports a decision, we give great deference to the ALJ's factfindings.”) (citing Black Diamond Coal Min. Co. v. Dir., OWCP, 95 F.3d 1079, 1082 (11th Cir. 1996)). The Court, however, may not look “only to those parts of the record which support the ALJ[, ]” but instead “must view the entire record and take account of evidence in the record which detracts from the evidence relied on by the ALJ.” Tieniber v. Heckler, 720 F.2d 1251, 1253 (11th Cir. 1983). Review is deferential to a point, but the Court must conduct what has been referred to as “an independent review of the record.” Flynn v. Heckler, 768 F.2d 1273, 1273 (11th Cir. 1985).

         The Act defines disability as an inability “to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). To qualify as a disability, the physical or mental impairment must be so severe the Claimant not only is unable to do his previous work, “but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy[.]” Id. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).

         Pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4), the Commissioner analyzes a disability claim in five steps:

1. Is the Claimant performing substantial gainful activity; if he is, he is not disabled.
2. If the Claimant is not performing substantial gainful activity, does the Claimant have a severe impairment.
3. If the Claimant is not performing substantial gainful activity and he has severe impairments that have lasted or are expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months, do his impairments meet or medically equal the criteria of any impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; if so, the Claimant is presumed disabled without further inquiry.
4. If the severe impairment(s) is not a “listed impairment, ” does the Claimant have the RFC to perform his past relevant work.[3]
5. Even if the Claimant's impairments prevent him from performing his past relevant work, do other jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy that accommodate the Claimant's RFC and vocational factors; if so, he is not disabled.


         In her written decision, the ALJ made the following findings pertinent to the issues raised in this appeal:

         • Claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 10, 2015, the application date. T. 17.

         • Claimant has the following severe impairments: obesity; history of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; mild intellectual disorder; and mood disorder. T. 17.

         • Claimant does 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. §§ 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926). T. 17.

         • Claimant has the RFC to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b) except that he can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl; and should avoid concentrated exposure to hazards. Claimant is limited to simple, routine, non-production tasks. He should be in a stable work environment where there would be few changes in the work processes or procedure and any changes would be gradually introduced. T. 20.

         • Considering the Claimant's age, education, work experience and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the Claimant can ...

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