United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division
OPINION AND ORDER
DOUGLAS N. FRAZIER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Dennis Hearn, on behalf of Joseph Hearn, deceased, seeks
judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of
the Social Security Administration (“SSA”)
denying his claim for a period of disability, Disability
Insurance Benefits (“DIB”), and Supplemental
Security Income (“SSI”). The Commissioner filed
the Transcript of the proceedings (hereinafter referred to as
“Tr.” followed by the appropriate page number),
and the parties filed a joint legal memorandum setting forth
their respective 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).
Social Security Act Eligibility, Standard of Review,
Procedural History, and the ALJ's Decision
Social Security Act Eligibility
defines disability as the inability to do 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.
§§ 416(i), 423(d)(1)(A), 1382(a)(3)(A); 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1505, 416.905. The impairment must be
severe, making the claimant unable to do his previous work,
or any other substantial gainful activity which exists in the
national economy. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2),
1382(a)(3); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505-404.1511,
Standard of Review
Commissioner's findings of fact are conclusive if
supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405 (g).
“Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is
such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as
adequate support to a conclusion. Even if the evidence
preponderated against the Commissioner's findings, we
must affirm if the decision reached is supported by
substantial evidence.” Crawford v. Comm'r,
363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004) (citing Lewis v.
Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1439 (11th Cir. 1997));
Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir.
1990). In conducting this review, this Court may not reweigh
the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ,
but must consider the evidence as a whole, taking into
account evidence favorable as well as unfavorable to the
decision. Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1329, 1330
(11th Cir. 2002); Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553,
1560 (11th Cir. 1995). However, the District Court will
reverse the Commissioner's decision on plenary review if
the decision applied incorrect law, or if the decision fails
to provide sufficient reasoning to determine that the
Commissioner properly applied the law. Keeton v.
Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 21 F.3d 1064,
1066 (11th Cir. 1994). The Court reviews de novo the
conclusions of law made by the Commissioner of Social
Security in a disability benefits case. Social Security Act,
§ 205(g), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
must follow five steps in evaluating a claim of disability.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. At step one, the
claimant must prove that he is not undertaking substantial
gainful employment. Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274,
1278 (11th Cir. 2001), see 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i). If a claimant is engaging in any
substantial gainful activity, he will be found not disabled.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i).
two, the claimant must prove that he is suffering from a
severe impairment or combination of impairments.
Doughty, 245 F.3d at 1278, 20 C.F.R. §
1520(a)(4)(ii). If the claimant's impairment or
combination of impairments does not significantly limit his
physical or mental ability to do basic work activities, the
ALJ will find that the impairment is not severe, and the
claimant will be found not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
three, the claimant must prove that his impairment meets or
equals one of impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt.
P. App. 1; Doughty, 245 F.3d at 1278; 20 C.F.R.
§ 1520(a)(4)(iii). If he meets this burden, he will be
considered disabled without consideration of age, education
and work experience. Doughty, 245 F.3d at 1278.
four, if the claimant cannot prove that his impairment meets
or equals one of the impairments listed in Appendix 1, he
must prove that his impairment prevents him from performing
his past relevant work. Id. At this step, the ALJ
will consider the claimant's RFC and compare it with the
physical and mental demands of his past relevant work. 20
C.F.R. § 1520(a)(4)(iv), 20 C.F.R. § 1520(f). If
the claimant can still perform his past relevant work, then
he will not be found disabled. Id.
five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove that the
claimant is capable of performing other work available in the
national economy, considering the claimant's RFC, age,
education, and past work experience. Doughty, 245
F.3d at 1278; 20 C.F.R. § 1520(a)(4)(v). If the claimant
is capable of performing other work, he will be found not
disabled. Id. In determining whether the
Commissioner has met this burden, the ALJ must develop a full
and fair record regarding the vocational opportunities
available to the claimant. Allen v. Sullivan, 880
F.2d 1200, 1201 (11th Cir. 1989). There are two ways in which
the ALJ may make this determination. The first is by applying
the Medical Vocational Guidelines (“the Grids”),
and the second is by the use of a vocational expert.
Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1239 (11th Cir.
2004). Only after the Commissioner meets this burden does the
burden shift back to the claimant to show that he is not
capable of performing the “other work” as set
forth by the Commissioner. Doughty v. Apfel, 245
F.3d 1274, 1278 n.2 (11th Cir. 2001).
January 18, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for a period
of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits and an
application for Supplemental Security Income, alleging in
both applications a disability onset date of November 23,
2005. (Tr. 144, 369). The agency denied Plaintiff's
claims at the initial and reconsideration levels. (Tr.
118-78, 181-92, 195--206). After an initial administrative
hearing on August 11, 2015 (Tr. 58-74), and a supplemental
hearing on October 20, 2016 (Tr. 43-55), Administrative Law
Judge David J. Begley (the “ALJ”) found that the
Plaintiff was not disabled in a decision dated March 7, 2017.
(Tr. 10-40). Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's
decision and, on January 9, 2018, the Appeals Council denied
the Plaintiff's ...