United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division
OPINION AND ORDER
DOUGLAS N. FRAZIER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Kevin Manning, 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 legal memoranda 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).
filed an application for a period of disability and DIB and
an application for SSI on April 23, 2009, alleging disability
beginning April 13, 2005. (Tr. 565-81). The applications were
denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 457-60,
461-64). Plaintiff requested a hearing and on February 22,
2011, a hearing was held before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”). (Tr. 354-82). The ALJ denied
Plaintiff's claim by decision dated April 28, 2011, but
the Appeals Council issued a remand order on August 26, 2011.
(Tr. 398-406, 411). The ALJ again denied Plaintiff's
claim on November 27, 2012, however, the Appeals Council
issued another remand order on April 17, 2014. (Tr. 416-446,
remand, a different ALJ, Maria Northington, held a second
remand hearing on November 19, 2014, and, on May 8, 2015,
issued a partially favorable decision. (Tr. 24-58, 209-67).
The decision was partially favorable because the ALJ found
that Plaintiff met the definition of disability on and after
January 1, 2014 but not before. (Tr. 28-49). Because
Plaintiff's date last insured was December 31, 2007, this
finding resulted in a denial of her DIB claim, and an award
of SSI benefits beginning in January 2014 rather than in
April 2009 when she filed her application for SSI benefits.
Plaintiff requested review by the Appeals Council, which
denied the request for review on June 6, 2016. (Tr. 17-19).
The Council granted a request for an extension of time to
file the civil action on March 2, 2018. Plaintiff initiated
the instant action by Complaint (Doc. 1) on April 4, 2018.
The parties having filed a joint memorandum setting forth
their respective positions, this case is ripe for review.
Summary of the ALJ's Decision
one of the sequential evaluation, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since April 13, 2005, the alleged onset date. (Tr. 31). At
step two, the ALJ found that since April 13, 2005, the
alleged onset date, Plaintiff has had the following severe
impairments: mild to moderate lumbar facet arthropathy with
disc space loss at ¶ 3/L4 (all other discs are intact),
borderline intellectual functioning with history of learning
problems and mood disorder with depression and anxiety. (Tr.
31). The ALJ further found that beginning January 1, 2014,
Plaintiff has had the following severe impairments: disc
collapse at ¶ 3/L4 with significant spurring and
increased chronic lumbar pain, mild to moderate lumbar facet
arthropathy with disc space loss at ¶ 3/L4 (all other
discs are intact), borderline intellectual functioning with a
history of learning problems, and mood disorder with
depression and anxiety. (Tr. 31). At step three, the ALJ
found that since the alleged onset date of disability, April
13, 2005, Plaintiff has not had an impairment or combination
of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
any of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart
P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 32).
proceeding to step four, the ALJ found that prior to January
1, 2014, Plaintiff had the residual ...