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Lewis v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division

July 30, 2019




         Before the Court is the Complaint, filed on June 13, 2018. (Doc. 1). Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denying his claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). 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 memorandum detailing their respective positions. For the reasons set forth herein, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED pursuant to § 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         I. Social Security Act Eligibility, the ALJ Decision, and Standard of Review

         A. Eligibility

         The law defines disability as the inability to do any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death or that 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), 1382c(a)(3)(A); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505, 416.905. The impairment must be severe, making the Plaintiff unable to do his previous work or any other substantial gainful activity that exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2), 1382c(a)(3); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505-.1511, 416.905-.911.

         B. Procedural History

         On December 16, 2015, Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits. (Tr. at 120). Plaintiff alleged an onset date of November 1, 2014. (Id.). His application was denied initially on February 19, 2016 and again on reconsideration on April 19, 2016. (Id. at 68, 77). A hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) William Manico on February 13, 2017 in Fort Myers, Florida. (Id. at 28). ALJ Manico issued an unfavorable decision on July 6, 2017, finding Plaintiff not to be under a disability from November 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015, the date last insured. (Id. at 16). Plaintiff requested a review of the decision, which the Appeals Council denied. (Id. at 1). Plaintiff filed a Complaint in the United States District Court on June 13, 2018. (Doc. 1). This case is ripe for review. The parties consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge for all proceedings. (Doc. 12).

         C. Summary of the ALJ's Decision

         An ALJ must follow a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine if a Plaintiff has proven that he is disabled. Packer v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 542 Fed.Appx. 890, 891 (11th Cir. 2013) (citing Jones v. Apfel, 190 F.3d 1224, 1228 (11th Cir. 1999)).[1] An ALJ must determine whether the Plaintiff: (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) can perform her past relevant work; and (5) can perform other work found in the national economy. Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1237-40 (11th Cir. 2004). The Plaintiff has the burden of proof through step four, and then the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five. Hines-Sharp v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 511 Fed.Appx. 913, 915 n.2 (11th Cir. 2013).

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through June 30, 2015. (Tr. at 12). At step one of the sequential evaluation, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity from November 1, 2014, the alleged onset date, through his date last insured, June 30, 2015. (Id.). At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: arthritis, hepatitis C, and degenerative disc disease. (Id. (citing 20 C.F.R. 404.1521)). At step three, the ALJ determined that through the date last insured, Plaintiff “did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that significantly limited the ability to perform basic work-related activities for 12 consecutive months; therefore, the claimant did not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments.” (Id. at 13 (citing 16 C.F.R. 404.1521)). Thus, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not under a disability at any time from November 1, 2014, the alleged onset date, through June 30, 2015, the date last insured. (Id. at 16).

         D. Standard of Review

         The scope of this Court's review is limited to determining whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standard, McRoberts v. Bowen, 841 F.2d 1077, 1080 (11th Cir. 1988), and whether the findings are supported by substantial evidence, Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971). The 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-i.e., the evidence must do more than merely create a suspicion of the existence of a fact and must include such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support the conclusion. Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1995) (citing Walden v. Schweiker, 672 F.2d 835, 838 (11th Cir. 1982); Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401).

         Where the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, the district court will affirm, even if the reviewer would have reached a contrary result as finder of fact, and even if the reviewer finds that “the evidence preponderates against” the Commissioner's decision. Edwards v. Sullivan, 937 F.2d 580, 584 n.3 (11th Cir. 1991); Barnes v. Sullivan, 932 F.2d 1356, 1358 (11th Cir. 1991). The district court must view the evidence as a whole, taking into account evidence favorable as well as unfavorable to the decision. Foote, 67 F.3d at 1560; accord Lowery v. Sullivan, 979 F.2d 835, 837 (11th Cir. 1992) (noting that court must scrutinize entire record to determine reasonableness of factual findings).

         II. ...

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