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Guyette v. Saul

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

August 2, 2019

ANDREW M. SAUL,[1] Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER [2]


         I. Status

         Joshua Guyette (“Plaintiff”) is appealing the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration's (“SSA('s)”) final decision denying his claim for disability income benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”). Plaintiff's alleged inability to work is the result of sleep apnea, lumbar radiculitis, multilevel spondylosis, arthropathy, congenital lumbar spinal stenosis, posterior annular disc calcification, and “[m]ild compression on the cal sac.” See Transcript of Administrative Proceedings (Doc. No. 13; “Tr.” or “administrative transcript”), filed October 12, 2018, at 72, 87-88, 100-01, 244 (emphasis omitted). Plaintiff filed an application for DIB on December 3, 2014[3] and for SSI on March 30, 2015, [4] alleging a disability onset date of August 18, 2012. Tr. at 215 (DIB); Tr. at 217 (SSI). The applications were denied initially, Tr. at 72-82, 83, 117-19 (DIB); and upon reconsideration, Tr. at 87-99, 113, 116, 123-27 (DIB); Tr. At 100-12, 114, 115, 128-32 (SSI).[5]

         On August 2, 2017, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing, during which he heard testimony from Plaintiff, who was represented by a non-attorney representative, and a vocational expert (“VE”). Tr. at 36-71. Plaintiff was forty-one years old at the time of the hearing. Tr. at 41. The ALJ issued a Decision on August 30, 2017, finding Plaintiff not disabled through the date of the Decision. Tr. at 17-30.

         On September 14, 2017, Plaintiff requested review of the Decision by the Appeals Council. Tr. at 212. The Appeals Council received additional evidence in the form of a brief authored by Plaintiff's representative. Tr. at 6-7; see Tr. at 326-27 (brief). On June 1, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, Tr. at 3-5, thereby making the ALJ's Decision the final decision of the Commissioner. On August 3, 2018, Plaintiff commenced this action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) by timely filing a Complaint (Doc. No. 1), seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision.

         On appeal, Plaintiff makes the following argument: “The ALJ erred by not commenting o[n] . . . Plaintiff's need to elevate his legs.” Memorandum in Support (Doc. No. 17; “Pl.'s Mem.”), filed December 12, 2018, at 6 (emphasis and capitalization omitted); see Pl.'s Mem. at 6-7. On February 8, 2019, Defendant filed a Memorandum in Support of the Commissioner's Decision (Doc. No. 18; “Def.'s Mem.”) addressing Plaintiff's argument. After a thorough review of the entire record and consideration of the parties' respective memoranda, the undersigned finds that the Commissioner's final decision is due to be affirmed.

         II. The ALJ's Decision

         When determining whether an individual is disabled,[6] an ALJ must follow the five-step sequential inquiry set forth in the Code of Federal Regulations (“Regulations”), determining as appropriate whether the claimant (1) is currently employed or engaging in substantial gainful activity; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one listed in the Regulations; (4) can perform past relevant work; and (5) retains the ability to perform any work in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; see also Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1237 (11th Cir. 2004). The claimant bears the burden of persuasion through step four, and at step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987).

         Here, the ALJ followed the five-step sequential inquiry. See Tr. at 19-30. At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff “has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 18, 2012, the alleged onset date.” Tr. at 19 (emphasis and citation omitted). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff “has the following severe impairments: lumbar disc disease, thoracic disc disease, cervical disc disease requiring fusion surgery, obesity, sleep apnea, major depression, diabetes mellitus, and osteoarthritis of the knee.” Tr. at 19 (emphasis and citation omitted). At step three, the ALJ ascertained that Plaintiff “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.” Tr. at 20 (emphasis and citation omitted).

         The ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the following residual functional capacity (“RFC”):

[Plaintiff can] perform sedentary work as defined in 20 [C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a)] with the following limitations: Maximum lifting of 10 pounds occasionally and 5 pounds frequently and sit for up to 6 hours, but walking and standing would be limited for up to 2 hours each. [Plaintiff] requires a sit or stand option that allows for a change of position at least every 30 minutes which is a brief positional change lasting no more than 3 minutes at a time where [Plaintiff] remains at the workstation during the positional change. [Plaintiff] can push and pull as much as lift and carry. [Plaintiff] is limited to occasional use of foot controls and hand controls; occasional overhead reaching; frequent handling, fingering, and feeling; occasional climbing ramps and stairs; no climbing ladders or scaffolds; and frequent balancing, stooping, and crouching. [Plaintiff] can occasionally kneel, but never crawl. [Plaintiff] should avoid environments with unprotected heights and moving mechanical parts. [Plaintiff] should have no concentrated exposure to humidity, wetness, dust, fumes or gases. He needs to avoid environments with temperature extremes. [Plaintiff] is limited to simple tasks and simple work[-]related decisions, and [Plaintiff] is limited to no more than occasional interaction with supervisors, coworkers, and the general public. Time off task can be accommodated by normal breaks.

Tr. at 22 (emphasis omitted).

         At step four, the ALJ relied on the testimony of the VE and found that Plaintiff is “unable to perform any past relevant work.” Tr. at 28 (emphasis omitted); see Tr. At 28-29. At step five, after considering Plaintiff's age (“36 years old . . . on the alleged disability onset date”), education (“at least a high school education”), work experience, and RFC, the ALJ again relied on the testimony of the VE and found “there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that [Plaintiff] can perform, ” Tr. At 29 (emphasis and citation omitted), such as “Table Worker, ” “Addresser, ” and “Sorter, ” Tr. at 30. The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff “has not been under a disability . . . from August 18, 2012, through the date of th[e D]ecision. Tr. at 30 (emphasis and citation omitted).

         III. ...

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