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McLeod v. Saul

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

August 6, 2019

RENEE MCLEOD, Plaintiff,
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner, Social Security Administration, [1] Defendant.



         Renee McLeod seeks judicial review of a decision by the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) denying her claim for supplemental security income (SSI) and disability insurance benefits (DIB) under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. Section 405(g). After reviewing the record, including a transcript of the proceedings before the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), administrative record, pleadings, and joint memorandum the parties submitted, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.


         Ms. McLeod applied for SSI and DIB because of a disability she claims began on March 23, 2006. (Tr. 268-80). Disability examiners denied Ms. McLeod's applications initially and after reconsideration. (Tr. 115-36, 141- 65). Ms. McLeod then requested a hearing before an ALJ, who found Ms. McLeod not disabled. (Tr. 45-57, 193-96)

         The Appeals Council denied Ms. McLeod's request for review of the ALJ's decision, and the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-3). Ms. McLeod now seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision. (Doc. 1).


         Ms. McLeod was fifty-four years old when she submitted her SSI and DIB applications and fifty-five years old when the ALJ held the hearing. (Tr. 70, 268, 274). She has a high school education. (Tr. 70). Ms. McLeod claimed disability because of “back issues, anxiety, depressed, hands issues/arthritis, asthma, headaches, acid reflux, [and] bi-polar [sic].” (Tr. 115, 125).

         B. Summary of the ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ must follow five steps when evaluating a claim for disability.[2]20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a). First, if a claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, [3] she is not disabled. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). Second, if a claimant has no impairment or combination of impairments that significantly limit her physical or mental ability to perform basic work activities, she has no severe impairment and is not disabled. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c); see McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1031 (11th Cir. 1986) (stating that step two acts as a filter and “allows only claims based on the most trivial impairments to be rejected”). Third, if a claimant's impairments fail to meet or equal an impairment included in the Listings, she is not disabled. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d); 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1. Fourth, if a claimant's impairments do not prevent her from performing past relevant work, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). At this fourth step, the ALJ determines the claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”).[4]Fifth, if a claimant's impairments (considering her RFC, age, education, and past work) do not prevent her from performing other work that exists in the national economy, she is not disabled. §§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g).

         The ALJ here determined Ms. McLeod engaged in no substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date (March 23, 2006). (Tr. 47). The ALJ found Ms. McLeod has the following impairments: “degenerative disc disease, coronary artery disease, osteoarthritis of the hands, asthma, limited visual acuity, anxiety, and depression.” (Id.) (citations omitted). Nonetheless, the ALJ found Ms. McLeod has no impairment or combination of impairments that meet or medically equal the severity of an impairment included in the Listings. (Tr. 48) (citations omitted).

         The ALJ found Ms. McLeod has the RFC to perform light work with the following limitations:

[Ms. McLeod] can frequently climb ramps and stairs; never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; frequently stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; occasionally work around dust, odors, fumes, and pulmonary irritants; and frequently interact with supervisors and coworkers but never interact with the general public. Additionally, any job performed cannot require finer visual acuity than is needed to read ordinary newspaper or book print.

(Tr. 49-50). Based on these findings, the ALJ determined Ms. McLeod could perform her past relevant work as a cleaner. (Tr. 55). Alternatively, the ALJ found Ms. McLeod could perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, specifically as a small-parts assembler, marker, and bagger. (Tr. 56). As a result, the ALJ found McLeod not disabled. (Id.).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Standard of Review

         Review of the ALJ's decision is limited to determining whether the ALJ applied correct legal standards and whether substantial evidence supports his findings. McRoberts v. Bowen, 841 F.2d 1077, 1080 (11th Cir. 1988); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971). Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance. Dale v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted). In other words, there must be sufficient evidence for a reasonable person to accept as enough to support the conclusion. Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1995) (citations omitted).

         A reviewing court must affirm a decision supported by substantial evidence “even if the proof preponderates against it.” Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1240 n.8 (11th Cir. 2004) (citations omitted). The court must not make new factual determinations, reweigh evidence, or substitute its judgment for the Commissioner's decision. Id. at 1240 (citation omitted). Instead, the court must view the whole record, considering evidence favorable and unfavorable to the Commissioner's decision. Foote, 67 F.3d at 1560; see also Lowery v. Sullivan, 979 F.2d 835, 837 (11th Cir. 1992) ...

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