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Ramphal v. Saul

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

August 7, 2019

BARBARA V. RAMPHAL, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, [1] Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          SEAN P. FLWN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff seeks judicial review of her cessation of social security disability benefits. As the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") decision was based on substantial evidence and employed proper legal standards, it is recommended that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff initially filed an application for a period of disability, DIB, and SSI on November 29, 2000 (Tr. 82). The ALJ issued a favorable decision finding Plaintiff became disabled on July 14, 2000 (Tr. 74-82). On October20, 2014, Plaintiff was informed that her disability had ceased due to health improvements (Tr. 85-90). Plaintiff filed a request for reconsideration, and a disability hearing officer issued a decision ceasing Plaintiffs disability benefits (Tr. 91, 98-105). Plaintiff then requested an administrative hearing (Tr. 112). The ALJ held a hearing at which Plaintiff appeared and testified (Tr. 40-69). Following the hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding Plaintiff not disabled and accordingly denied Plaintiffs claims for benefits (Tr. 13-39). Subsequently, Plaintiff requested review from the Appeals Council, which the Appeals Council denied (Tr. 1-7). Plaintiff then timely filed a complaint with this Court (Doc. 1). The case is now ripe for review.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND THE ALPS DECISION

         Plaintiff, who was born in 1973, claimed disability beginning in July 14, 2000 (Tr. 78, 197). Plaintiff obtained an Associate Degree (Tr. 24). Plaintiffs past relevant work experience included work as a bank teller, a customer service representative, and a waitress (Tr. 18). Plaintiff alleged disability arising from bilateral shoulder disorder, diabetes mellitus, diabetic neuropathy, diabetic retinopathy, major depression disorder, and anxiety (Tr. 24).

         In evaluating Plaintiffs cessation of benefits claim, the ALJ concluded that as of October 1, 2014, Plaintiff had severe impairments of anxiety, depression, diabetes mellitus, diabetic neuropathy, diabetic retinopathy, and bilateral shoulder disorder (Tr. 18). However, the ALJ found Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of an impairment listed in the regulations as of October 1, 2014 (Tr. 20). Further, the ALJ found that medical improvement occurred as of October 1, 2014 (Tr. 21). Then, the ALJ found that as of October 1, 2014, the impairments present at the time of the Comparison Point Date ("CPD")[2]-December 14, 2004-had decreased in medical severity to the point where Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform at less than the full range of light work (Tr. 23). Thus, the ALJ found Plaintiffs medical improvement was related to the ability to work, because it resulted in an increase in her RFC (Tr. 23). The ALJ then found that as of October 1, 2014, Plaintiff continued to have a severe impairment or combination of impairments (Tr. 23). Based on the impairments present as of October 1, 2014, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) with additional limitations (Tr. 24). Specifically, she could never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; could occasionally climb ramps or stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl; could frequently reach with her bilateral upper extremities; and needed to avoid concentrated exposure to workplace hazards. Further, she could not perform jobs requiring more that occasional peripheral vision. She could perform simple, routine, and repetitive tasks with occasional changes in a routine work setting, and she could occasionally interact with coworkers and the general public (Tr. 24).

         In formulating Plaintiffs RFC, the ALJ considered Plaintiffs subjective complaints and determined that, although the evidence established the presence of underlying impairments that reasonably could be expected to produce the symptoms alleged, Plaintiffs statements as to the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of her symptoms were not entirely consistent with the medical history, the reports of treating and examining physicians and psychiatrists, the degree of medical treatment required, and Plaintiffs own description of her activities and lifestyle (Tr. 25).

         Considering Plaintiffs noted impairments and the assessment of a vocational expert ("VE"), however, the ALJ determined Plaintiff could not perform past relevant work (Tr. 31). Given Plaintiffs background and RFC, the VE testified that Plaintiff could perform other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy, such as a labeler, merchandise marker, or electrode cleaner (Tr. 32). Accordingly, based on Plaintiffs age, education, work experience, RFC, and the testimony of the VE, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiffs disability ended as of that date (Tr. 33).

         LEGAL STANDARD

         To be entitled to benefits, a claimant must be disabled, meaning he or she must be unable to engage in 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. 42U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). A "physical or mental impairment" is an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities, which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. 42U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(3), 1382c(a)(3)(D).

         In order to regularize the adjudicative process, the Social Security Administration promulgated the detailed regulations currently in effect. These regulations establish a sequential evaluation process to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. The regulations also establish a sequential evaluation process to determine whether a claimant's disability continues. 20 C.F.R. § 416.994(b)(5). Under this process, the ALJ must determine, in sequence, the following: (1) whether the claimant has an impairment or combination of impairments which meets or equals the severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; (2) if the claimant does not have such impairment or combination of impairments, whether there has been medical improvement;[3] (3) if the claimant experienced medical improvement, whether such medical improvement is related to the claimant's ability to perform work, i.e., whether or not there has been an increase in the RFC based on the impairment(s) that was present at the time of the most recent favorable medical determination;[4] (4) whether an exception applies to a finding of no medical improvement or to a finding that medical improvement was not related to the claimant's ability to work; (5) whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (6) if a severe impairment exists, whether the claimant can perform substantial gainful activity such that the claimant can perform his or her past relevant work; (7) if unable to perform past relevant work, whether the claimant can perform other work 20 C.F.R. § 416.994(b)(5)(i)-(vii).

         A determination by the Commissioner must be upheld if it is supported by substantial evidence and comports with applicable legal standards. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938) (internal quotation marks omitted)); Miles v. Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996). While the court reviews the Commissioner's decision with deference to the factual findings, no such deference is given to the legal conclusions. Keeton v. Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 21 F.3d 1064, 1066 (11th Cir. 1994) (citing Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145 (11th Cir. 1991)).

         In reviewing the Commissioner's decision, the court may not re-weigh the evidence or substitute its own judgment for that of the ALJ even if it finds that the evidence preponderates against the ALJ's decision. Bloodsworth v. Heckler,703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983). The Commissioner's failure to apply the correct law, or to give the reviewing court sufficient reasoning for determining that he or she has conducted the proper legal analysis, mandates reversal. Keeton, 21 F.3d at 1066. The scope of review is thus limited to determining whether the findings of the Commissioner are supported by ...


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