United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division
OPINION AND ORDER
McCOY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
cause is before the Court on Plaintiff Jennifer Lee
Cotten's Complaint (Doc. 1) filed on June 25, 2018.
Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the final decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“SSA”) denying her claims for disability
insurance benefits and a period of disability. 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 in support of their positions. For the reasons set
out herein, the decision of the Commissioner is
AFFIRMED pursuant to § 205(g) of the
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Social Security Act Eligibility, the ALJ's Decision, and
Standard of Review
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 claimant unable to do her previous work,
or any other substantial gainful activity that exists in the
national economy. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2),
1382c(a)(3)(B); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505 - 404.1511,
416.905 - 416.911. Plaintiff bears the burden of persuasion
through step four, while the burden shifts to the
Commissioner at step five. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482
U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987).
March 18, 2016, Plaintiff filed an application for a period
of disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging an
onset date of August 14, 2015. (Tr. at 83, 172-78).
Plaintiff's claims were denied initially on May 25, 2016
and again following reconsideration on July 12, 2016.
(Id. at 83-84). A hearing was held before
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) William G.
Reamon on May 18, 2017. (Id. at 28-72). The ALJ
issued an unfavorable decision on August 30, 2017.
(Id. at 15-23). The ALJ found Plaintiff not to be
under a disability from August 14, 2015, through the date of
the decision. (Id. at 22).
19, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request
for review. (Id. at 1-3). Plaintiff filed a
Complaint in this Court on June 25, 2018. (Doc. 1). The
Commissioner filed an Answer on September 13, 2018. (Doc.
13). The parties filed a Joint Memorandum on February 4,
2019. (Doc. 18). The parties consented to proceed before a
United States Magistrate Judge for all proceedings. (Doc.
14). This case is ripe for review.
Summary of the ALJ's Decision
must follow a five-step sequential evaluation process to
determine if a claimant has proven that she 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)). An ALJ must
determine whether the claimant: (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) has the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform her past relevant work; and
(5) can perform other work of the sort found in the national
economy. Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232,
1237-40 (11th Cir. 2004). The claimant 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).
found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements
through December 31, 2019. (Tr. at 17). At step one of the
sequential evaluation, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 14,
2015, the alleged onset date. (Id.). At step two,
the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following
severe impairments: “cervical degenerative disc
disease, spondylosis, and stenosis (status post anterior
cervical diskectomy with fusion) and lumbar spine
degenerative joint disease, stenosis, and L5-S1 disc
protrusion (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).” (Id. at 18).
At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did 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. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1.
(Id. (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d),
four, the ALJ determined the following as to Plaintiff's
residual functional capacity (“RFC”):
After careful consideration of the entire record, the
undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual
functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in
20 CFR 404.1567(a) except she can frequently climb
ramps/stairs; no climbing ladders/ropes/scaffolds; can
frequently balance and crouch; can occasionally stoop, kneel,
and crawl; can tolerate no overhead reaching with the left
upper extremity; must avoid concentrated exposure to ...