United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division
ANTHONY E. PORCELLI UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
seeks judicial review of the denial of his claim for a period
of disability, disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”), and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”). As the Administrative Law Judge's
(“ALJ”) decision was based on substantial
evidence and employed proper legal standards, the
Commissioner's decision is affirmed.
filed an application for a period of disability, DIB, and SSI
(Tr. 20). The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's claims both
initially and upon reconsideration (Tr. 995, 1969). Plaintiff
then requested an administrative hearing (Tr. 1993). Per
Plaintiff's request, the ALJ held a hearing at which
Plaintiff appeared and testified (Tr. 1995-2035). Following
the hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding
Plaintiff not disabled and accordingly denied Plaintiff's
claims for benefits (Tr. 44-54). Consequently, Plaintiff
timely requested review of such denial, which was remanded by
action of the Appeals Council (Tr. 55). Another hearing was
then held on April 26, 2017 (Tr. 2036-62), and subsequent to
such hearing, the Administrative Law Judge issued another
unfavorable decision on June 14, 2017 (Tr. 20-39).
Subsequently, Plaintiff requested review from the Appeals
Council, which the Appeals Council denied (Tr. 13). Plaintiff
then timely filed a complaint with this Court (Doc. 1). The
case is now ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. §§
Factual Background and the ALJ's Decision
who was born in 1960, claimed disability beginning April 18,
2012 (Tr. 23, 38). Plaintiff obtained a high school education
(Tr. 38). Plaintiff's past relevant work experience
included work as a truck driver and recreational aide (Tr.
37-38). Plaintiff alleged disability due to back injury on
left side, COPD, on oxygen continually, obesity, enlarged
heart, sleep apnea, and thyroid problems (Tr. 1977).
rendering the administrative decision, the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff met the insured status requirements through
December 31, 2016 and had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since April 18, 2012, the alleged onset date (Tr.
23). After conducting a hearing and reviewing the evidence of
record, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: history of degenerative disc disease of the
lumbar spine; history of degenerative disc disease of the
cervical spine, with more recent anterior cervical discectomy
and fusion at C5-C6 and C6-C7; left shoulder osteoarthritis,
status-post recent surgery; history of left knee surgery,
with more recent evidence of mild degenerative joint disease;
history of pneumothorax, with residual emphysema/chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease, interstitial/pulmonary
fibrosis, possible Mycobacterium avium complex, and
related abnormalities; obstructive sleep apnea; recurring
hernias, status-post surgeries; and obesity. Id.
Notwithstanding the noted impairments, the ALJ determined
Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (Tr.
26). The ALJ then concluded that Plaintiff retained a
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform
light work, except that the Plaintiff can only occasionally
climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; can frequently climb
ramps and stairs, but only occasionally stoop, balance,
kneel, crouch, and crawl; can occasionally reach overhead;
can tolerate occasional exposure to fumes, odors, dust,
gases, and extreme heat; and can tolerate occasional exposure
to hazards, such as moving mechanical parts of equipment,
tools, or machinery (Tr. 26). In formulating Plaintiff's
RFC, the ALJ considered Plaintiff's subjective complaints
and determined that, although the evidence established the
presence of underlying impairments that reasonably could be
expected to produce the symptoms alleged, Plaintiff's
statements as to the intensity, persistence, and limiting
effects of his symptoms were not entirely consistent with the
medical evidence and other evidence (Tr. 27).
Plaintiff's noted impairments and the assessment of a
vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined the
Plaintiff could perform his past relevant work as a
recreational aide (Tr. 38). In the alternative, given
Plaintiff's background and RFC, the VE testified that
Plaintiff could perform other jobs existing in significant
numbers in the national economy, such as a route delivery
clerk, order filler, and layaway clerk (Tr. 38-39).
Accordingly, based on Plaintiff's age, education, work
experience, RFC, and the testimony of the VE, the ALJ found
Plaintiff not disabled (Tr. 39).
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. 42 U.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. 42 U.S.C. §§
Social Security Administration, in order to regularize the
adjudicative process, 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. §§
404.1520, 416.920. If an individual is found disabled at any
point in the sequential review, further inquiry is
unnecessary. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a).
Under this process, the ALJ must determine, in sequence, the
following: whether the claimant is currently engaged in
substantial gainful activity; whether the claimant has a
severe impairment, i.e., one that significantly
limits the ability to perform work-related functions; whether
the severe impairment meets or equals the medical criteria of
20 C.F.R. Part 404 Subpart P, Appendix 1; and whether the
claimant can perform his or her past relevant work. If the
claimant cannot perform the tasks required of his or her
prior work, step five of the evaluation requires the ALJ to
decide if the claimant can do other work in the national
economy in view of his or her age, education, and work
experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a). A
claimant is entitled to benefits only if unable to perform
other work. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-42
(1987); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g).
determination by the Commissioner that a claimant is not
disabled 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) (citations omitted).
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 ...