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Bercaw v. Saul

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

August 9, 2019

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



         Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the partial denial of her 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.


         A. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability, DIB, and SSI (Tr. 213-221). The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's claims both initially and upon reconsideration (Tr. 87-112).

         Plaintiff then requested an administrative hearing (Tr. 135). Per Plaintiff's request, the ALJ held a hearing at which Plaintiff appeared and testified (Tr. 32-58). Following the hearing, the ALJ issued a partially favorable decision finding that the Plaintiff was not disabled prior to December 23, 2014, but became disabled on that date and continued to be disabled through the date of the decision (Tr. 16-23)[2]. Subsequently, Plaintiff requested review from the Appeals Council, which the Appeals Council denied (Tr. 1). Plaintiff then timely filed a complaint with this Court (Doc. 1). The case is now ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).

         B. Factual Background and the ALJ's Decision

         Plaintiff, who was born in 1965, claimed disability beginning December 23, 2014 (Tr. 20). Plaintiff obtained a high school education (Tr. 35). Plaintiff's past relevant work experience included work as a security officer (Tr. 35). Plaintiff alleged disability due to IBS, back pain, depression, HBP, and mesenteric panniculitis (Tr. 78).

         In rendering the administrative decision, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements through December 31, 2013 and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 23, 2014, the alleged onset date (Tr. 20). After conducting a hearing and reviewing the evidence of record, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: irritable bowel syndrome, panniculitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, degenerative disk disease, cubital tunnel syndrome, and depression. 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. 20-21). The ALJ then concluded that Plaintiff retained a residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work except the claimant requires a sit-stand option alternating positions from 15-20 minutes; cannot perform work involving hazards, temperature extremes or climbing; is able to perform unskilled low-stress jobs, defined as simple, routine, and repetitive entry-level; and due to pain and irritable bowel syndrome symptoms with the need for frequent bathroom visits, she will be off-task greater than 10% of the time (Tr. 21). In formulating Plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ considered Plaintiff's subjective complaints concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of these symptoms and found them reasonably consistent with the medical evidence and other evidence in the record (Tr. 22).

         Considering Plaintiff's noted impairments and the assessment of a vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined Plaintiff could not perform her past relevant work (Tr. 22). Given Plaintiff's background and RFC, the VE testified that there are no jobs available in the national economy in significant numbers that the Plaintiff could perform (Tr. 23). Accordingly, based on Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, RFC, and the testimony of the VE, the ALJ found Plaintiff disabled under section 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act beginning on December 23, 2014 (Tr. 23).


         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. 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. §§ 423(d)(3), 1382c(a)(3)(D).

         The 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).

         A 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 ...

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