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Mosher v. Saul

United States District Court, N.D. Florida, Panama City Division

August 12, 2019

HEATHER M. MOSHER, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          ELIZABETH M. TIMOTHY CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This case has been referred to the undersigned magistrate judge for disposition pursuant to the authority of 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, based on the parties' consent to magistrate judge jurisdiction (see ECF Nos. 8, 9). It is now before the court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), for review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying Plaintiff's application for supplemental security income (“SSI”) benefits under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-83.

         Upon review of the record before this court, it is the opinion of the undersigned that the findings of fact and determinations of the Commissioner are not supported by substantial evidence; thus, the decision of the Commissioner should be reversed and remanded for additional administrative proceedings.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On February 24, 2015, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI, and in the application she alleged disability beginning January 1, 2007 (tr. 11).[2] She later amended the onset date to April 30, 2015 (tr. 11, 29). Her application was denied initially and on reconsideration, and thereafter she requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). A hearing was held on February 27, 2017, and on June 14, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision in which she found Plaintiff “not disabled, ” as defined under the Act, at any time from February 24, 2015, through the date of her decision (tr. 11-20).[3] The Appeals Council subsequently denied Plaintiff's request for review. Thus, the decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner, subject to review in this court. Ingram v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 496 F.3d 1253, 1262 (11th Cir. 2007). This appeal followed.

         II. FINDINGS OF THE ALJ

         In denying Plaintiff's claims, the ALJ made the following relevant findings (see tr. 11-20):

(1) Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 24, 2015, the application date;
(2) Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: fibromyalgia, L4-5 disc herniation with foraminal encroachment, lumbosacral radiculitis, lumbar disc degeneration, cervicalgia, plantar fasciitis (left foot), and obesity;
(3) Plaintiff has no impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1;
(4) Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b) except Plaintiff must be able to alternate between sitting and standing at thirty-minute intervals as needed; she can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; she can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, and crouch but never kneel or crawl; she can occasionally be exposed to heat, wetness, and humidity but should avoid all exposure to excessive vibration and workplace hazards such as unprotected heights and moving machinery; and she would be absent from work one day monthly due to her impairments;
(5) Plaintiff is unable to perform any past work;
(6) Plaintiff was born on October 11, 1975, and was 39 years of age, which is defined as a younger individual aged 18-49, on the date the application was filed;
(7) Plaintiff has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English;
(8) Transferability of job skills is not an issue because Plaintiff has no past relevant work;
(9) Considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there are light jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform, including office clerk assistant, ticket taker, and mail sorter;
(10) Plaintiff has not been under a disability, as defined in the Act, since February 24, 2015, the date the application was filed.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Review of the Commissioner's final decision is limited to determining whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence from the record and was a result of the application of proper legal standards. Carnes v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1215, 1218 (11th Cir. 1991) (“[T]his Court may reverse the decision of the [Commissioner] only when convinced that it is not supported by substantial evidence or that proper legal standards were not applied.”); see also Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1439 (11th Cir. 1997); Walker v. Bowen, 826 F.2d 996, 999 (11th Cir. 1987). “A determination that is supported by substantial evidence may be meaningless . . . if it is coupled with or derived from faulty legal principles.” Boyd v. Heckler, 704 F.2d 1207, 1209 (11th Cir. 1983), superseded by statute on other grounds as stated in Elam v. R.R. Ret. Bd., 921 F.2d 1210, 1214 (11th Cir. 1991). As long as proper legal standards were applied, the Commissioner's decision will not be disturbed if in light of the record as a whole the decision appears to be supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Falge v. Apfel, 150 F.3d 1320, 1322 (11th Cir. 1998); Lewis, 125 F.3d at 1439; Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1995). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, but not a preponderance; it is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1427, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 59 S.Ct. 206, 217, 83 L.Ed. 126 (1938)); Lewis, 125 F.3d at 1439. The court may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990) (citations omitted). Even if the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's decision, the decision must be affirmed if supported by substantial evidence. Sewell v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 1065, 1067 (11th Cir. 1986).

         The Act defines a disability as an “inability 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 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). To qualify as a disability the physical or mental impairment must be so severe that the claimant is not only unable to do her previous work, “but cannot, considering [her] age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy.” Id. § 423(d)(2)(A). Pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)-(g), [4] the Commissioner analyzes a disability claim in five steps:

1. If the claimant is performing substantial gainful activity, she is not disabled.
2. If the claimant is not performing substantial gainful activity, her impairments must be severe before she can be found disabled.
3. If the claimant is not performing substantial gainful activity and she has severe impairments that have lasted or are expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months, and if her impairments meet or medically equal the criteria of any impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, the claimant is presumed disabled without further inquiry.
4. If the claimant's impairments do not prevent her from doing her past relevant work, she is not disabled.
5. Even if the claimant's impairments prevent her from performing her past relevant work, if other work exists in significant numbers in the national economy that accommodates her ...

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