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Testoni v. Saul

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

August 14, 2019

ANGELA TESTONI, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, [1] Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER [2]

          JAMES R. KLINDT, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. Status

         Angela Testoni (“Plaintiff”) is appealing the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration's (“SSA('s)”) final decision denying her claim for disability income benefits (“DIB”). Plaintiff's alleged inability to work is the result of spinal stenosis, bilateral carpal tunnel, sciatica, glaucoma, cataracts, and bunions. See Transcript of Administrative Proceedings (Doc. No. 10; “Tr.” or “administrative transcript”), filed September 10, 2018, at 321, 336, 492. Plaintiff filed an application for DIB on April 6, 2015, [3] alleging a disability onset date of July 1, 2011. Tr. at 441. The application was denied initially, Tr. at 321-33, 334, 335; and upon reconsideration, Tr. at 336-47, 348, 349.

         On August 9, 2017, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing, during which she heard testimony from Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, and a vocational expert (“VE”). Tr. at 43-73. Plaintiff was fifty years old at the time of the hearing. Tr. at 47. The ALJ issued a Decision on September 12, 2017, finding Plaintiff not disabled through the date last insured. Tr. at 22-37.

         On November 6, 2017, Plaintiff requested review of the Decision by the Appeals Council. See Tr. at 429, 432-39. The Appeals Council received additional evidence in the form of a brief authored by Plaintiff's counsel. Tr. at 5-6; see Tr. at 432-39 (brief). On May 15, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, Tr. at 1-4, thereby making the ALJ's Decision the final decision of the Commissioner. On July 5, 2018, Plaintiff commenced this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) by timely filing a Complaint (Doc. No. 1), seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision.

         On appeal, Plaintiff makes the following argument: “The Decision is not supported by substantial evidence because [certain] limitations are not included in the hypothetical to the VE.” Memorandum in Support of Complaint (Doc. No. 14; “Pl.'s Mem.”), filed November 8, 2018, at 6 (emphasis and capitalization omitted); see Pl.'s Mem. at 6-9. Specifically, Plaintiff contends that “[i]n her hypothetical to the VE the ALJ never stated that . . . [P]laintiff had moderate limitations with regard to concentration, persistence or pace.” Id. at 8. On January 25, 2019, Defendant filed a Memorandum in Support of the Commissioner's Decision (Doc. No. 17; “Def.'s Mem.”) addressing Plaintiff's argument. After a thorough review of the entire record and consideration of the parties' respective memoranda, the undersigned finds that the Commissioner's final decision is due to be affirmed.

         II. The ALJ's Decision

         When determining whether an individual is disabled, [4] an ALJ must follow the five-step sequential inquiry set forth in the Code of Federal Regulations (“Regulations”), determining as appropriate whether the claimant (1) is currently employed or engaging in substantial gainful activity; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one listed in the Regulations; (4) can perform past relevant work; and (5) retains the ability to perform any work in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; see also Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1237 (11th Cir. 2004). The claimant bears the burden of persuasion through step four, and at step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987).

         Here, the ALJ followed the five-step sequential inquiry. See Tr. at 24-36. At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff “did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset date of July 1, 2011 through her date last insured of September 30, 2016.” Tr. at 24 (emphasis and citation omitted). At step two, the ALJ found that “[t]hrough the date last insured, [Plaintiff] had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, sciatica, carpal tunnel syndrome, glaucoma, and cataracts.” Tr. at 25 (emphasis and citation omitted). At step three, the ALJ ascertained that “[t]hrough the date last insured, [Plaintiff] did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 [C.F.R.] Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.” Tr. at 25 (emphasis and citation omitted).

         The ALJ determined that through the date last insured, Plaintiff had the following residual functional capacity (“RFC”):

[Plaintiff could] perform light work as defined in 20 [C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), except [Plaintiff could] only occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and reach overhead. She [was] limited to frequent handling and fingering and [was required to] avoid climbing and exposure to workplace hazards. She require[d] the ability to alternate between sitting and standing hourly, with changes in position occurring at a duty station so work duties [could] be performed from either position. [Plaintiff was] limited to simple, routine tasks.

Tr. at 27 (emphasis omitted).

         At step four, the ALJ relied on the testimony of the VE and found that “[t]hrough the date last insured, [Plaintiff] was unable to perform any past relevant work.” Tr. at 35 (emphasis and citation omitted). At step five, after considering Plaintiff's age (“49 years old . . . on the date last insured”), education (“at least a high school education”), work experience, and RFC, the ALJ again relied on the testimony of the VE and found that “[t]hrough the date last insured, . . . there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that [Plaintiff] could have performed, ” Tr. at 35 (emphasis and citation omitted), such as “Assembler, Small Products”; Warehouse Checker”; and “Inspector and Packer, ” Tr. at 36. The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff “was not under a disability . . . at any time from July 1, 2011, the alleged onset date, through September 30, 2016, the date last insured.” Tr. at 37 (emphasis and citation omitted).

         III. ...


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