United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division
HONORABLE CHRISTOPHER P. TUTTE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE
Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's
denial of her claims for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB),
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments, and Widow's
Insurance Benefits (WIB). For the reasons discussed below,
the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.
Plaintiff was born in 1965, obtained an associate's
degree, and has past relevant work experience as a preschool
teacher. (R. 26, 40). In June 2015, the Plaintiff applied for
DIB, SSI, and WIB, alleging disability as of July 1, 2013,
due to anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, bulging discs,
and chronic colitis. (R. 212-20, 232). The Social Security
Administration denied her applications both initially and on
Plaintiff's request, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
conducted a hearing on the matter on July 24, 2017. (R.
33-68). The Plaintiff was represented by counsel at that
hearing and testified on her own behalf. A vocational expert
(VE) also testified.
decision dated November 6, 2017, the ALJ found that the
Plaintiff: (1) was insured for DIB through June 30, 2016; had
a prescribed period for WIB through April 30, 2022; and had
not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged
onset date of July 1, 2013; (2) had the severe impairments of
obesity, hearing loss, chronic gastritis, hiatal hernia,
bipolar disorder, substance dependence, ankylosing
spondylitis, cervical spine disc protrusion, and lumbar spine
degenerative disc disease; (3) did not, however, have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the severity of any of the listed
impairments; (4) had the residual functional capacity (RFC)
to perform light work with some postural, environmental, and
mental limitations; and (5) based in part on the VE's
testimony, could not perform her past relevant work but was
capable of performing other jobs in significant numbers in
the national economy. (R. 17-27). In light of these findings,
the ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff was not disabled. (R.
Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's request for
review. (R. 1-6). Accordingly, the ALJ's decision became
the final decision of the Commissioner.
Social Security Act (the Act) defines disability as the
“inability to engage in any substantial gainful
activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or
mental impairment . . . 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),
1382c(a)(3)(A); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a),
416.905(a). A physical or mental impairment under the
Act “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),
determine whether a claimant is disabled, the Social Security
Regulations (Regulations) prescribe “a five-step,
sequential evaluation process.” Carter v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 726 Fed.Appx. 737, 739 (11th
Cir. 2018) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)); 20
C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). Under this process, 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 RFC to perform past relevant work;
and (5) can perform other work in the national economy given
her RFC, age, education, and work experience.
Carter, 726 Fed.Appx. at 739 (citing Phillips v.
Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1237 (11th Cir. 2004); 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4)). While the
claimant has the burden of proof through step four, the
burden temporarily shifts to the Commissioner at step five.
Sampson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 694 Fed.Appx.
727, 734 (11th Cir. 2017) (citing Jones v. Apfel,
190 F.3d 1224, 1228 (11th Cir. 1999)). If the Commissioner
carries that burden, the claimant must then prove that she
cannot perform the work identified by the Commissioner.
Id. In the end, “the overall burden of
demonstrating the existence of a disability . . . rests with
the claimant.” Washington v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 906 F.3d 1353, 1359 (11th Cir. 2018) (quoting
Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1280 (11th Cir.
claimant who does not prevail at the administrative level may
seek judicial review in federal court provided that the
Commissioner has issued a final decision on the matter after
a hearing. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Judicial review is
limited to determining whether the Commissioner's
decision is supported by substantial evidence and whether he
applied the correct legal standards. Id.;
Hargress v. Soc. Sec. Admin., Comm'r,
883 F.3d 1302, 1305 n.2 (11th Cir. 2018) (citation omitted).
“Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is
such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Hargress,
883 F.3d at 1305 n.2 (quoting Crawford v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004)). In
evaluating whether substantial evidence supports the
Commissioner's decision, the Court “may not decide
the facts anew, make credibility determinations, or re-weigh
the evidence.” Carter, 726 Fed.Appx. at 739
(citing Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211 (11th
Cir. 2005) (per curiam)). While the court accords deference
to the Commissioner's factual findings, “no such
deference is given to [his] legal conclusions.”
Keel-Desensi v. Berryhill, 2019 WL 1417326, at *2
(M.D. Fla. Mar. 29, 2019) (citations omitted).
Plaintiff contends on appeal that the ALJ erred by failing to
adequately address her “new and/or worsening
symptoms” stemming from cellulitis and swelling in her
lower extremities. (Doc. 22 at 5-7). The Commissioner
counters that the ALJ thoroughly considered the entire
record, including the more recent documentation upon which
the Plaintiff relies, and properly assessed the relevant
medical opinions in reaching his conclusion. Id. at
thorough review of the record and the parties'
submissions, the Court agrees with the Commissioner and ...