United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division
LINDA S. HARPER, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security,  Defendant.
HONORABLE CHRISTOPHER P. TUTTE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE
Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's
denial of her claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB).
For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner's
decision is affirmed.
Plaintiff was born in 1962 and has past relevant work
experience as an accounting clerk. (R. 99, 101). In April
2014, the Plaintiff applied for DIB, alleging disability
beginning on January 22, 2010, due to anxiety, depression,
fibromyalgia, carpal tunnel syndrome, degenerative disc
disease, hip, pelvis, back, and knee problems, and cervical
and lumbar spine impairments. (R. 147, 269-71, 298). The
Social Security Administration denied her application both
initially and on reconsideration. (R. 146, 157).
Plaintiff's request, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
conducted a hearing on the matter on May 17, 2016. (R.
93-120). The Plaintiff was represented by counsel at that
hearing and testified on her own behalf. A vocational expert
(VE) also testified.
decision dated August 22, 2016, the ALJ found that the
Plaintiff: (1) was insured for DIB through December 31, 2011,
and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her
alleged onset date of January 22, 2010; (2) had the severe
impairments of polyneuropathy, degenerative joint disease of
the knees, and degenerative disc disease of the cervical and
lumbar spines; (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 a wide range of
sedentary work subject to some additional functional and
environmental limitations; and (5) based upon the VE's
testimony, could perform her past relevant work as an
accounting clerk. (R. 79-86).
particular relevance here, with respect to the
Plaintiff's mental health, at step three of her analysis
the ALJ considered the four areas of mental functioning-known
as the “Paragraph B” criteria-used in the
disability process for evaluating mental
impairments. The ALJ determined that the
Plaintiff's alleged mental impairments did not satisfy
the “Paragraph B” criteria for Listing 12.04
(affective disorder) and Listing 12.06 (anxiety-related
disorder). (R. 80). In making this determination, the ALJ
found that the Plaintiff had mild restrictions in activities
of daily living and social functioning, but moderate
difficulties in concentration, persistence, or pace. (R.
80-81). Based on this determination as well as the rest of
her findings, the ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff was not
disabled. (R. 86).
Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision, which
the Appeals Council granted. (R. 252, 254-57). In affirming
the ALJ's disability determination, the Appeals Council
largely agreed with the ALJ's conclusions at steps one
through four. (R. 8). The Appeals Council, however, disagreed
with the ALJ's assessment as to the “Paragraph
B” criteria. Id. Specifically, the Appeals
Council found the ALJ's conclusion that the Plaintiff had
no severe mental impairment incompatible with her
determination that the Plaintiff had moderate difficulties in
concentration, persistence, or pace. Id. The Appeals
Council instead found that the Plaintiff had no more than
mild difficulties in concentration, persistence, or pace and
confirmed the ALJ's finding of no severe mental
impairments. Id. Accordingly, the Appeals Council
concluded that the Plaintiff was not disabled through her
date last insured. (R. 10).
Appeal Council did not subsequently elect to revise its
decision and it therefore became the final decision of the
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); see also 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)); see
also 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 is dissatisfied with an ALJ's decision, she may
request that the Appeals Council review the action. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.967, 416.1467. If the Appeals Council grants
review, it may then affirm, modify, or reverse the ALJ's
decision and remand the matter back to the ALJ. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.970, 404.979, 404.981. In doing so, the
Appeals Council must engage in a de novo evaluation
of the record evidence, including any new and material
evidence submitted to it that relates to the date on or
before the ALJ's decision. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.976, 404.979. The Appeals Council's decision is
binding unless it subsequently elects to revise it, and it is
subject to judicial review in federal court as the final
decision of the Commissioner. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981,
404.984; Ingram v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin.,
496 F.3d 1253, 1261 (11th Cir. 2007).
review is limited to determining whether the
Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial
evidence and whether he applied the correct legal standards.
See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); 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)). While the ...