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Haskins-Scott v. Saul

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

August 22, 2019

TANISHA SUSIE HASKINS-SCOTT, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          ORDER

          HONORABLE CHRISTOPHER P. TUTTE, United States Magistrate Judge.

         The Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's denial of her claims for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments and Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB). For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner's decision is reversed and remanded.

         I.

         The Plaintiff was born in 1977, has a limited education, and has no past relevant work experience. (R. 25, 64, 83). In July 2014, the Plaintiff applied for SSI and DIB, alleging disability as of January 1, 2012, due to a mental disorder and a learning disability. (R. 83). The Social Security Administration (SSA) denied her applications both initially and on reconsideration. (R. 83-128).

         At the Plaintiff's request, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) conducted a hearing on the matter on March 16, 2017. (R. 33-81). The Plaintiff was represented by counsel at that hearing and testified on her own behalf. (R. 33-64, 69-70). A vocational expert (VE) also testified. (R. 64-66, 71-80).

         In a decision dated August 25, 2017, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff: (1) had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date of January 1, 2012; (2) had the severe impairments of psychosis, depression, and borderline intellectual functioning; (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 full range of work, subject to certain non-exertional limitations, including understanding, remembering, and carrying out simple, routine, and repetitive tasks but not at a “production pace” (e.g., assembly line type work); and (5) based on the VE's testimony, was capable of making a successful adjustment to work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. (R. 15-27). In light of these findings, the ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff was not disabled. (R. 26).

         The Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's request for review. (R. 1-6). Accordingly, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner.

         II.

         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); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a), 416.905(a).[2] 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), 1382c(a)(3)(D).

         To 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).[3] 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 engage in past relevant work; and (5) can perform other work in the national economy given her RFC, age, education, and work experience. Id. (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. 2001)).

         A 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)). 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).

         III.

         The Plaintiff raises two challenges on appeal: (1) the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence because the VE relied exclusively on the commercial software program Skill-Tran to support the number of jobs in the national economy available to the Plaintiff; and (2) the ALJ's hypothetical questions to the VE failed to account for the Plaintiff's limitation to understanding, remembering, and carrying out simple, routine, and repetitive tasks but not at a “production pace.” (Doc. 24 at 11-13, 18-20).

         The Commissioner counters that the Eleventh Circuit has found VE testimony similar to that here sufficient to carry the Commissioner's burden at step five, and that the Plaintiff fails to show the positions identified by ...


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