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 his claim for Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
payments. For the reasons discussed below, the
Commissioner's decision is affirmed.
Plaintiff was born in 1966, has a tenth-grade education, and
has no past relevant work experience. (R. 35, 37, 50). In
July 2014, the Plaintiff applied for SSI, alleging disability
as of January 1, 1990, due to depression and an unspecified
mental condition. (R. 56-57, 225). The Social Security
Administration (SSA) denied his application both initially
and on reconsideration. (R. 56-83).
Plaintiff's request, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
conducted a hearing on the matter on December 22, 2016. (R.
29, 97-99). At the commencement of that hearing, the
Plaintiff amended his onset date to his July 2014 application
date. (R. 33). The Plaintiff then testified regarding certain
mental health and physical impairments, including a knee
condition, he claimed rendered him unable to work. (R.
33-49). A vocational expert (VE) also testified. (R. 49-53).
conclusion of the hearing, Plaintiff's counsel suggested
that the ALJ order an updated consultative examination (CE)
of the Plaintiff, particularly with respect to his physical
impairments. (R. 53). The ALJ denied this request, explaining
that the Plaintiff did not allege any physical impairments in
his application and that, to the extent he subsequently
claimed to have a knee issue, this impairment was
“accounted for” in the more recent medical
records. (R. 54). The ALJ also declined to order a mental CE,
noting that the consultative examiner who last evaluated the
Plaintiff found that “some secondary gain issues
appeared evident.” Id.
her decision not to order a physical or mental CE, the ALJ
offered to leave the record open for the Plaintiff to obtain
his own CE. Id. The Plaintiff declined this offer.
decision dated February 22, 2017, the ALJ found that the
Plaintiff: (1) had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since his July 2014 application date; (2) had the
severe impairments of obesity, bipolar disorder, generalized
anxiety disorder, antisocial personality disorder, moderate
depressive disorder with mixed features, and degenerative
joint disease of the right knee (status post arthroscopic
surgery); (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 engage in light work
subject to certain physical, mental, and other limitations;
and (5) based in part on the VE's testimony, could
perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the
national economy. (R. 17-23). In light of these findings, the
ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff was not disabled. (R. 23).
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 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 engage in past relevant work; and (5) can perform
other work in the national economy given his 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 he 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)).
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 ...