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Henderson v. Saul

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

August 26, 2019

MICHAEL HENDERSON, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          ORDER

          ANTHONY E. PORCELLI UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the denial of his claim for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). As the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”) decision was based on substantial evidence and employed proper legal standards, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.

         I.

         A. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed an application for SSI (Tr. 291). The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's claims both initially and upon reconsideration (Tr. 166-68, 173-77). Plaintiff then requested an administrative hearing (Tr. 178-79). Per Plaintiff's request, the ALJ held a hearing at which Plaintiff appeared and testified (Tr. 57-74). Following the hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding Plaintiff not disabled and accordingly denied Plaintiff's claims for benefits (Tr. 137-155). Consequently, Plaintiff timely filed requested review of such denial, which was remanded by action of the Appeals Council on January 24, 2017 (Tr. 156-160). Another hearing was held on July 13, 2017 (Tr. 75-103), and subsequent to such hearing, the Administrative Law Judge issued an unfavorable decision on November 9, 2017 (Tr. 10-22). Plaintiff timely requested review of such denial, which was denied by action of the Appeals Council on March 23, 2018 (Tr. 1-5). Plaintiff then timely filed a complaint with this Court (Doc. 1). The case is now ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).

         B. Factual Background and the ALJ's Decision

         Plaintiff, who was born in 1963, claimed disability beginning January 15, 2005, a date the Plaintiff later amended to November 25, 2013 (Tr. 106, 10-12, 20). Plaintiff obtained a limited seventh grade education and can communicate in English (Tr. 15, 20). Plaintiff has no past relevant work (Tr. 20). Plaintiff alleged disability due to lower back pain, bipolar, and depression (Tr. 105).

         In rendering the administrative decision, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 25, 2013, the alleged onset date (Tr. 12). After conducting a hearing and reviewing the evidence of record, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease, coronary artery disease (2-stent placement), chronic shoulder and elbow pain, bipolar disorder, learning disorder, and depression. Id. Notwithstanding the noted impairments, the ALJ determined Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (Tr. 13). The ALJ then concluded that Plaintiff retained a residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform less than the full range of light work. The Plaintiff remains able to lift up to 20 pounds occasionally and lift/carry up to 10 pounds frequently; can stand or walk for approximately 6 hours per 8-hour workday, and sit for approximately 6 hours per 8-hour workday with normal breaks; is limited to occasional climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, and frequent all other postural limitations including climbing ramps or stairs, balancing, stooping, crouching, kneeling and crawling; limited reaching with the right arm in front and laterally to frequent; the claimant must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme hazards and extreme heat; work is limited to unskilled work, specific vocational preparation (SVP), 1 or 2, simple, routine, repetitive tasks, occasional interaction with the public and supervisors and only occasional changes in work setting (Tr. 14). In formulating Plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ considered Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined that, although the evidence established the presence of underlying impairments that reasonably could be expected to produce the symptoms alleged, Plaintiff's statements as to the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of his symptoms were not entirely consistent with the medical evidence and other evidence (Tr. 16). Given Plaintiff's background and RFC, the VE testified that Plaintiff could perform other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy, including assembly such as filter assembler, production inspection such as final inspector, and verifying and recording such as marker (Tr. 21). Accordingly, based on Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, RFC, and the testimony of the VE, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled. Id.

         II.

         To be entitled to benefits, a claimant must be disabled, meaning he or she must be unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). A “physical or mental impairment” is an impairment that 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).

         The Social Security Administration, in order to regularize the adjudicative process, promulgated the detailed regulations currently in effect. These regulations establish a “sequential evaluation process” to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. If an individual is found disabled at any point in the sequential review, further inquiry is unnecessary. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a). Under this process, the ALJ must determine, in sequence, the following: whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; whether the claimant has a severe impairment, i.e., one that significantly limits the ability to perform work-related functions; whether the severe impairment meets or equals the medical criteria of 20 C.F.R. Part 404 Subpart P, Appendix 1; and whether the claimant can perform his or her past relevant work. If the claimant cannot perform the tasks required of his or her prior work, step five of the evaluation requires the ALJ to decide if the claimant can do other work in the national economy in view of his or her age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a). A claimant is entitled to benefits only if unable to perform other work. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-42 (1987); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g).

         A determination by the Commissioner that a claimant is not disabled must be upheld if it is supported by substantial evidence and comports with applicable legal standards. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938) (internal quotation marks omitted)); Miles v. Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996). While the court reviews the Commissioner's decision with deference to the factual findings, no such deference is given to the legal conclusions. Keeton v. Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 21 F.3d 1064, 1066 (11th Cir. 1994) (citations omitted).

         In reviewing the Commissioner's decision, the court may not re-weigh the evidence or substitute its own judgment for that of the ALJ even if it finds that the evidence preponderates against the ALJ's decision. Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983). The Commissioner's failure to apply the correct law, or to give the reviewing court sufficient reasoning for determining that he or she has conducted the proper legal analysis, mandates reversal. Keeton, 21 F.3d at 1066. The scope of review is thus limited to determining whether the findings of the Commissioner are supported ...


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