United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division
HONORABLE CHRISTOPHER P. TUTIE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's
denial of his claims for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB)
and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments. For the
reasons discussed below, the Commissioner's decision is
Plaintiff was born in 1968, completed the eleventh grade, and
has past relevant work as a merchant, meat cutter, utility
worker, bedspring assembler, and cutoff machine operator. (R.
477, 491). In September 2011, the Plaintiff applied for DIB
and SSI, alleging disability as of July 23, 2009, due to
injuries to his ribs, neck, lower back, and right shoulder.
(R. 89-104). The Social Security Administration (SSA) denied
his applications both initially and on reconsideration. (R.
Plaintiff's request, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
conducted a hearing on the matter on August 14, 2013. (R.
34-88). The Plaintiff was represented by counsel at that
hearing and testified on his own behalf. (R. 34-74, 82-83,
86-88). A vocational expert (VE) also testified. (R. 75-86).
November 22, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision finding that the
Plaintiff was not disabled. (R. 18-33). The Plaintiff
requested that the Appeals Council review that decision (R.
16-17), and, when the Council agreed with the
Commissioner's disability determination (R. 1-6), the
Plaintiff sought relief in federal court. On the
Commissioner's subsequent motion, the court entered
judgment in favor of the Plaintiff and remanded the case to
the SSA pursuant to section 405(g) of the Social Security Act
(the Act). (R. 534-35).
remand, the Appeals Council directed the ALJ to resolve
several issues with the Commissioner's earlier decision.
(R. 555-56). Of relevance here, one of those issues pertained
to the ALJ's evaluation of the reports of three of the
Plaintiff's physicians: Dr. Lorenzo Bongolan, an
orthopedic surgeon; Dr. Samuel Joseph, a neurologist; and Dr.
Robert Burchette, a consultative physician. The Appeals
Council noted that, although the ALJ discussed these reports,
he neglected to state the weight he assigned to the
physicians' opinions. (R. 555). The Appeals Council
accordingly instructed the ALJ to give further consideration
to these reports in accordance with the governing regulations
and to explain the weight afforded to each. (R. 556).
response to the Appeals Council's remand order, the ALJ
conducted a second hearing in August 2017. (R. 486-517). The
Plaintiff, again represented by counsel, testified at that
hearing, as did a VE. Id.
decision dated May 2, 2018, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff:
(1) had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his
alleged onset date of July 23, 2009; (2) had the severe
impairments of scoliosis, cardiac insufficiency, and
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 subject to certain limitations; and (5)
based in part on the VE's testimony, could not engage in
his past relevant work but was capable of performing jobs
that exist in significant numbers in the national economy.
(R. 469-78). In light of these findings, the ALJ concluded
that the Plaintiff was not disabled. Id.
Plaintiff elected not to seek the Appeals Council's
review of the ALJ's decision. (Doc. 17 at 2). As a
result, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of
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. §§
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)).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 jobs in the national economy given his 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 he cannot perform the work identified by the
the claimant bears “the overall burden of demonstrating
the existence of a disability, ” an ALJ has a
firmly-established duty to develop a full and fair record of
the facts relevant to the claimant's application for
benefits. Washington v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 906
F.3d 1353, 1359-64 (11th Cir. 2018) (citations omitted). This
duty stems from the fact that Social Security proceedings are
by their nature “inquisitorial, rather than
adversarial.” Id. at 1364 (citations omitted);
Ingram v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 496 F.3d
1253, 1269 (11th Cir. 2007). An ALJ has not satisfied his
duty to develop the record where the record contains