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Brecheen v. Saul

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

August 28, 2019

ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.



         Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the denial of his claim for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and 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.


         A. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed an application for DIB and SSI (Tr. 216-30). The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's claims both initially and upon reconsideration (Tr. 90-91, 98-109, 117-37). Plaintiff then requested an administrative hearing (Tr. 138-39). Per Plaintiff's request, the ALJ held a hearing at which Plaintiff appeared and testified (Tr. 38-77). Following the hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding Plaintiff not disabled and accordingly denied Plaintiff's claims for benefits (Tr. 21-37). Subsequently, Plaintiff requested review from the Appeals Council, which the Appeals Council denied (Tr. 1-7).

         Plaintiff then appealed the decision to the district court. During the proceedings in the district court, the Commissioner requested that the case be remanded to the Commissioner for further action under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), which the district court granted (Tr. 587-91). Specifically, the district court remanded the case to the Commissioner with the following instructions:

On remand, the Administrative Law Judge will: 1) develop the record; 2) further evaluate the Plaintiff's residual functional capacity in accordance with Social Security Ruling 96-8p; 3) evaluate the opinion of the State agency consultant, Dr. Baltazar, and the vocational specialist, Mr[.] Hinson, and specify the weight given to this opinion evidence; and 4) if necessary, obtain supplemental evidence from a vocational expert to clarify the effect of the assessed limitations on the Plaintiff's occupational base.

(Tr. 587).

         Upon remand, the Appeals Council vacated the ALJ's decision and directed that the case be remanded back to an ALJ to address the issues identified by the district court and to offer Plaintiff the opportunity for another administrative hearing (Tr. 592-97). The ALJ subsequently conducted the administrative hearing (Tr. 761-803). After conducting the hearing and considering the evidence, the ALJ rendered an unfavorable decision finding Plaintiff not disabled (Tr. 485-504). Plaintiff again requested review from the Appeals Council, but the Appeals Council declined jurisdiction (Tr. 479-84). 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 1962, claimed disability beginning May 2, 2009 (Tr. 218, 222). Plaintiff has a high school education (Tr. 766). Plaintiff's past relevant work experience included work as a building maintenance repairer and a dump truck driver (Tr. 793-94). Plaintiff alleged disability due to back pain due to a previous fracture, migraines, and pain and numbness in his left leg (Tr. 260).

         In rendering the administrative decision, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements through December 31, 2014 and that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 2, 2009, the alleged onset date (Tr. 491). After conducting a hearing and reviewing the evidence of record, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: low back and left leg pain, remote back injury with surgical correction, and headaches (Tr. 491). 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. 491). The ALJ then concluded that Plaintiff retained a residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work, except that Plaintiff could occasionally climb ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; frequently balance, kneel, and crawl; occasionally stoop and crouch; must avoid concentrated exposure to vibration and noise; and would need a sit/stand option permitting the change of position every hour without risk of going off task (Tr. 492). 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. 493).

         Considering Plaintiff's noted impairments and the assessment of a vocational expert (“VE”), however, the ALJ determined Plaintiff could not perform his past relevant work (Tr. 494). Given Plaintiff's background and RFC, the VE testified that Plaintiff could perform other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy, such as a cashier, small parts assembler, and inspector/packer (Tr. 495). Accordingly, based on ...

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