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Baxter v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

August 30, 2019




         Marquell Tajae Baxter (Claimant) appeals to the District Court from a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the Commissioner) denying his application supplemental security income. Doc. 1; R. 1-6, 178-87. Claimant argued, in part, that the Administrative Law Judge (the ALJ) erred by mischaracterizing the record. Doc. 19 at 15-19, 22-27. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's final decision is REVERSED and REMANDED.


         On February 5, 2015, Claimant filed an application for supplemental security income. R. 15, 178-87. Claimant alleged a disability onset date of January 21, 1997. Id.

         The ALJ issued his decision on September 7, 2017. R. 17-31. In his decision, the ALJ found that Claimant had the following severe impairments: sickle cell disease, obstructive sleep apnea, asthma/restrictive lung disease, and scoliosis. R. 17-19. The ALJ found that Claimant did not meet or medically equal the severity of one of the listed impairments and found that Claimant had an RFC to perform less than a full range of light work as defined by 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b).[1] R. 19-20. Specifically, the ALJ found as follows:

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) with certain additional limitations. Specifically, the claimant is able to lift, carry, push and pull 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, and is able to sit, stand and walk for up to 6 hours each out of an 8-hour workday. He can climb ramps and stairs occasionally, but should never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. Further, the claimant can frequently balance, but is able to occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl. Furthermore, the claimant is limited to occasional exposure to dust, odors, fumes, pulmonary irritants, extreme heat, extreme cold, and vibration. Lastly, the claimant must avoid exposure to hazards, such as unprotected heights and moving machinery.

R. 20. The ALJ then found that Claimant was capable of performing jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy and, therefore, that Claimant was not disabled between the date of Claimant's disability application and the date of the ALJ's decision. R. 23-24.


         “In Social Security appeals, [the court] must determine whether the Commissioner's decision is ‘supported by substantial evidence and based on proper legal standards.'” Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (citations omitted). The Commissioner's findings of fact are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla - i.e., the evidence must do more than merely create a suspicion of the existence of a fact and must include such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support the conclusion. Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1995) (citing Walden v. Schweiker, 672 F.2d 835, 838 (11th Cir. 1982) and Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). Where the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, the court will affirm, even if the reviewer would have reached a contrary result as finder of fact, and even if the reviewer finds that the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's decision. Edwards v. Sullivan, 937 F.2d 580, 584 n.3 (11th Cir. 1991); Barnes v. Sullivan, 932 F.2d 1356, 1358 (11th Cir. 1991). The court must view the evidence as a whole, taking into account evidence favorable as well as unfavorable to the decision. Foote, 67 F.3d at 1560. The court “‘may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the [Commissioner].'” Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1240 n.8 (11th Cir. 2004) (quoting Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983)).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Claimant argues that the ALJ erred by mischaracterizing the record. Specifically, Claimant argues, in part, that the ALJ: (1) “erroneously stated that [Claimant] ‘did not require treatment in 2016'”; and (2) erroneously stated that neither Claimant nor his attorney alleged that Claimant had an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals any listed impairment. Doc. 19 at 15-19, 22-27. The undersigned agrees.

         In Diorio v. Heckler, 721 F.2d 726, 728 (11th Cir.1983), the Eleventh Circuit held that an ALJ's misstatement of fact is harmless error if it does not affect the ALJ's conclusion. However, Courts in this district have found that if the ALJ makes a misstatement of fact that is material or integral to the ALJ's ultimate decision, then the misstatement is not harmless and remand may be warranted. See Bissinger v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 2014 WL 5093981, at *5-6 (M.D. Fla. Oct. 9, 2014) (finding that the ALJ's misstatement of fact was not harmless) (citations omitted); see also White v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 2010 WL 3467413, at *15-16 (M.D. Fla. Aug. 3, 2010) (finding that the ALJ's decision was not supported by substantial evidence because the ALJ misstatement of fact substantially affected the ALJ's ultimate conclusion), report and recommendation adopted, 2010 WL 3448617 (M.D. Fla. Sept. 1, 2010); but see Washington v. Astrue, 2009 WL 2949034, at *14 (M.D. Fla. Sept 14, 2009) (finding that the ALJ made a material misstatement of fact, but that a single erroneous statement by the ALJ did not require remand) (citation omitted). In addition, Courts in this district have found that remand may be warranted where the ALJ misstates and mischaracterizes the record evidence on numerous points, even if only one such misstatement, standing alone, would not have necessitated remand. See Beckford v. Berryhill, 2017 WL 3835859, *7-9 (M.D. Fla. Aug. 16, 2017) (noting that the ALJ's numerous errors called into question the accuracy of the ALJ's decision); Smith v. Astrue, 2009 WL 3157639, *3-6 (M.D. Fla. Sept. 25, 2009) (finding that the ALJ's misstatements, taken as a whole, indicated that the ALJ failed to properly consider all the evidence); Flentroy-Tennant v. Astrue, 2008 WL 876961, *6-8 (M.D. Fla. Mar. 27, 2008) (noting that the ALJ's numerous misstatements revealed an inaccurate review of the record).

         In his first argument, Claimant argued that the ALJ erroneously stated that Claimant did not require treatment in 2016. In his decision, the ALJ stated, in part, as follows:

The record shows that the claimant has required several short hospitalizations for symptoms associated with his sickle cell anemia. Namely, he was hospitalized in 2015 and again earlier this year. He, however, did not require treatment in 2016. In fact, the record shows no treatment at the Cancer Institute of ...

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