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Nelson v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

September 4, 2019




         This is an action for review of the administrative denial of disability insurance benefits (DIB) and period of disability benefits. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff argues the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) erred by failing to properly consider her pain complaints and that the Appeals Council erred in denying her request for review of the ALJ's decision. After considering the parties' joint memorandum (doc. 18) and the administrative record, I find that the ALJ's decision that Plaintiff is not disabled is in accordance with the law and supported by substantial evidence. I also find the Appeals Council did not err in denying Plaintiff's request for review. I affirm the Commissioner's decision.

         A. Background

         Plaintiff Stephanie Nelson, born on May 22, 1971, was 39 years old on her alleged onset date of February 9, 2011. She earned an associate degree in computer-aided drafting and has prior work experience as a line cook (R.48). She is single, and lives with three roommates. Plaintiff's date of last insured is December 31, 2016. She alleges disability due to chronic asthma, bulging discs, herniated discs, carpal tunnel in her right hand, left knee replacement, right knee compensation pain, tendonitis and bursitis in her right shoulder, and arthroscopy second digit (R. 225). She testified these impairments cause daily, chronic pain; she rates her pain as a three to a five on a scale of one to ten (with pain medication, heating pad, and Bio Freeze) (R. 55). Her right knee gives out once or twice a day. She has tried using a cane, but it did not help with steadiness and caused discomfort and pain (R. 57). When ambulating, she uses a crutch or a shopping cart; when shaving her legs in the shower she uses a shower chair (R. 57). Plaintiff testified she can walk twenty to thirty minutes at a time, and can stand fifteen to twenty minutes (R. 57-58). She assists with household chores such as small loads of laundry, sweeping, vacuuming, mopping, dusting, and cleaning dishes, but has to take frequent breaks (R. 59-60, 61). While she is able to get dressed on her own, she sits down to put her pants on as she loses her balance standing up (R. 60).

         After hearing on January 25, 2017, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffers from the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease of the cervical, lumbar, and thoracic spine; a right foot disorder; a bilateral knee disorder; a right shoulder disorder; asthma; obesity; and insomnia (R. 21). But the ALJ determined that Plaintiff is not disabled, because she retains the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform less than a full range of sedentary work (R. 24). Specifically, the ALJ found Plaintiff restricted as follows:

She could never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffold. She could never crawl. She could occasionally climb ramps or stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, or crouch. She required the option to sit/stand every 20-30 minutes for 5 minutes at a time without leaving the workstation. She could frequently reach with her right upper extremity. She should have avoided concentrated exposure to temperature extremes, vibration, pulmonary irritants, and workplace hazards.

(R. 24). The ALJ found that, with this RFC, Plaintiff could not perform her past relevant work but could perform jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy, including the jobs of charge account clerk, call out operator, and telephone quotation clerk (R. 34). The Appeals Council denied review (R. 1). Plaintiff, after exhausting her administrative remedies, filed this action.

         B. Standard of Review

         To be entitled to DIB, a claimant 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 12 months.” See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(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.” See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(3).

         The Social Security Administration, to regularize the adjudicative process, promulgated detailed regulations that are currently in effect. These regulations establish a “sequential evaluation process” to determine whether a claimant is disabled. See 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)(4). Under this process, the Commissioner must determine, in sequence, the following: (1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment(s) (i.e., one that significantly limits her ability to perform work-related functions); (3) whether the severe impairment meets or equals the medical criteria of Appendix 1, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P; (4) considering the Commissioner's determination of claimant's RFC, whether the claimant can perform her past relevant work; and (5) if the claimant cannot perform the tasks required of her prior work, the ALJ must decide if the claimant can do other work in the national economy in view of her RFC, age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). A claimant is entitled to benefits only if unable to perform other work. See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 142 (1987); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f), (g).

         In reviewing the ALJ's findings, this Court must ask if substantial evidence supports those findings. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971). The ALJ's factual findings are conclusive if “substantial evidence consisting of relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion exists.” Keeton v. Dep't of Health and Human Servs., 21 F.3d 1064, 1066 (11th Cir. 1994) (citation and quotations omitted). The Court may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its own judgment for that of the ALJ even if it finds the evidence preponderates against the ALJ's decision. See Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983). The Commissioner's “failure to apply the correct law or to provide the reviewing court with sufficient reasoning for determining the proper legal analysis has been conducted mandates reversal.” Keeton, 21 F.3d at 1066 (citations omitted).

         C. Discussion

         1. ...

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