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Burdette v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

September 4, 2019

RICHARD BURDETTE, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER

          JULIE S. SNEED UNTIED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, Richard Burdette, seeks judicial review of the denial of his claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. As the Commissioner's decision was based on substantial evidence and employed proper legal standards, the decision is affirmed.

         BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability on December 31, 2014. (Tr. 18, 179- 80.) The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's claims both initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 18, 104-05, 108-09.) Plaintiff then requested an administrative hearing. (Tr. 113-14.) Upon Plaintiff's request, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing at which Plaintiff appeared and testified. (Tr. 32-73.) Following the hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding Plaintiff not disabled and accordingly denied Plaintiff's claims for benefits. (Tr. 18-27.) Subsequently, Plaintiff requested review from the Appeals Council, which the Appeals Council granted. (Tr. 171-74.) Upon review, the Appeals Council still found Plaintiff not disabled. (Tr. 4-7.) Plaintiff then timely filed a Complaint with this Court. (Dkt. 1) The case is now ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3).

         B. Factual Background and the ALJ's Decision

         Plaintiff, who was born in 1958, claimed disability beginning on January 1, 2013. (Tr. 179.) Plaintiff has a master's degree. (Tr. 37.) Plaintiff's past relevant work experience included work as a field contractor. (Tr. 26.) Plaintiff alleged disability due to chronic bilateral hip pain, history of left hip replacement, back and leg pain, history of lumbar fusions, and hypertension. (Tr. 226.)

         In rendering the decision, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had not performed substantial gainful activity since January 1, 2013, the alleged onset date. (Tr. 20.) After conducting a hearing and reviewing the evidence of record, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: “spinal disorders, bilateral hip pain/major joints dysfunction.” (Tr. 21.) Notwithstanding the noted impairments, the ALJ determined that 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. 22.) The ALJ then concluded that Plaintiff retained a residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to

lift and/or carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. Stand and/or walk 6 hours in an 8-hour workday, and sit 6 hours in an 8-hour workday (with normal breaks). The claimant can frequently climb ramps and stairs and frequently climb ladders and scaffolds. He is unlimited in his ability to push/pull, balance and kneel and can frequently stoop, crouch and crawl.

(Tr. 22.) 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 record. (Tr. 23.)

         Considering Plaintiff's noted impairments and the assessment of a vocational expert (“VE”), however, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff could not perform his past relevant work. (Tr. 26.) 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 toll collector, scale attendant, and food order clerk. (Tr. 27.) Accordingly, based on Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, RFC, and the testimony of the VE, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled. (Tr. 27.)

         Upon review, the Appeals Council adopted the majority of the ALJ's decision but found that based on Plaintiff's age and work experience, a finding of disabled would be directed by the rules. (Tr. 5.) Nonetheless, the Appeals Council rejected the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff could not perform his past relevant work. (Tr. 5.) Instead, based on the testimony of the VE, the Appeals Council found that Plaintiff could perform his past relevant work and accordingly found Plaintiff not disabled. (Tr. 6.)

         APPLICABLE STANDARDS

         To be entitled to benefits, a claimant must be disabled, meaning that the claimant must be unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death or that 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 ...


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