United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division
ARNOLD SANSONE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Hartling seeks judicial review of a decision by the
Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) denying his
claim for disability insurance benefits (DIB) under the
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). After reviewing
the record, including a transcript of the proceedings before
the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), the administrative
record, pleadings, and joint memorandum submitted by the
parties, the Commissioner's decision is
Hartling applied for DIB on March 5, 2015, alleging
disability beginning on October 1, 2010. (Tr. 82, 94,
183-84). Mr. Hartling amended his disability onset date to
September 20, 2011. (Tr. 194). Disability examiners denied Mr.
Hartling's application initially and on reconsideration,
and a hearing was held before an ALJ. (Tr. 48-81). The ALJ
issued an unfavorable decision. (Tr. 14-37).
Appeals Council denied Mr. Hartling's request for review
of the ALJ's decision, making the ALJ's decision the
final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1- 6). Mr. Hartling
now seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's decision.
NATURE OF DISABILITY CLAIM
Hartling was fifty-four years old on his date last insured.
(Tr. 183). Mr. Hartling has two years of college education
and past relevant work as a prison guard in a
maximum-security prison. (Tr. 54, 199, 201, 219). Mr.
Hartling claims disability because of spinal stenosis, spinal
fusion with laminectomy, lumbar disc herniations,
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, high blood
pressure, gastritis, GERD, diarrhea, nausea, and stomach
pain. (Tr. 200, 246).
Summary of the ALJ's Decision
must follow five steps when evaluating a claim for
disability. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). First, if a
claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity,
is not disabled. § 404.1520(b). Second, if a claimant
does not have an impairment or combination of impairments
that significantly limit his physical or mental ability to
perform basic work activities, he does not have a severe
impairment and is not disabled. § 404.1520(c); see
McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1031 (11th Cir. 1986)
(stating step two acts as a filter and “allows only
claims based on the most trivial impairments to be
rejected”). Third, if a claimant's impairments fail
to meet or equal an impairment in the Listings, he is not
disabled. § 404.1520(d); 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P,
app. 1. Fourth, if a claimant's impairments do not
prevent him from performing past relevant work, he is not
disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). At this fourth step,
the ALJ determines the claimant's residual functional
capacity (RFC). Fifth, if a claimant's impairments
(considering his RFC, age, education, and past work) do not
prevent him from performing other work in the national
economy, he is not disabled. § 404.1520(g).
here determined Mr. Hartling had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity from his alleged onset date of September 20,
2011, through his date last insured of December 31, 2015.
(Tr. 19). The ALJ found Mr. Hartling had these severe
history of degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine
status post remote C5-6 discectomy and fusion and remote
laminectomy and fusion at ¶ 4-5 and C6-7, with residual
stenosis and radiculopathy as well as indication of failed
neck syndrome; degenerative disc disease of lumbar spine with
L4-5 extrusion causing moderate impingement of ventral sac
and mild disc bulge at ¶ 3-4 with stenosis and possible
radiculopathy; unspecified depressive and anxiety disorders;
(Id.). However, the ALJ found Mr. Hartling's
impairments or combination of impairments failed to meet or
medically equal the severity of an impairment in the
Listings. (Tr. 19-21).
then found Mr. Harling could perform light work with these
a sit/stand option every 30 to 60 minutes; never climb
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, and never crawl; occasionally
climb ramps or stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, or crouch;
occasionally operate foot controls bilaterally, and push/pull
with the upper extremities bilaterally; frequently reach,
handle and finger bilaterally; avoid concentrated exposure to
extreme temperatures, excessive noise and excessive
vibrations; avoid all exposure to hazardous machinery or
unprotected heights; limited to simple routine repetitive
tasks in a low-stress job (defined as only occasional
decision making, only occasional changes in work setting, and
no in-person interaction with the public and only occasional
in-person interaction with co-workers).
(Tr. 21). Based on these findings and the testimony at the
hearing, the ALJ determined Mr. Hartling could not perform
his past relevant work. (Tr. 29). However, the ALJ found Mr.
Hartling could perform other jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 30). Thus, the ALJ
found Mr. Hartling not disabled. (Tr. 31).
Standard of Review
of the ALJ's decision is limited to determining whether
the ALJ applied correct legal standards and whether
substantial evidence supports his findings. McRoberts v.
Bowen, 841 F.2d 1077, 1080 (11th Cir. 1988);
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971).
Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla but less
than a preponderance. Dale v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d
1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted). In other
words, there must be sufficient evidence for a reasonable
person to accept as enough to support the conclusion.
Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1995)
reviewing court must affirm a decision supported by
substantial evidence “even if the proof preponderates
against it.” Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d
1232, 1240 n.8 (11th Cir. 2004) (citations omitted). The
court must not make new factual determinations, reweigh
evidence, or substitute its judgment for the
Commissioner's decision. Phillips, 357 F.3d at
1240 (citation omitted). Instead, the court must view the
whole record, considering evidence favorable and unfavorable
to the Commissioner's decision. Foote, 67 F.3d
at 1560; see also Lowery v. Sullivan, 979 F.2d 835,
837 (11th Cir. 1992) ...