United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division
P. FLYNN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
seeks judicial review of the denial of a Title II claim for a
period of disability and disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”). As the Administrative Law Judge's
(“ALJ”) decision was based on substantial
evidence and employed proper legal standards, the
Commissioner's decision is affirmed.
filed an application for a period of disability and DIB (Tr.
40, 103, 314). T h e Commissioner denied Plaintiff's
claim, and Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing (Tr.
40). Per Plaintiff's request, the ALJ held a hearing and
two supplemental hearings at which Plaintiff appeared and
testified (Tr. 62-129). Following the hearing, the ALJ issued
an unfavorable decision finding Plaintiff not disabled and
accordingly denied Plaintiff's claim for benefits (Tr.
37-61). Subsequently, Plaintiff requested review from the
Appeals Council, which the Appeals Council denied (Tr. 1-6).
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).
Factual Background and the ALJ's Decision
who was born on November 14, 1964, claimed disability
beginning July 14, 2015, as amended (Tr. 40, 103, 314).
Plaintiff obtained at least a high school equivalent
education and has taken some online community college classes
(Tr. 46, 115-16, 314, 374). Plaintiff's past relevant
work experience included work as a restaurant server (Tr. 46,
52, 69, 375, 411). Plaintiff alleged disability due to
fibromyalgia, hypertension, depression, anxiety, bipolar
disorder, sciatica, deteriorating discs in her neck and back,
irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and carpal tunnel syndrome
(Tr. 40, 103, 373).
rendering the administrative decision, the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff met the insured status requirements through
December 31, 2019, and had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since July 14, 2015, the amended alleged onset date
(Tr. 42, 370). After conducting a hearing and reviewing the
evidence of record, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the
following severe impairments: major depressive disorder,
anxiety disorder with panic, degenerative cervical and lumbar
spine and disc disease, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome,
right cubital tunnel syndrome, left shoulder impingement
syndrome, and right shoulder subchondral cyst (Tr. 42).
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.
43). The ALJ then concluded that Plaintiff retained a
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform
light work with the following limitations: the ability to
occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and climb ramps or
stairs, but never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; the
ability to occasionally reach overhead, frequently reach in
other directions, and frequently handle, finger and feel with
the bilateral upper extremities; no concentrated exposure to
weather, to extreme heat or cold, or to wetness or humidity
and no exposure to hazards such as unprotected heights or
moving machinery; occasional interaction with supervisors,
coworkers and the public; can perform simple, routine,
repetitive tasks in a low stress environment (meaning one
with no supervisory responsibilities; with no independent
decision-making except with respect to simple, routine
work-related decisions; and no more than occasional changes
in work processes, routines or settings) (Tr. 45). 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 the symptoms
were not entirely consistent with the medical evidence and
other evidence (Tr. 46, 51).
Plaintiff's noted impairments and the assessment of a
vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined
Plaintiff could not perform past relevant work (Tr. 52).
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 mail
clerk, housekeeper-cleaner, and photocopy machine operator
and that more than one million of these jobs existed in the
national economy (Tr. 53). Accordingly, based on
Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, RFC, and the
testimony of the VE, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled
entitled to benefits, a claimant must be disabled, meaning he
or she 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 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
abnormalities, which are demonstrable by medically acceptable
clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. 42 U.S.C.
§§ 423(d)(3), 1382c(a)(3)(D).
Social Security Administration, in order to regularize the
adjudicative process, promulgated the detailed regulations
currently in effect. These regulations establish a
“sequential evaluation process” to determine
whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. If
an individual is found disabled at any point in the
sequential review, further inquiry is unnecessary. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a). Under this process, the ALJ must
determine, in sequence, the following: whether the claimant
is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; whether
the claimant has a severe impairment, i.e., one that
significantly limits the ability to perform work-related
functions; whether the severe impairment meets or equals the
medical criteria of 20 C.F.R. Part 404 Subpart P, Appendix 1;
and whether the claimant can perform his or her past relevant
work. If they claimant cannot perform the tasks required of
his or her prior work, step five of the evaluation requires
the ALJ to decide if the claimant can do other work in the
national economy in view of his or her age, education, and
work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). A claimant is
entitled to benefits only if unable to perform other work.
Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-42 (1987); 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(g).
determination by the Commissioner that a claimant is not
disable must be upheld if it is supported by substantial
evidence and comports with applicable legal standards.
See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).
Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB,
305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938) (internal quotation marks omitted));
Miles v. Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996)
(citations omitted). While the court reviews the
Commissioner's decision with deference to the factual
findings, no such deference is given to the legal
conclusions. Keeton v. Dep't of Health & Human
Servs., 21 F.3d 1064, 1066 (11th Cir. 1994) (citations
reviewing the Commissioner's decision, the court may not
re-weigh evidence or substitute its own judgment for that of
the ALJ even if it finds that the evidence preponderates
against the ALJ's decision. Bloodsworth v.
Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983). The
Commissioner's failure to apply the correct law, or to
give the reviewing court sufficient reasoning for determining
that he or she has conducted the proper legal analysis,
mandates reversal. Keeton, 21 F.3d at 1066. The
scope of review is thus limited to determining whether the
findings of the Commissioner are supported ...