United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division
ANGELA H. GORDON, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
P. FLYNN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
seeks judicial review of the denial of her claims for
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). As the
Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”) decision
was based on substantial evidence and employed proper legal
standards, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.
January 15, 2015, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB and
SSI (Tr. 250-53). The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's
claims both initially and upon reconsideration (Tr. 162-76).
The ALJ held a hearing at which Plaintiff appeared and
testified (Tr. 125-58). Following the hearing, the ALJ issued
an unfavorable decision finding Plaintiff not disabled and,
accordingly, denied Plaintiff's claims for benefits (Tr.
19-38). Subsequently, Plaintiff requested review from the
Appeals Council, which was denied (Tr. 1-7). 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),
BACKGROUND AND THE ALJ'S DECISION
who was born in 1969, claimed disability beginning January 5,
2015 (Tr. 22, 32). Plaintiff obtained a high school education
(Tr. 32). Plaintiff's past relevant work experience
included work as a cashier, payroll clerk, and as an
accounting clerk (Tr. 32). Plaintiff alleged disability due
to depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder
(“PTSD”), diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome,
chronic kidney disease, arthritis, scoliosis, and b
radycardia (Tr. 163, 139-45).
rendering the administrative decision, the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff met the insured status requirements through
December 31, 2020, and had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since the third-quarter of 2015 (Tr. 24). After
conducting a hearing and reviewing the evidence of record,
the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: chronic kidney disease, diabetes mellitus, chest
pain, essential hypertension, bradycardia, obesity,
depression, and anxiety (Tr. 25). 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. 25). The ALJ then
concluded that Plaintiff retained a residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work with the
following additional limitations: occasional climbing of
ramps or stairs; no climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds;
occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and
crawling; must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme heat,
hazardous machinery and unprotected heights; and limited to
performing simple, routine, and repetitive tasks, and no more
than frequent contact with supervisors, co-workers, and the
general public (Tr. 27).
considering Plaintiff's noted impairments and the
assessment of a vocational expert (“VE”),
however, the ALJ determined Plaintiff could not perform her
past relevant work (Tr. 32). Given Plaintiff's background
and RFC, the VE testified that Plaintiff could perform other
jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy
(Tr. 33). Accordingly, based on Plaintiff's age,
education, work experience, RFC, and the testimony of the VE,
the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled (Tr. 33).
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, 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), 416.920(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 the
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), 416.920(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), 416.920(g).
determination by the Commissioner that a claimant is not
disabled 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). 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 omitted).
reviewing the Commissioner's decision, the court may not
re-weigh the 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 ...