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Williams v. Saul

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

September 13, 2019

ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.



         The plaintiff in this case seeks judicial review of the denial of her claim for Social Security disability benefits.[2] Because the Commissioner of Social Security failed to give proper consideration to the opinion of a treating doctor after the submission of that additional evidence, the decision of the Commissioner will be reversed and the matter remanded for further consideration.


         The plaintiff, who was forty-four years old at the time of the administrative decision, and who has a high school education, has past relevant work as a certified nurse assistant (Tr. 58-60). She filed a claim for Social Security disability benefits, alleging that she became disabled due to pain and swelling from her neck to lower back, pain in her arms, numbness in her hands, and depression (Tr. 61-62, 72). The claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration.

         The plaintiff, at her request, then received a de novo hearing before an administrative law judge. The law judge found that the plaintiff has severe impairments of "spine disorders, dysfunction, and major joint (bilateral shoulders)" (Tr. 13). She determined that, as a result of these impairments, the plaintiff had the following residual functional capacity (Tr. 13-14):

[The ability] to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except that the claimant requires a sit/stand option in 30 minute intervals; she can push/pull with the bilateral upper extremities not more than occasionally; she cannot perform overhead reaching with the bilateral upper extremity more than occasionally, and she cannot perform forward reaching with the bilateral upper extremities more than frequently. The claimant could perform postural maneuvers occasionally, except for climbing ladders, ropes and scaffolds and crawling, which may never be performed. The claimant should have no more than occasional exposure to hazards such as unprotected heights and moving machinery.

         The law judge found that, with these limitations, the plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work (Tr. 17). However, based on the testimony of a vocational expert, the law judge determined that the plaintiff could perform other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, such as hand packager, hand stuffer, and table worker (Tr. 18). The law j udge therefore decided that the plaintiff was not disabled (id.)-

         The plaintiff sought review by, and submitted new evidence to, the Appeals Council (see Tr. 2). The Appeals Council "found no reason under [its] rules to review the Administrative Law Judge's decision" (Tr. 1). The Appeals Council let the decision of the law judge stand as the final decision of the defendant (id.).


         In order to be entitled to Social Security disability benefits, a claimant must be unable "to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which ... has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. 423(d)(1)(A). A "physical or mental impairment," under the terms of the Social Security Act, is one "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).

         A determination by the Commissioner that a claimant is not disabled must be upheld if it is supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. 405(g). 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 Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938). Under the substantial evidence test, "findings of fact made by administrative agencies ... may be reversed ... only when the record compels a reversal; the mere fact that the record may support a contrary conclusion is not enough to justify a reversal of the administrative findings." Adefemi v. Ashcroft. 386 F.3d 1022, 1027 (11th Cir. 2004) (en banc), cert. denied. 544 U.S. 1035 (2005).

         It is, moreover, the function of the Commissioner, and not the courts, to resolve conflicts in the evidence and to assess the credibility of the witnesses. Grant v. Richardson. 445 F.2d 656 (5th Cir. 1971). Similarly, it is the responsibility of the Commissioner to draw inferences from the evidence, and those inferences are not to be overturned if they are supported by substantial evidence. Celebrezze v. O'Brient. 323 F.2d 989, 990 (5th Cir. 1963).

         Therefore, in determining whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, the court is not to reweigh the evidence, but is limited to determining whether the record as a whole contains sufficient evidence to permit a reasonable mind to conclude that the claimant is not disabled. However, the court, in its review, must satisfy itself that the proper legal ...

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