United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION
R. HOFFMAN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Iris Santiago (Claimant) appeals the Commissioner of Social
Security’s (Commissioner) final decision partially
denying her application for disability benefits. (Doc. 1).
The Claimant raises two arguments challenging the
Commissioner’s final decision and, based on those
arguments, requests that the matter be reversed and remanded
to determine whether she is entitled to disability benefits
for the period that the Administrate Law Judge (ALJ) found
she was not disabled. (Docs. 28 at 10-14, 19-21, 26; 30; 35).
The Commissioner agrees that the case should be reversed and
remanded, but, as discussed in more detail below, the
Commissioner argues that the case should be remanded for a
de novo review of the Claimant’s entire
application for disability benefits – including the
favorable portion of the Commissioner’s final decision.
(Docs. 28 at 15-19, 22-26; 34)). Upon review, the Court finds
that the Commissioner’s final decision is due to be
REVERSED and REMANDED so
the ALJ may complete a de novo review of the
Claimant’s entire application for disability benefits.
The Procedural History
The Application for Benefits
case stems from the Claimant’s application for
disability insurance benefits. (R. 130-34). The Claimant
alleged a disability onset date of June 1, 2013. (R. 130).
The Claimant’s application was denied on initial review
and on reconsideration. The matter proceeded before an ALJ,
who issued her decision on April 21, 2015. (R. 13-31).
The ALJ’s Decision
found that the Claimant suffers from the following severe
impairments: arthritis of the hips with early bilateral
avascular necrosis; fibromyalgia; inflammatory arthritis;
mild bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome; obesity; chronic liver
disease; chronic pancreatitis; diabetes mellitus; and
hypertension. (R. 15). The ALJ also found that the Claimant
suffers from the following non-severe impairments: affective
disorder; and anxiety disorder. (R. 15-18). The ALJ, however,
determined that none of the foregoing impairments,
individually or in combination, met or medically equaled any
listed impairment. (R. 18-20).
four of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that
the Claimant’s residual functional capacity (RFC) prior
to September 1, 2014 was limited to sedentary work as defined
in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a) with the following specific
[T]he claimant could lift or carry 10 pounds occasionally (up
to one-third of the workday), stand or walk for 2 hours in an
8-hour workday, and sit for 6 hours in an 8-hour workday. The
claimant could occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and climb a
ramp or stairs, but never craw, and never climb a ladder,
rope, or scaffold. The claimant could not constantly handle
or finger. Additionally, the claimant had to avoid all
exposure to extreme cold, extreme heat, excessive vibration,
direct prolonged exposure to sunlight, and hazards such as
work at heights or with dangerous moving machinery.
(R. 20). Based on this RFC, the ALJ found that, prior to
September 1, 2014, the Claimant was able to perform her past
relevant work as a receptionist. (R. 28-29). As such, the ALJ
concluded that the Claimant was not disabled between her
alleged onset date, June 1, 2013, through August 31, 2014.
proceeded to find that the Claimant’s RFC changed as of
September 1, 2014. Specifically, the ALJ found that the
Claimant continued to have the same functional limitations
detailed above with an additional limitation of being off
task for fifteen percent (15%) of the workday. (R. 28). Based
on this new RFC, the ALJ found that, as of September 1, 2014,
the Claimant was unable to perform her past relevant work and
other work in the national economy. (R. 29-30). Thus, the ALJ
concluded that the Claimant became disabled on September 1,
2014, and remained so through the date of the decision. (R.
The Appeal Council’s Decision
Claimant filed a request for review with the Appeals Council,
[The Claimant] does not challenge the favorable decision
regarding her disability and right to receive benefits. The
only issue being challenged is the decision that [the
Claimant] was not disabled prior to [September 1, 2014].
(R. 8). The Appeals Council denied the Claimant’s
request for review, (R. 1-3), and the ALJ’s decision
became the Commissioner’s final decision.
The Proceedings Before the District Court
case has had a very lengthy history before this Court. On
October 25, 2016, the Claimant filed her complaint, in which
she stated that she is not challenging “the favorable
decision regarding her disability and right to receive
benefits.” (Doc. 1 at ¶ 7). Instead, the Claimant
stated that she is only appealing the Commissioner’s
final decision “that she was not disabled prior to
September 14 [sic], 2014.” (Id.). The
complaint did not set forth any assignments of error. The
Commissioner filed his answer and a copy of the
administrative record on January 17, 2017 (Doc. 11). That
same day, the Court issued its scheduling order, which set a
deadline of June 7, 2017 for the filing of the Joint
Memorandum (Doc. 14).
The Motion to Remand and its Denial
10, 2017, the Commissioner filed a motion for entry of
judgment and remand. (Doc. 17 (Motion to Remand)). In it, the
Commissioner requested that the case be remanded pursuant to
sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for the following
[O]n remand, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
will further evaluate the claimant’s application for
disability for the entire period at issue and, if warranted,
provide further rationale to explain the reasons for the
claimant’s established onset date and, if necessary,
obtain medical expert testimony to establish when the
claimant became disabled.
(Id. at 1).
Claimant filed a response, in which she agreed that the case
should be remanded for further proceedings but noted that she
did not appeal the favorable portion of the
Commissioner’s decision. (Doc. 18 at 1-2). Instead, the
Claimant argued that the favorable portion of the
Commissioner’s decision should remain intact, and the
proceedings on remand should be limited solely to determining
whether the Claimant became disabled prior to September 1,
2014. (Id. at 1-2). In support, the Claimant cited
several cases from this District that, according to her,
addressed the same issue and ordered remands limited to
review of only the unfavorable portion of the
Commissioner’s final decision. (Id. at 2
(citing Adkins v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., Case
No. 6:16-cv-754-Orl-31TBS, 2017 WL 1289912 (M.D. Fla. Mar.
20, 2017) report and recommendation adoptedby, 2017 WL 1234828 (M.D. Fla. Apr. 4, 2017);
Holmes v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., Case No.
5:16-cv-00499-PRL, 2017 WL 461604 (M.D. Fla. Feb. 3, 2017);
Rainey v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., Case No.