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Tim v. Saul

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

September 18, 2019

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



         The plaintiff in this case seeks judicial review of the denial of her claim for supplemental security income payments. Because the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security is supported by substantial evidence and the plaintiff has not identified any reversible error, the decision will be affirmed.


         The plaintiff, who was fifty-two years old at the time of the most recent administrative hearing, and who has a ninth grade education, has no past relevant work (Tr. 20, 52). She filed a claim for supplemental security income, alleging that she became disabled due to back problems, hypertension, acid reflux and arthritis in her hands (Tr. 107). 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 had severe impairments of hypertension, hyperlipidemia, cervical degenerative disc disease and obesity, but was not disabled (Tr. 135, 142). Upon the plaintiffs request, the Appeals Council reviewed that decision, and remanded the matter to the law judge for further consideration of the plaintiffs maximum residual functional capacity and to provide a rationale with specific references to evidence in support of the assessed limitations (Tr. 151-52).

         On remand, the plaintiff received another hearing before the same law judge. The law judge issued a new decision, finding that the plaintiff has severe impairments of "hypertension, hyperlipidemia, cervical spine degenerative disk disease, lumbar spine degenerative disk disease with moderate osteoarthritis and osteophyte formation, and obesity" (Tr. 15). He concluded that the plaintiff has the following residual functional capacity (Tr. 16):

[The ability] to lift and carry up to 20 pounds occasionally; sit for 5 hours at a time, for a total of 6 hours in an 8-hour workday; stand and walk 1 hour each at a time, for a total of 2 hours each in an 8-hour workday; frequently use hands for reaching, handling, fingering, feeling, pushing or pulling; frequently use right f[oo]t and occasionally use left foot for operation of foot controls; and occasionally perform all the postural activities, except for never climbing ladders or scaffolds. She has occasional environmental limitations, including extremes of temperature, unprotected heights, operating a motor vehicle and loud traffic.

         The law judge found that the plaintiff had no past relevant work (Tr. 20). However, based upon the testimony of a vocational expert, the law judge determined that, with the plaintiffs limitations, there were jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that a person with the plaintiffs residual functional capacity could perform, such as a filter assembler (Tr. 20-21 ).[2] The law judge therefore decided that the plaintiff was not disabled (Tr. 21). The Appeals Council let this decision of the law judge stand as the final decision of the Commissioner (Tr. 1).


         In order to be entitled to supplemental security income, 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 twelve months;' 42 U.S.C. 1382c(a)(3)(A). A "physical or mental impairment," under the terms of the 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. 1382c(a)(3)(D).

         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 standards were applied and legal requirements were met. Lamb v. Bowen, 847 F.2d 698, 701 (11th Cir. 1988).


         The plaintiff states two broad and vague issues at the beginning of her memorandum (Doc. 18, p. 2). However, the Scheduling Order and Memorandum Requirements issued in this case requires the plaintiff to identify "with particularity the discrete grounds upon which the administrative decision is being challenged" (Doc. 16, p. 2). Since the general issues stated at the outset do not meet that requirement, they will be disregarded.

         The issue enumerated at the beginning of the plaintiffs argument is not much better (Doc. 18, p. 5). Nevertheless, since that issue was at least developed, it will be evaluated.[3]

         The plaintiff argues that, given her "age of 50 years old on the amended alleged onset date, her limited education, the lack of past relevant work, and the finding that she could lift and carry up to 20 pounds occasionally... §201.09 [of the Guidelines for sedentary work] is applicable and directs a finding of'disabled'" (id.). The Guidelines, also known as the "grids," are regulations designed to incorporate vocational factors into the determination of disability claims. See 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2; 20 C.F.R. 416.969. They apply when a claimant's medical condition is severe enough to prevent her from returning to her former employment, but may not be severe enough to prevent her from engaging in other substantial ...

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