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Bach v. Saul

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

September 20, 2019

DIANA BACH, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, [1] Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER

          SEAN P. FLYNN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the denial of her claim for 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.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff applied for DIB on June 5, 2015 (Tr. 189–95). The Commissioner denied Plaintiff’s claim both initially and upon reconsideration (Tr. 91–95, 99–103). The ALJ held a hearing at which Plaintiff and her husband, David E. Bach, appeared and testified (Tr. 36–56). Following the hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding Plaintiff not disabled and, accordingly, denied Plaintiff’s claim for benefits (Tr. 13–35). Subsequently, Plaintiff requested review from the Appeals Council, which was 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

         Plaintiff, who was born in 1965, claimed disability beginning May 1, 2014 (Tr. 27, 189). Plaintiff obtained a high school education (Tr. 27, 40). Plaintiff’s past relevant work experience included work as a medical assistant, bank teller, customer service representative, bank branch manager, and restaurant manager (Tr. 52). Plaintiff alleged disability due to bulging discs, sciatic nerve issues, anxiety disorder, gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD), and high cholesterol (Tr. 61).

         In rendering the administrative decision, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements through December 31, 2018, and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 1, 2014, the alleged onset date (Tr. 18). After conducting a hearing and reviewing the evidence of record, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative disk disease of the lumbar spine, obesity, and anxiety disorder (Tr. 18). 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. 19). The ALJ then concluded that Plaintiff retained a residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work with the following additional limitations: Plaintiff can lift up to twenty pounds occasionally and lift or carry ten pounds frequently. She can stand or walk for approximately six hours and sit for approximately six hours in an eight-hour workday with normal breaks. She can occasionally climb ladders, ropes, scaffolds, ramps or stairs, balance, stoop, crouch, kneel, and crawl. She must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, extreme heat, excessive wetness, humidity, excessive vibrations, and hazards. She can perform unskilled, SVP 1-2, jobs with simple, routine and repetitive tasks (Tr. 21).

         After 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. 27). Given Plaintiff’s background and RFC, the VE testified that Plaintiff could perform other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy (Tr. 28). Based on Plaintiff’s age, education, work experience, RFC, and the testimony of the VE, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled (Tr. 29).

         LEGAL STANDARD

         To be 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).

         The 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).

         A 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).

         In 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 ...


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