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Bryant v. Saul

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

September 23, 2019

SUSAN G. BRYANT, Plaintiff,
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration,[1] Defendant.



         The plaintiff in this case seeks judicial review of the denial of her claim for Social Security disability benefits.[2] Because the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security is supported by substantial evidence, and the plaintiff does not identify reversible error, the decision will be affirmed.


         The plaintiff, who was fifty-one years old at the time of the administrative hearing, and who has a high school education, has past work as a scan price clerk, administrative coordinator and produce clerk (Tr. 60-61, 184). She filed a claim for Social Security disability benefits, alleging that she became disabled due to rheumatoid arthritis, hyperglycemia and high liver enzymes (Tr. 70). The claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration.

         The plaintiff, at her request, received a de novo hearing before an administrative law judge. The law-judge found that the plaintiff has a severe impairment of rheumatoid arthritis (Tr. 22). She concluded (Tr. 23):

[T]he [plaintiff] has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b), with frequent, bilateral pushing/pulling with the upper extremities. The claimant can frequently handle and finger bilaterally with the upper extremities. She cannot climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, and can occasionally climb ramps and stairs-. The claimant can frequently stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl, as well as tolerate frequent exposure to extreme cold and vibration.

         The law judge, based on the testimony of a vocational expert, determined (Tr. 26):

The [plaintiff] is capable of performing past relevant work as a price scanner/ma[r]ker, both as performed by the claimant and as generally performed in the national economy. The claimant is also capable of performing past relevant work as a supermarket administrative coordinator, as performed by the claimant. All of this work does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the claimant's residual functional capacity (20 CFR 404.1565).

         The law judge therefore decided that the plaintiff was not disabled through the date of the decision (Tr. 27).

         The plaintiff then sought review from the Appeals Council (see Tr. 1). The Appeals Court received as additional evidence the plaintiffs "Requests] for Review of Hearing Decision Order with Representative Brief (Tr. 5). The Appeals Council denied the request for review, stating that "[w]e found that the reasons do not provide a basis for changing the Administrative Law Judge's decision" (Tr. 1). Accordingly, the Appeals Council let the decision of the law judge stand as the final decision of the Commissioner (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 twelve months." 42 U.S.C. 423(d)(1)(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. 423(d)(3). The Act provides further that a claimant is not disabled if* she is capable of performing her previous work. 42 U.S.C. 423(d)(2)(A).

         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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