United States District Court, N.D. Florida, Pensacola Division
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
ELIZABETH M. TIMOTHY CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
case has been referred to the undersigned magistrate judge
for disposition pursuant to the authority of 28 U.S.C. §
636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, based on the parties’
consent to magistrate judge jurisdiction (see ECF
Nos. 3, 4). It is now before the court pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g) of the Social Security Act (“the
Act”), for review of a final decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying Plaintiff’s
application for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) under Title II of the Act, 42 U.S.C.
review of the record before this court, it is the opinion of
the undersigned that the findings of fact and determinations
of the Commissioner are supported by substantial evidence;
thus, the decision of the Commissioner should be affirmed.
January 30, 2015, Plaintiff filed her application for DIB,
and in the application she alleged disability beginning
January 1, 2011 (tr. 15). Her application was denied initially
and on reconsideration, and thereafter she requested a
hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”). A hearing was held on February 22, 2017,
and on June 5, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision in which he
found Plaintiff “not disabled, ” as defined under
the Act, at any time through the date of his decision (tr.
15–30). The Appeals Council subsequently denied
Plaintiff’s request for review. Thus, the decision of
the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner,
subject to review in this court. Ingram v. Comm’r
of Soc. Sec. Admin., 496 F.3d 1253, 1262 (11th Cir.
2007). This appeal followed.
FINDINGS OF THE ALJ
denying Plaintiff’s claims, the ALJ made the following
relevant findings (see tr. 15–30):
Plaintiff last met the insured status requirements of the Act
on March 31, 2015;
Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity
during the relevant period;
Plaintiff had the following severe impairments:
post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”),
depression, and anxiety;
Plaintiff had no impairment or combination of impairments
that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the
listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix
Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform a full range of work at all
exertional levels, with certain non-exertional limitations;
Plaintiff was unable to perform her past relevant work
because that work would have exceeded her RFC, but she could
have performed other available work which accommodated her
RFC and other factors;
Plaintiff was 55 years old, which is defined as an individual
of advanced age, on the date last insured;
Plaintiff has at least a high school education and is able to
communicate in English;
Transferability of job skills is not material to the
determination of disability because using the
Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding
that Plaintiff is “not disabled, ” whether or not
she has transferable job skills;
Jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy
that Plaintiff could have performed during the relevant
period; therefore, Plaintiff was not under a disability, as
defined in the Act, at any time during the relevant period.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
of the Commissioner’s final decision is limited to
determining whether the decision is supported by substantial
evidence from the record and was a result of the application
of proper legal standards. Carnes v. Sullivan, 936
F.2d 1215, 1218 (11th Cir. 1991) (“[T]his Court may
reverse the decision of the [Commissioner] only when
convinced that it is not supported by substantial evidence or
that proper legal standards were not applied.”);
see also Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1439
(11th Cir. 1997); Walker v. Bowen, 826 F.2d 996, 999
(11th Cir. 1987). “A determination that is supported by
substantial evidence may be meaningless . . . if it is
coupled with or derived from faulty legal principles.”
Boyd v. Heckler, 704 F.2d 1207, 1209 (11th Cir.
1983), superseded by statute on other grounds as stated
in Elam v. R.R. Ret. Bd., 921 F.2d 1210, 1214 (11th Cir.
1991). As long as proper legal standards were applied, the
Commissioner’s decision will not be disturbed if in
light of the record as a whole the decision appears to be
supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Falge v. Apfel, 150 F.3d 1320, 1322 (11th Cir.
1998); Lewis, 125 F.3d at 1439; Foote v.
Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1995). Substantial
evidence is more than a scintilla, but not a preponderance;
it is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable person
would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct.
1420, 1427, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971) (quoting Consolidated
Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 59 S.Ct. 206, 217, 83
L.Ed. 126 (1938)); Lewis, 125 F.3d at 1439. The
court may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or
substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner.
Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir.
1990) (citations omitted). Even if the evidence preponderates
against the Commissioner’s decision, the decision must
be affirmed if supported by substantial evidence. Sewell
v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 1065, 1067 (11th Cir. 1986).
defines disability as an “inability 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 12
months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). To qualify as a
disability the physical or mental impairment must be so
severe that the claimant is not only unable to do her
previous work, “but cannot, considering [her] age,
education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of
substantial gainful work which exists in the national
economy.” Id. § 423(d)(2)(A). Pursuant to
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)–(g), the Commissioner
analyzes a disability claim in five steps:
the claimant is performing substantial gainful activity, she
is not disabled.
the claimant is not performing substantial gainful activity,
her impairments must be severe before she can be found
the claimant is not performing substantial gainful activity
and she has severe impairments that have lasted or are
expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve
months, and if her impairments meet or medically equal the
criteria of any impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1, the claimant is presumed disabled
without further inquiry.
the claimant’s impairments do not prevent her from
doing her past relevant work, she is not disabled.
if the claimant’s impairments prevent her from
performing her past relevant work, if other work exists in
significant numbers in the national economy that accommodates
her RFC and vocational factors, she is not disabled.
claimant bears the burden of establishing a severe impairment
that keeps her from performing her past work. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1512. If the claimant establishes such an
impairment, the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step
five to show the existence of other jobs in the national
economy which, given the claimant’s impairments, the
claimant can perform. MacGregor v. Bowen, 786 F.2d
1050, 1052 (11th Cir. 1986). If the Commissioner carries this
burden, the claimant must then prove she cannot perform the
work suggested by the Commissioner. Hale v. Bowen,
831 F.2d 1007, 1011 (11th Cir. 1987).
PLAINTIFF’S PERSONAL, EMPLOYMENT, AND MEDICAL HISTORY
Relevant Personal and Employment History
was fifty-seven years of age on February 22, 2017, the date
of her hearing before the ALJ (tr. 40). She had completed the
twelfth grade and some college and received a
“certificate in medical billing and coding” and
in health services management (tr. 41). Plaintiff was living
alone in an apartment, had a driver’s license, and was
able to drive (tr. 40).
last worked as a full-time caregiver for her parents, from
2011 until her mother moved to an assisted-living facility on
August 1, 2013 (tr. 42, 61). Plaintiff noted she had not
looked or applied for work since January 2011 (tr. 41).
Plaintiff held other prior jobs, including: (1)
“recovery clerk” at a discount store in 2010,
fifteen hours a week, where she replaced items on shelves
(tr. 45, 217); (2) counter clerk at a drycleaner in 2010,
forty hours per week, where she ran the cash register, kept
the store in order, tallied the register, and closed the
store (tr. 45–46, 217); (3) proofreader and editor from
1991 to 2009, forty hours per week(tr. 43–44, 217); and
(4) student assistant between 2006 and 2007, where she
answered phones, made appointments, proctored tests,
developed inventory lists, and organized equipment (tr. 44).
Relevant Medical History
Evidence that Pre-Dates the Relevant Period (< January
sought treatment at Catholic Charities in June 2000, and
complained of feeling anxious, sad, lonely, and fearful (tr.
307). She was described as presenting with PTSD and panic
disorder without agoraphobia (id.). Plaintiff
participated in eighty-four cognitive-behavioral therapy
(“CBT”) sessions (id.). The provider
assessed Plaintiff’s Global Assessment of Functioning
(“GAF”) at 50 at the start of treatment, and at
59 at the end of treatment (id.). Plaintiff’s
treatment was terminated in 2002 due to lack of contact from
her (tr. 308).
Evidence from the Relevant Period (January 1, 2011, to
March 31, 2015)
Danahy, Ph.D., conducted a consultative disability evaluation
on July 25, 2011(tr. 311–14). Dr. Danahy described
Plaintiff as “extremely tense, anxious and overly
reactive” but fully oriented, with a fully intact
memory and no evidence of a thought disorder (tr. 312).
Plaintiff’s ability to form rapport was fair, and her
insight and judgment seemed grossly intact (id.).
Dr. Danahy assessed a GAF score of 48, as well as panic
disorder with agoraphobia, generalized anxiety disorder, and
depressive disorder with a noted prior diagnosis of PTSD (tr.
314). Dr. Danahy noted Plaintiff had never been evaluated by
a psychiatrist and suggested such a referral for medication
management, at least with respect to Plaintiff’s
anxiety (see id.).
first reported to Westside Family Medicine - First Physicians
on May 21, 2012 (tr. 316). She saw Edwin Taylor, M.D., and
complained of anxiety, PTSD, and insomnia (id.). Dr.
Taylor noted that Plaintiff’s medications were
“effective and working well for her, ” that
Plaintiff’s intellectual functioning and memory were
intact, and that Plaintiff was “oriented x3 [i.e., to
person, place, and time]” but that she appeared anxious
(id.). Plaintiff returned on November 21, 2012, and
was observed to have a normal mood and appropriate affect
(tr. 318). Her medications included Citalopram 10mg,
Temazepam 30mg, and Valium 5mg (tr. 317). On May 22, 2013,
Dr. Taylor noted that Plaintiff’s mood was normal and
her affect appropriate; he assessed depressive disorder (tr.
321–22). At Plaintiff’s next visit, on November
22, 2013, her chief complaint was anxiety (tr. 323). Dr.
Taylor commented, “the anxiety disorder has been
essentially unchanged since the last visit and has been
“waxing and waning in severity, ” that
Plaintiff’s “mood has been improving with
medication, ” and that a mental status examination
revealed Plaintiff to be oriented x3, with intact memory and
intact immediate and long-term recall (323–24).
Plaintiff returned for six-month follow-up appointments in
May and November 2014 (tr. 326–30). She was again found
to be oriented x3, with intact memory and intact immediate
and long-term recall (tr. 328). Plaintiff denied symptoms of
depression and difficulty sleeping (tr. 329). She was
instructed to call or return to the clinic if her symptoms
worsened or persisted (tr. 330).
April 20, 2015, Janice T. Griffin, LCSW, wrote a letter
indicating that Plaintiff had “been in individual
therapy with [her] for the past 6 months, ” or since
approximately October 2014 (tr. 335). Ms. Griffin opined that
Plaintiff was “likely unable to be successful in any
occupational setting” due to some of her “severe