United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division
P. FLYNN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
seeks judicial review of the denial of her claim for a period
of disability and disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”). As the Administrative Law Judge’s
(“ALJ”) decision was not based on substantial
evidence and failed to employ proper legal standards, the
Commissioner’s decision is reversed and remanded.
filed an application for a period of disability and DIB (Tr.
192-98, 585). The Commissioner denied Plaintiff’s
claims both initially and upon reconsideration (Tr. 127-29,
131-32, 585). Plaintiff then requested an administrative
hearing (Tr. 133-34). Per Plaintiff’s request, the ALJ
held a hearing at which Plaintiff appeared and testified (Tr.
87-120, 154-81, 585). Following the hearing, the ALJ issued
an unfavorable decision finding Plaintiff not disabled and
accordingly denied Plaintiff’s claims for benefits (Tr.
66-86). Subsequently, Plaintiff requested review from the
Appeals Council, which the Appeals Council denied (Tr. 1-6,
sought judicial review in a previous case,
8:18-cv-1718-T-MAP, and the Court remanded the case on
September 25, 2015 (Tr. 612-20). Pursuant to the
Court’s order, the Appeals Council remanded the case
for further development (Tr. 708). Plaintiff had a
supplemental hearing before the ALJ on October 12, 2016, at
which Plaintiff appeared and testified (Tr. 625-40). The ALJ
issued an unfavorable decision on November 23, 2016 (Tr.
582-99). Subsequently, Plaintiff requested review from the
Appeals Council, which the Appeals Council denied (Tr. 573).
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
who was born in 1956, claimed disability beginning May 14,
2010 (Tr. 192). Plaintiff obtained at least a high school
education (Tr. 79). Plaintiff has no past relevant work
experience (Tr. 598). Plaintiff alleged disability
due to depression, anxiety disorder with agoraphobia, panic
disorder, personality disorder, chronic pain syndrome
primarily in her back, hips and legs, right shoulder
osteoarthritis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder
(“COPD”) (Tr. 916-24, 944-54, 957-59, 971-81).
rendering the administrative decision, the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff met the insured status requirements through
December 31, 2015, and had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since May 14, 2010, the alleged onset date (Tr.
588). After conducting a hearing and reviewing the evidence
of record, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following
severe impairments: chronic pain syndrome, COPD, right
shoulder osteoarthritis, questionable neuropathy, thyroid
disorder, obesity, depression, panic disorder, anxiety
disorder, and personality disorder (Tr. 588). 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. 588-89). The ALJ then
concluded that Plaintiff retained a residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform medium work with
occasional overhead reaching with the right dominant
extremity; can frequently climb ladders, ropes, and
scaffolds, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl as well as
exposure to fumes, dusts, gases, odors, and poor ventilation;
can understand, carry out, and remember simple instructions
in two-hour increments sufficiently enough to complete an
8-hour workday in an environment that does not involve fixed
production quotas, only occasional changes in the work
setting, and occasional interaction with co-workers and the
general public (Tr. 590). In formulating Plaintiff’s
RFC, the ALJ considered Plaintiff’s subjective
complaints and determined that, although the evidence
established the presence of underlying impairments that
reasonably could be expected to produce the symptoms alleged,
Plaintiff’s statements as to the intensity,
persistence, and limiting effects of her symptoms were not
entirely consistent with the medical evidence and other
evidence (Tr. 591).
Plaintiff’s background and RFC, the vocational expert
(“VE”) testified that Plaintiff could perform
other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national
economy, such as hand packager, press tender, and general
lithographic worker (Tr. 598). Accordingly, based on
Plaintiff’s age, education, work experience, RFC, and
the testimony of the VE, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled
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).
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. If
an individual is found disabled at any point in the
sequential review, further inquiry is unnecessary. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(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). 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).
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).
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