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
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.
applied for DIB on September 15, 2014 (Tr. 168–71). The
Commissioner denied Plaintiff’s claim both initially
and upon reconsideration (Tr. 90–93, 99–104). The
ALJ held a hearing at which Plaintiff appeared and testified
(Tr. 754–801). Following the hearing, the ALJ issued an
unfavorable decision finding Plaintiff not disabled and,
accordingly, denied Plaintiff’s claim for benefits (Tr.
16–37). Subsequently, Plaintiff requested review from
the Appeals Council, which the Appeals Council denied (Tr.
1–7). 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).
BACKGROUND AND THE ALJ’S DECISION
who was born in 1968, claimed disability beginning September
13, 2014 (Tr. 183). Plaintiff obtained at least a high school
education (Tr. 188). Plaintiff’s past relevant work
experience included work as a corrections officer (Tr. 188).
Plaintiff alleged disability due to pulmonary embolism,
asthma, fibromyalgia, lupus, leukocytosis, chronic sinusitis,
polycystic ovarian disease, oligomenorrhea, and back pain
(Tr. 65, 77).
rendering the administrative decision, the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff met the insured status requirements through
December 31, 2019, and had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since September 13, 2014, the alleged onset date
(Tr. 21). After conducting a hearing and reviewing the
evidence of record, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the
following severe impairments: lumbar degenerative disc
disease, asthma, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia,
gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), deep vein thrombosis
with history of pulmonary emboli, depression and anxiety
disorder (Tr. 21). 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. 21). The ALJ then concluded that Plaintiff
retained a residual functional capacity (“RFC”)
to perform sedentary work except she could occasionally
stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl; could never climb ladders,
ropes or scaffolds; could occasionally climb ramps or stairs;
should avoid exposure to hazards such as heights or machinery
with moving parts; should avoid concentrated exposure to
dusts, fumes, gases, odors, or poorly ventilated areas; and
could frequently handle and finger with the upper
extremities. Plaintiff was also limited to no production rate
pace work and occasional changes in routine workplace setting
considering Plaintiff’s noted impairments and the
assessment of a vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ
determined Plaintiff could not perform her past relevant work
(Tr. 29). Given Plaintiff’s background and RFC, the VE
testified that Plaintiff could perform other jobs existing in
significant numbers in the national economy (Tr. 30). Based
on Plaintiff’s age, education, work experience, RFC,
and the testimony of the VE, the ALJ found Plaintiff not
disabled (Tr. 31).
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, 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).
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
supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct
legal standards were applied. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir.
raises three issues on appeal: (1) whether the ALJ properly
considered Plaintiff’s severe impairments of
fibromyalgia and lupus at step two and three and of the
sequential evaluation process and in his RFC assessment; (2)
whether the ALJ properly considered Plaintiff’s
manipulative limitations in his RFC assessment; and (3)
whether the ALJ properly evaluated Plaintiff’s
obesity. For the reasons that follow, the
ALJ’s decision is affirmed.
first contends that at step two of the sequential evaluation
process, the ALJ failed to consider Plaintiff’s lupus
as a severe impairment. Particularly, Plaintiff argues that
her testimony that she suffers from lupus is consistent with
the objective evidence on record showing elevated C-Reactive
protein (CRP) and positive ANA tests (Tr. 343, 346,
418–19, 478-527, 581, 750). Further Plaintiff argues
that her lupus appears as a diagnosis that causes significant
limitations throughout the medical record. The Commissioner
counters that the objective evidence does not establish that
Plaintiff met the diagnostic criteria for lupus.
Particularly, the Commissioner argues that the elevated
C-reactive protein indicated inflammation but does not