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White v. Saul

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

September 30, 2019

ROBERT WHITE, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, [1] Defendant.



         Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the denial of his claim for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). As the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”) decision was based on substantial evidence and employed proper legal standards, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.

         I. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed an application for SSI (Tr. 283-91). The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's claims both initially and upon reconsideration (Tr. 123-53). Plaintiff then requested an administrative hearing (Tr. 169-71). Per Plaintiff's request, the ALJ held a hearing at which Plaintiff appeared and testified (Tr. 62-78). Plaintiff also appeared and testified at a supplemental hearing (Tr. 53-61). Following the hearings, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding Plaintiff not disabled and accordingly denied Plaintiff's claims for benefits (Tr. 33-45). 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).

         II. Factual Background and the ALJ's Decision

         Plaintiff, who was born in 1980, claimed disability beginning July 1, 2009 (Tr. 283). Plaintiff obtained some high school education (Tr. 65). Plaintiff's past relevant work experience included work as a fast food worker and pizza delivery driver (Tr. 44). Plaintiff alleged disability due to fibromyalgia, bipolar disorder, high blood pressure, celiac disease, plaque psoriasis, arthritis, bulging disk, and neuroma (Tr. 354).

         In rendering the administrative decision, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 30, 2014, the application date (Tr. 35). After conducting the hearings and reviewing the evidence of record, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: chronic pain syndrome; joint pain; spondylosis; cervicalgia; Crohn's disease; hypertension; irritable bowel syndrome (“IBS”); fibromyalgia; degenerative disc disease; asthma; scoliosis; unspecified bipolar and related disorder; generalized anxiety disorder; and antisocial personality disorder (Tr. 35). 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. 35). The ALJ then concluded that Plaintiff retained a residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform medium work with the following limitations: can lift and/or carry 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently; can stand and/or walk for six hours in an eight-hour workday and sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday; can frequently push and/or pull with the upper extremities, climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, reach waist to chest with both arms, reach above shoulder level with both arms, handle with both hands, finger with both hands, and feel with both hands; can occasionally climb ladders and scaffolds and work around high, exposed places; can frequently work around extreme cold, extreme heat, wetness, humidity, vibration, pulmonary irritants, and moving mechanical parts; able to perform simple, routine, repetitive tasks and is able to understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions; is limited to work that requires occasional interaction with the public and supervisors, as well as occasional interaction with coworkers, defined to mean coworkers are on the premises, but not in the individual's work space on more than an occasional basis; and is unable to meet fast-paced, high production demands (Tr. 37-38). 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 his symptoms were not entirely consistent with the medical evidence and other evidence (Tr. 39).

         Considering Plaintiff's noted impairments and the assessment of a vocational expert (“VE”), however, the ALJ determined Plaintiff could not perform his past relevant work (Tr. 44). Given Plaintiff's background and RFC, the VE testified that Plaintiff could perform other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy, such as a cleaner II; bagger, bench work; and scrap sorter (Tr. 45). Accordingly, based on Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, RFC, and the testimony of the VE, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled (Tr. 45).

         III. 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. § 416.920. If an individual is found disabled at any point in the sequential review, further inquiry is unnecessary. 20 C.F.R. § 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. § 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. § 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 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. 2002).

         IV. ...

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