United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division
A. PIZZO UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
an appeal of the administrative denial of disability
insurance benefits (DIB) and period of disability benefits.
See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). In this appeal,
Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred in formulating her residual
functional capacity (RFC) and in concluding she is capable of
performing her past relevant work. She also claims the ALJ
failed to properly evaluate her credibility, specifically in
light of her 44-year work history. After considering the
parties' joint memorandum of law (doc. 24) and the
administrative record (doc. 17), I find that the ALJ's
decision that Plaintiff is not disabled is in accordance with
the law and supported by substantial evidence; I affirm the
Susan Kay Metes was born on March 29, 1954, and was 61 years
old on her alleged onset date, March 1, 2016. Plaintiff
completed a two-year nursing program at Elgin College, and
worked in a variety of nursing jobs since 1977 including
nursing supervisor and Director of Nurses (R. 35-36).
Plaintiff's last job as Director of Nursing at Our Lady
of Angels Retirement ended in November 2015 when Plaintiff
was terminated after a clash with the retirement home's
new administrator (R. 39-40, 845). Plaintiff received
unemployment benefits for six months thereafter, then
searched for new jobs but felt incapable of performing both
the physical and mental demands of the job descriptions (R.
40, 56). Plaintiff testified she is unable to work due to leg
and back pain, arthritis in her left hand, vision problems
subsequent to a stroke, difficulty swallowing due to
Barrett's esophagus, insomnia, and depression (R. 43-48).
She lives in a home with her adult son who has bipolar
disorder. She explained that at times Plaintiff uses a cane
to help ambulate smoothly, and has trouble recalling names
and events due to insomnia. She performs household chores,
albeit slowly; she cooks, vacuums, and does her own laundry
(R. 48). She grocery shops, mows her lawn with a tractor,
cares for her two dogs and a cat, and handles her own banking
(R. 49). Plaintiff's hobbies include cooling off in her
above-ground pool, boating, gardening, visiting neighbors and
family, and going to the beach to lay in the sand (R. 50).
Plaintiff testified that she can walk a long block then needs
to rest her legs, she can stand for half an hour, and can sit
for a couple of hours at a time (R. 51). She says she can
lift a 25-pound bag of dog food and carry it into her house,
she can climb stairs “but it is a chore, ” and
can pick things up off of the floor (R. 53). She has
difficulty reaching above her shoulders and has problems with
her left hand (R. 52). She testified that she has fallen
about every few months and has a fear of falling (R. 54). The
relevant time period for DIB purposes is narrow - from her
alleged onset date of March 1, 2016, to December 31, 2019
(Plaintiff's date of last insured, or DLI).
hearing, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffers from the severe
impairments of degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine
and history of cerebral infarction with vision disturbance
(R. 13). The ALJ determined that Plaintiff is not disabled,
because she retains the RFC to perform light work as defined
in 20 CFR § 404.1567(b) except as follows:
The claimant can only occasionally climb ramps and stairs,
stoop, crouch, and crawl, but can frequently balance and
kneel. The claimant can never climb ladders and scaffolds.
The claimant can frequently handle and finger with the
non-dominant left upper extremity. The claimant should avoid
concentrated exposure to vibration and avoid all exposure to
unprotected heights. Finally, the claimant can do no work
requiring reading very small print or seeing small parts, but
can read a computer monitor and regular print.
(R. 16). With the assistance of a vocational expert (VE), the
ALJ found that, with this RFC, Plaintiff could perform her
past relevant work as a House Care Facility Administrator, as
generally performed in the national economy (R. 20-21).
Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision, but the Appeals
Council denied review (R. 1-2). After exhausting his
administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed this action.
Standard of Review
entitled to DIB, a claimant 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
12 months.” See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(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.” See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(3).
Social Security Administration, to regularize the
adjudicative process, promulgated detailed regulations. These
regulations establish a “sequential evaluation
process” to determine if a claimant is disabled.
See 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)(4).
Under this process, the Commissioner must determine, in
sequence, the following: (1) whether the claimant is
currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2)
whether the claimant has a severe impairment(s)
(i.e., one that significantly limits his ability to
perform work-related functions); (3) whether the severe
impairment meets or equals the medical criteria of Appendix
1, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P; (4) considering the
Commissioner's determination of claimant's RFC,
whether the claimant can perform his past relevant work; and
(5) if the claimant cannot perform the tasks required of his
prior work, the ALJ must decide if the claimant can do other
work in the national economy in view of his RFC, age,
education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4). A claimant is entitled to benefits only if
unable to perform other work. See Bowen v. Yuckert,
482 U.S. 137, 142 (1987); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f), (g).
reviewing the ALJ's findings, this Court must ask if
substantial evidence supports those findings. See 42
U.S.C. § 405(g); Richardson v. Perales, 402
U.S. 389, 390 (1971). The ALJ's factual findings are
conclusive if “substantial evidence consisting of
relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as
adequate to support a conclusion exists.” Keeton v.
Dep't of Health and Human Servs., 21 F.3d 1064, 1066
(11th Cir. 1994) (citation and quotations omitted). The Court
may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its own judgment
for that of the ALJ even if it finds the evidence
preponderates against the ALJ's decision. See
Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir.
1983). The Commissioner's “failure to apply the
correct law or to provide the reviewing court with sufficient
reasoning for determining the proper legal analysis has been
conducted mandates reversal.” Keeton, 21 F.3d
at 1066 (citations omitted).
complains that the ALJ erred by formulating an RFC that fails
to account for her limitations in concentration, persistence,
and pace resulting from depression and pain. Relatedly, she
argues that the ALJ erred by finding her capable of
performing her past relevant work as a Health Care Facility