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Amparo v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

December 2, 2019




         This is an appeal of the administrative denial of supplemental security income (SSI) and disability insurance benefits (DIB).[1] See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). Plaintiff argues her case should be remanded to the Commissioner under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. §405(g), because the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) erred in considering the opinions of her treating psychiatrist and in formulating her residual functional capacity (RFC). After considering Plaintiff's argument, Defendant's response, and the administrative record (docs. 14, 20), I find substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision that Plaintiff is not disabled. I affirm.

         A. Background

         Plaintiff Bianca Amparo - 35 years old on her alleged onset date of February 25, 2014 - has a high school education and past work experience as a cafeteria worker at a public school, a cook's helper, and a dietary aide. Plaintiff alleges disability due to depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. She testified she is unable to work because of “the depression and the panic attacks and all of that, I started developing more and more fear because of the things that I would hear regarding holdups, people getting shot and all that kind of stuff.” (R. 185) And “when these feelings started, I would see like, like white and I started feeling badly. And I was starting to see things that to me were real, although people told me that they were not real.” (Id.)

         Plaintiff testified she is legally married, although she and her husband do not live together. (R. 181) They have two kids, a girl who was 12 at the time of the administrative hearing and a boy who was 7. Her son has spina bifida; Plaintiff is his primary caregiver. Her husband helps some when the kids are home from school in the summer, and her mom helps to clean the house and take the kids to the park. But Plaintiff does the cooking, shopping, and the driving for her kids. Her son's disability requires her constant attention:

I have to help him with this homework, bathe him, change his Pamper because he's seven years old, but he can't - he has no - he's incontinent. I have to give him his medication, medicine every day because he suffers from asthma. And to add insult to injury, the teacher is telling me that he has now learning problems, and that, that gave me even more depression because if it's not one thing, it's another.

(R. 188) Plaintiff primarily speaks Spanish but says, “I get by, ” when asked how she handles an English-speaking workplace. (R. 183) She testified with the aid of an interpreter at the hearing.

         After the hearing, the ALJ found Plaintiff has the severe impairments of major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, hearing loss, and degenerative joint disease of the right arm. (R. 41) The ALJ identified Plaintiff's non-severe impairments as dyspepsia, abdominal pain, other GI issues, and lupus. (Id.) Although Plaintiff's medical records mention fibromyalgia, the ALJ found it is not a medically determinable impairment. Aided by the testimony of a VE, the ALJ determined Plaintiff is not disabled as she has the RFC to perform light work with the following limitations:

She can only occasionally climb ladders, ropes and scaffolds. She can frequently (as opposed to constantly) push and pull with the right upper extremity. She can perform simple, routine and repetitive tasks with no noise above a medium office level. She can frequently rely on verbal communication in the workplace. She can tolerate occasional changes in a routine work setting. She must avoid unprotected heights and dangerous machinery. She primarily speaks Spanish.

(R. 43) The ALJ found that, with this RFC, Plaintiff is able to perform her past relevant work as a cafeteria helper. (R. 47) The Appeals Council denied review. Plaintiff, having exhausted her administrative remedies, filed this action.

         B. Standard of Review

         To be entitled to DIB and/or SSI, 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), 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.” See 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(3), 1382c(a)(3)(D).

         The Social Security Administration, to regularize the adjudicative process, promulgated detailed regulations that are currently in effect. These regulations establish a “sequential evaluation process” to determine whether a claimant is disabled. See 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)(4), 416.920(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 her 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 her past relevant work; and (5) if the claimant cannot perform the tasks required of her prior work, the ALJ must decide if the claimant can do other work in the national economy in view of her RFC, age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(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); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(f), (g).

         In 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).

         C. ...

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