United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division
A. P1ZZO JUDGE
an appeal of the administrative denial of supplemental
security income (SSI). See 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3).
Plaintiff argues the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) should
have found that her digestive disorder and accompanying
weight loss met or equaled medical listing 5.08. After
considering Plaintiff's arguments, Defendant's
response, and the administrative record, I find the ALJ
applied the proper standards, and the decision that Plaintiff
is not disabled is supported by substantial evidence. I
affirm the ALJ's decision.
Kristen Hart was born on September 13, 1968, and was 49 years
old at the time of the administrative hearing. Plaintiff has
earned a GED and some community college credits. She lived
with her ailing parents until they passed away; by the
hearing date, Plaintiff had moved in with her adult son.
Plaintiff has past work experience as an office clerk for a
home builder, a medical biller and coder for a dentist, and a
receptionist at a gym. Plaintiff alleges disability due to
colitis, sciatica, and mental impairments.
Plaintiff's second application for benefits. Initially,
she applied for SSI and disability insurance benefits (DIB),
alleging disability beginning February 15, 2008. The same ALJ
assigned to the current appeal denied Plaintiff's first
application on December 13, 2013 (the Appeals Council upheld
this decision). Consequently, the parties concede that for
the time period of February 15, 2008 (her first alleged onset
date), through December 13, 2013 (the date of the ALJ's
unfavorable decision), the ALJ's denial “became
administratively final under the doctrine of res
judicata through the latter date.” (R. 22)
Nonetheless, in Plaintiff's current application (her
second), she requests SSI and DIB, this time alleging
disability as of August 25, 2012.
this procedural backdrop, the ALJ dismissed Plaintiff's
second DIB application, because Plaintiff's date of last
insured was September 30, 2013, and the denial of her first
claim was administratively final through December 13, 2013.
What remained for the ALJ to determine in this case is
whether Plaintiff was disabled, and therefore entitled to
SSI, from December 14, 2015 (the date she filed her second
application), through March 7, 2018 (the date of the
ALJ's denial of her second application).
hearing, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffers from the severe
impairments of “status-post remote cervical spine
anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF); pre-existing
lumbar spine disc bulge and protrusions with annular tear at
¶ 4-5 level and minor nerve root involvement, and mild
to moderate stenosis; and combined mild major depression with
anxiety and mood disorder.” (R. 25) Aided by the
testimony of a vocational expert (VE), the ALJ determined
Plaintiff is not disabled, despite these impairments, as she
retains the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform
light work with some limitations:
No more than occasional climbing, balancing, stooping,
kneeling, crouching and crawling; occasional climbing
ladders, but never climbing scaffolds, ropes or at open
unprotected heights; must avoid extreme vibrations; reaching
with upper extremities is limited to frequent (between
one-third and two-thirds of time during an eight-hour
workday); must avoid operation of dangerous machinery;
limited to understanding and carrying-out simple, routine,
repetitive tasks (meaning tasks that will be learned from a
short demonstration or doing the same task for up to 30 days,
limited to making basic decision and adjusting to simple
changes in the work setting); no more than frequent
interaction with the general public, coworkers and
(R. 27-28) The ALJ found that, with this RFC, Plaintiff could
not perform her past relevant work but could work as a
housekeeper/cleaner, advertising materials distributor, and a
produce sorter. (R. 32) The Appeals Council denied review.
Plaintiff, having exhausted her administrative remedies,
filed this action.
Standard of Review
entitled to 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. §
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. § 1382c(a)(3)(D).
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. § 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.
§ 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. §
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).