United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
FRANCISCO SANTIAGO, as husband of Michelle Ann Portillo, the deceased wage earner, Plaintiff,
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c), plaintiff
Francisco Santiago, as husband of Michelle Ann Portillo,
deceased, seeks judicial review of a final adverse decision
of the Commissioner of Social Security. The Commissioner
denied Ms. Portillo's claims for a period of disability
and disability insurance benefits. After careful review, the
Court affirms the Commissioner's decision.
Portillo applied for a period of disability and disability
insurance benefits and supplemental security income on
December 1, 2014. (Doc. 7-4, pp. 3, 5). Ms. Portillo alleged
that her disability began on September 1, 2012. (Doc. 7- 4,
pp. 3, 5). The Commissioner initially denied Ms.
Portillo's claims on May 4, 2015. (Doc. 7-5, pp. 2-10).
On May 8, 2015, Ms. Portillo requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Doc. 7-5, p. 13). Ms.
Portillo passed away on April 16, 2016, and her husband,
plaintiff Francisco Santiago, was substituted as a party.
(Doc. 7-5, p. 66; Doc. 7-7, p. 23).
conducted a hearing on July 28, 2016, and he issued a
partially favorable decision on August 19, 2016. (Doc. 7-3,
pp. 15-59). The ALJ found that Ms. Portillo was disabled as
of December 1, 2014, the date of her applications. The ALJ
found that Ms. Portillo was not entitled to disability
insurance benefits because the ALJ determined that Ms.
Portillo was not disabled from her alleged onset date of
September 1, 2012 through her date last insured of September
30, 2013. The ALJ found that Ms. Portillo was entitled to
supplemental security income because she was disabled on
December 1, 2014, the date she applied for benefits. (Doc.
7-3, p. 29). On December 8, 2016, the Appeals Council
declined Mr. Santiago's request for review (Doc. 7-3, pp.
2-4), making the Commissioner's decision final and a
proper candidate for this Court's judicial review.
See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
scope of review in this matter is limited. “When, as in
this case, the ALJ denies benefits and the Appeals Council
denies review, ” the Court “review[s] the
ALJ's ‘factual findings with deference' and
[his] ‘legal conclusions with close
scrutiny.'” Riggs v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 522 Fed.Appx. 509, 510-11 (11th Cir. 2013)
(quoting Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th
Court must determine whether there is substantial evidence in
the record to support the ALJ's factual findings.
“Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is
such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Crawford v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir.
2004). In evaluating the administrative record, the Court may
not “decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence,
” or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ.
Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 631 F.3d
1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (internal quotations and citation
omitted). If substantial evidence supports the ALJ's
factual findings, then the Court “must affirm even if
the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's
findings.” Costigan v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec.
Admin., 603 Fed.Appx. 783, 786 (11th Cir. 2015) (citing
Crawford, 363 F.3d at 1158).
respect to the ALJ's legal conclusions, the Court must
determine whether the ALJ applied the correct legal
standards. If the Court finds an error in the ALJ's
application of the law, or if the Court finds that the ALJ
failed to provide sufficient reasoning to demonstrate that
the ALJ conducted a proper legal analysis, then the Court
must reverse the ALJ's decision. Cornelius v.
Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).
SUMMARY OF THE ALJ'S DECISION
determine whether a claimant has proven that she is disabled,
an ALJ follows a five-step sequential evaluation process. The
(1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial
gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a severe
impairment or combination of impairments; (3) whether the
impairment meets or equals the severity of the specified
impairments in the Listing of Impairments; (4) based on a
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) assessment,
whether the claimant can perform any of his or her past
relevant work despite the impairment; and (5) whether there
are significant numbers of jobs in the national economy that
the claimant can perform given the claimant's RFC, age,
education, and work experience.
Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178.
case, the ALJ found that Ms. Portillo had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since September 1, 2012, the
alleged onset date. (Doc. 7-3, p. 21). The ALJ determined
that from the alleged onset date of September 1, 2012 through
the date last insured of September 30, 2013, Ms. Portillo
suffered from the following severe impairments: anxiety
disorder; history of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma; history of
carpel tunnel syndrome, left; history of hepatitis C;
peripheral neuropathy; chronic obstructive pulmonary
disease/asthma; gastroesophageal reflux disease; and
degenerative joint disease, right knee. (Doc. 7-3, p. 21).
The ALJ determined that Ms. Portillo suffered from the
non-severe impairment of history of hypertension. (Doc. 7-3,
p. 22). Based on a review of the medical evidence, the ALJ
concluded that before December 1, 2014, Ms. Portillo did not
have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets
or medically equals the severity of any of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
(Doc. 7-3, p. 21).
light of Ms. Portillo's impairments, the ALJ evaluated
Ms. Portillo's residual functional capacity. The ALJ
determined that before September 30, 2013, Ms. Portillo's
date last insured, Ms. Portillo had the RFC to perform:
light exertional work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b). The undersigned further finds, however, that the
full range of light work that could have been performed by
the claimant is reduced by the following functional
limitations: the claimant would require a sit/stand option
with the retained ability to stay on or at a work station in
no less than 30 minute increments each without significant
reduction of remaining on task and she was able to ambulate
short distances up to 75 yards per instance on flat hard
surfaces. She was able to occasionally use bilateral foot
controls, occasionally use left, non-dominant hand controls,
and frequently use right dominant hand controls. She could
have frequently reached overhead as well as all other
directions with the left non-dominant hand. She could have
frequently handled, fingered and felt with the left
non-dominant hand. She could have occasionally climbed ramps
and stairs but never have climbed ladders or scaffolds. She
could have frequently balanced and stooped but could never
have crouched, kneeled, or crawled. The claimant could never
have been exposed to unprotected heights, dangerous
machinery, dangerous tools, hazardous processes, or operated
commercial vehicles. She could have tolerated no exposure to
concentrated dust, fumes, gases, or other pulmonary
irritants. The undersigned further finds that the claimant
could have only remembered short simple instructions and
would have been unable to deal with detailed or complex
instructions. She could have done simple routine repetitive
tasks but would have been unable to do detailed or complex
tasks. She would have been limited to making simple work
related decisions. The claimant should have had no more than
occasional interaction with the general-public but could have
frequent interaction with co-workers and ...