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Williams v. Colvin

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division

August 12, 2014

DENNETTE A. WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Social Security Appeal Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

CHARLES H. WEIGLE, Magistrate Judge.

This is a review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff Dennette A. Williams' application for benefits. Because the ALJ did not clearly articulate "good cause" for discounting the opinion of Dr. Scott Gillogly, a treating physician, it is RECOMMENDED that Plaintiff's case be REMANDED to the Commissioner for further proceedings.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff applied for Title II benefits in April 2009, alleging disability due to "pain and weakness in both arms" and "problems with her low back and [] left knee." (R. 35). Plaintiff's impairments are the result of a number of accidents and also of surgical complications. In 2004, Plaintiff suffered an on-the-job injury to her left knee when she "struck a hard table, " thereby tearing her medial meniscus. (R. 247). Plaintiff underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in May 2005, and then again in May 2006, but in August 2006 Plaintiff fell, re-injuring her knee and also injuring her right shoulder and lower back. (R. 34-35, 224, 241, 247). Plaintiff quit her job at Rheem Manufacturing Company in August 2006 due to her injuries, and Plaintiff's alleged disability onset date is August 25, 2006. (R. 14, 247). In March 2009, Plaintiff underwent further arthroscopic surgery on her right shoulder to repair a torn rotator cuff. (R. 228-30).

Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration, (R. 55-56), and in January 2012, a reviewing administrative law judge ("ALF) found Plaintiff "not disabled" within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (R. 12-26). The Appeals Council, after considering "new evidence" submitted by Plaintiff, (R. 465-66), declined to review Plaintiff's case in July 2012. (R. 1-3). Plaintiff now seeks review before this Court pursuant to "sentence four" of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The courts have a narrow role in reviewing claims brought under the Social Security Act. Judicial review is limited to a determination of whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by "substantial evidence, " as well as whether the correct legal standards were applied. Walker v. Bowen, 826 F.2d 996, 1000 (11th Cir. 1987).

"Substantial evidence" is defined as "more than a scintilla, " and as "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). In determining whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision, a court may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983). Rather, courts may only scrutinize the record to assess the reasonableness of the Commissioner's factual findings. Id. Even if the evidence in the record preponderates against the Commissioner's decision, that decision must be affirmed if it is supported by substantial evidence.

The courts review questions of law de novo, and the Commissioner's "Mailure to apply the correct legal standards or to provide the reviewing court with the sufficient basis to determine that the correct legal principles have been followed is grounds for reversal." Wiggins v. Schweiker, 679 F.2d 1387, 1389 (11th Cir. 1982). But see Diorio v. Heckler, 721 F.2d 726, 728 (11th Cir. 1983) (applying the harmless error doctrine in the context of a Social Security appeal).

EVALUATION OF DISABILITY

Persons are "disabled" for the purposes of receiving benefits under the Social Security Act if they are unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity due to a medicallydeterminable physical or mental impairment which is expected to result in death or which has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

When evaluating a claimant's disability, the Commissioner follows a five-step "sequential evaluation procedure." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v). At step one, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. At step two, the Commissioner considers the medical severity of the claimant's medically-determinable impairments. This step has been described as a "reasonable administrative convenience designed to screen out groundless claims." Stratton v. Bowen, 827 F.2d 1447, 1452 (11th Cir. 1987).

At step three, the Commissioner determines whether the severity of the claimant's impairments (i) meet or equal the severity of one or more of the impairments specified in the listing of impairments; and (ii) meet the relevant duration requirement. If so, the sequential evaluation procedure stops and the claimant is declared "disabled." If not, the Commissioner assesses the claimant's residual functional capacity, ("RFC"), which is defined as "the most you can still do despite your limitations." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1). The Commissioner then proceeds to step four where, based on her RFC assessment, she evaluates the claimant's ability to return to past relevant work despite his or her medically-determinable impairments. Finally, at step ...


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