United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division
LATASSIE V. HURT, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, 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 Latassie V. Hurt's application for benefits. Because the ALJ failed to articulate "good cause" for discounting the opinions of two treating physicians, it is RECOMMENDED that Plaintiff's case be REMANDED pursuant to "sentence four" of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Plaintiff applied for Title II and Title XVI benefits in July 2009. (R. 150-60). She claimed, in her applications, that her disability began in March 2009 when she suffered from a cerebrovascular accident while performing assembly line work for Rheem Manufacturing. (R. 65-66). Plaintiff claims to suffer from residual numbness and pain, as well as from depression and intellectual limitations. (Doc. 10, p. 4). Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and on reconsideration, (R. 93-94), and a reviewing Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") held a hearing on April 17, 2012. At that hearing, Plaintiff's counsel objected to the introduction of a Cooperative Disability Investigations ("CDI") report (Ex. 7F) on grounds of relevancy and also on the grounds that the report relied on the testimony of anonymous witnesses. (R. 56-58).
Plaintiff's counsel also argued that Dr. Ndiya Nkongho, a DDS psychological reviewer, improperly relied upon the CDI report in finding that Plaintiff suffered from few psychological limitations. (R. 57-58). Although the ALJ acknowledged Plaintiff's arguments, the ALJ failed to address those arguments both at the hearing and in her unfavorable April 27 opinion. The Appeals Council denied review in Plaintiff's case on November 19, 2013, and Plaintiff now seeks review before this Court arguing: (1) that the ALJ erred by failing to articulate grounds for discounting the opinions of two treating physicians, Dr. Thomas Terry and Dr. Saqib Nazir; and also (2) that the ALJ erred in relying on the CDI report to discount both Dr. William McDaniel's consultative examination report and also Plaintiff's own credibility. Because Plaintiff's first argument-regarding the opinions of her treating physicians-warrants a remand, it is not recommended that the Court determine what weight the CDI report should have carried. Rather, on remand, the Commissioner should expressly address, on the record, Plaintiff's objections to the CDI report in accordance with HALLEX I-2-6-58 (C).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of Social Security is limited to a determination of whether that decision is supported by substantial evidence, as well as whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards. Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011). "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." Id. The Eleventh Circuit has explained that reviewing courts may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute their judgment for that of the Commissioner. Id. Rather, if the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, that decision must be affirmed even if the evidence preponderates against it.
EVALUATION OF DISAIBLITY
Social Security claimants are "disabled" if they are 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. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).
The Social Security Regulations outline a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is disabled: "(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 (11th Cir. 2011) (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v); 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v)).
DISABILITY EVALUATION IN THIS CASE
Following the five-step sequential evaluation process, the reviewing ALJ made the following findings in this case. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since at least March 25, 2009, her alleged onset date. (R. 25). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: "status post cerebral vascular accident, status post myocardial infarction, [and] status post aortic thrombus." (R. 25). At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments meeting or equaling one of the listed impairments. (R. 26). Therefore, the ALJ assessed Plaintiff's RFC and determined that Plaintiff could perform "the full range of light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b)." (R. 26). Based on this RFC finding the ALJ determined, at step four, that Plaintiff could return to her past relevant work as an assembly line worker, cashier, and fast food worker. (R. 32). As a result of her step-four finding, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act.
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in failing to articulate "good cause" for discounting the opinions of two treating physicians: Dr. Thomas Terry and Dr. Saqib Nazir. Because the record supports Plaintiff's argument, it is recommended that Plaintiff's case ...