United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division
JOSEPH J. TOMASZEWSKI, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant
For JOSEPH J TOMASZEWSKI, Plaintiff: Larry Samuel Herrington, LEAD ATTORNEY, Milledgeville, GA; MCNEILL STOKES, LEAD ATTORNEY, ATLANTA, GA.
For CAROLYN W COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant: BERNARD SNELL, H RANDOLPH ADERHOLD, JR, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, MACON, GA.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
Charles H. Weigle, United States Magistrate Judge.
Social Security Appeal
This is a review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff Joseph J. Tomaszewski's application for benefits. Based on the analysis below, it is RECOMMENDED that the Commissioner's decision be AFFIRMED.
Plaintiff applied for Title XVI benefits in November 2003, claiming to suffer from borderline intellectual functioning, sleep apnea, adjustment disorder with depressed mood, carpal tunnel syndrome, severe leg pain, and obesity. (R. 385-89). A reviewing ALJ found Plaintiff " disabled" in October 2004, (Id.), but " [s]ubsequent to the 2004 decision, Petitioner's wife inherited a substantial amount of money, " and " Petitioner was informed that [his] annual household income [was] above the level allowed for SSI and that his benefits would [therefore] be discontinued."  (Doc. 17, p. 4). Thereafter, Plaintiff and his wife " spen[t]-down the inheritance by purchasing a home, " and Petitioner re-applied for Title XVI benefits in August 2009. (R. 158-63). Plaintiff's new application was denied initially, (R. 100), on reconsideration, (R. 102), and then by a reviewing ALJ in December 2011. (R. 37-47). The Appeals Council denied review in Plaintiff's case in June 2013, (R. 12-15), and Plaintiff now seeks review before this Court, arguing that the Commissioner failed to " follow the instructions of the Eleventh Circuit in Simpson v. Schweiker, 691 F.2d 966 (11th Cir. 1982)" by failing to find that some form of administrative res judicata barred or weighed against the re-litigation of Plaintiff's disability. (Doc. 17, P. 2). Because Plaintiff is not entitled to relief on this legal ground, and because the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, it is recommended that the Court affirm.
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 July 1, 2007. (R. 40). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: obesity, obstructive sleep apnea, depressive disorder, borderline intellectual functioning, and non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. (R. 40). At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of ...