United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division
For LORETTA SHEPARD, Plaintiff: CHARLES LEE MARTIN, LEAD ATTORNEY, DECATUR, GA.
For CAROLYN W COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant: AIMEE J HALL, 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 Loretta Shepard's application for benefits. Because the ALJ failed to address important medical findings, it is RECOMMENDED that Plaintiff's case be REMANDED to the Commissioner pursuant to " sentence four" of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Plaintiff applied for Title XVI benefits in March 2010. (R. 124). She claimed, at her January 2012 administrative hearing, to suffer from bipolar disorder, fibromyalgia, degenerative disc disease, and bursitis in both of her knees. (R. 79). Plaintiff's application was denied initially, (R. 92), on reconsideration, (R. 93), and by a reviewing administrative law judge (" ALJ"), (R. 51--61), and then in September 2013 the Appeals Council denied review in Plaintiff's case. (R. 1--4). Plaintiff now seeks review before this Court, arguing that the ALJ failed to consider important medical findings made by Dr. Brenard Francis and Dr. Darrell Murray, and also that the ALJ failed to consider third-party function reports submitted by Plaintiff's sister and daughter. Because the record indicates that the ALJ either overlooked or ignored important findings made by Dr. Francis and Dr. Murray, both consultative examiners, and because this Court cannot itself weigh Dr. Francis's and Dr. Murray's findings, it is recommended that Plaintiff's case be remanded to the Commissioner for a reevaluation of the evidence.
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 March 1, 2010, her application date. (R. 13). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: " knee pain, rule out bipolar disorder, mood disorder, and a history of polysubstance abuse." (R. 13). At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments meeting or medically equaling the ...