United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Augusta Division
CECELIA WILKERSON, as Mother and Next Friend of B.B., a Minor child, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.
MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
BRIAN K. EPPS, Magistrate Judge.
Cecelia Wilkerson, proceeding on behalf of B.B. ("Claimant"), appeals the decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner") denying her application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under the Social Security Act. Upon consideration of the briefs submitted by both parties, the record evidence, and the relevant statutory and case law, the Court REPORTS and RECOMMENDS pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), that the Commissioner's final decision be REVERSED and that the case be REMANDED to the Commissioner for further consideration in accordance with this opinion.
Plaintiff applied for SSI on behalf of Claimant, alleging disability from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), and a bipolar disorder, with a stated onset date of March 31, 2010. Tr. ("R"), pp. 31, 154, 173, 193. The record reflects that prior to the ALJ's decision, Claimant had sought treatment from psychiatrist Lance Thigpen, M.D., for approximately seven years, starting in 2005. R. 423-581, 597-609, 619-22. The record also contains treatment notes for Claimant starting in 2010 for approximately one year and a half from psychologist Greg Swanson, Ph.D. R. 406-16, 610-18.
At the time of her application, Claimant was nine-years old, classified as a school-aged child under Social Security regulations, and was still classified as a school-aged child at the time the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") issued the January 31, 2012 decision currently under consideration by the Court. R. 28, 31; 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a. The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's application initially and on reconsideration, R. 83-88. Plaintiff requested a hearing before the ALJ, R. 94-96, and the ALJ held a hearing on January 5, 2012. R. 48-82. At the hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff and Claimant, who appeared with attorney George Bush, who also represents them in these proceedings. Id. On January 31, 2012, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. R. 28-47.
Applying the three-step sequential process required by 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a), the ALJ found:
1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 31, 2010, the application date (20 C.F.R. §§ 416.924(b) and 416.971 et seq.).
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: ADHD and mood disorder (20 C.F.R. § 416.924(c)).
3. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 416.924, 416.925, and 416.926). The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that functionally equals the severity of the listings (20 C.F.R. §§ 416.924(d) and 416.926(a)). Thus, the claimant has not been disabled, as defined by the Social Security Act, since March 31, 2010, the date the application was filed. (20 C.F.R. §§ 416.906 and 416.924(c)).
When the Appeals Council ("AC") denied Plaintiff's request for review, R. 6-11, the Commissioner's decision became "final" for the purpose of judicial review. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff then filed this civil action requesting reversal or remand of that adverse decision. Plaintiff argues that the Commissioner's decision is not supported by substantial evidence for eleven different reasons, which can be grouped into the following five categories of alleged error: (1) the ALJ erred in determining Claimant has less than a marked limitation in attending and completing tasks because he failed to consider opinion evidence from State Agency medical consultants; (2) the ALJ failed to address Claimant's testimony at the January 5, 2012 hearing; (3) the ALJ failed to conclude that Claimant had any severe impairments; (4) the ALJ, as well as the AC, failed to properly address opinion evidence from a treating physician; and (5) the ALJ failed to properly consider Claimant's medication changes and the effects therefrom. See doc. no. 10 ("Pl.'s Br."). The Commissioner maintains that the administrative decision is supported by substantial evidence. See doc. no. 13 ("Comm'r's Br.").
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Judicial review of social security cases is narrow and limited to the following questions: (1) whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence, and (2) whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards. Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1439 (11th Cir. 1997). When considering whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, the reviewing court may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute its judgment for the Commissioner's. Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211 (11th Cir. 2005); Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145 (11th Cir. 1991). Notwithstanding this measure of deference, the Court remains obligated to scrutinize the whole record to determine whether substantial evidence supports each essential administrative finding. Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983).
The Commissioner's factual findings should be affirmed if there is substantial evidence to support them. Barron v. Sullivan, 924 F.2d 227, 230 (11th Cir. 1991). Substantial evidence is "more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance: [i]t is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990) (quoting Bloodsworth, 703 F.2d at 1239). If the Court finds substantial evidence exists to support the Commissioner's factual findings, it must uphold the Commissioner even if the evidence preponderates in favor of the claimant. Crawford v. Commissioner of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158-59 (11th Cir. 2004). Finally, the Commissioner's findings of fact must be grounded in the ...