United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Savannah Division
JAMES A. BIGGLEST, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
se plaintiff James Bigglest seeks judicial review of the
Social Security Administration's denial of his
application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and
Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
social security cases, courts . . .
review the Commissioner's decision for substantial
evidence. Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631
F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011). “Substantial evidence
is more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a
reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Id. (quotation omitted). . . .
“We may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the
evidence, or substitute our judgment for that of the
Commissioner.” Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178
(quotation and brackets omitted). “If the
Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial
evidence, this Court must affirm, even if the proof
preponderates against it.” Dyer v. Barnhart,
395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005) (quotation omitted).
Mitchell v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 771 F.3d
780, 782 (11th Cir. 2014).
burden of proving disability lies with the claimant.
Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211 (11th Cir.
2005). The ALJ applies
. . . a five-step, “sequential” process for
determining whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(1). If an ALJ finds a claimant disabled or not
disabled at any given step, the ALJ does not go on to the
next step. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4). At the first
step, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant is
currently engaged in substantial gainful activity.
Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). At the second step,
the ALJ must determine whether the impairment or combination
of impairments for which the claimant allegedly suffers is
“severe.” Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii).
At the third step, the ALJ must decide whether the
claimant's severe impairments meet or medically equal a
listed impairment. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii).
If not, the ALJ must then determine at step four whether the
claimant has the RFC to perform her past relevant work.
Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant
cannot perform her past relevant work, the ALJ must determine
at step five whether the claimant can make an adjustment to
other work, considering the claimant's RFC, age,
education, and work experience. An ALJ may make this
determination either by applying the Medical Vocational
Guidelines or by obtaining the testimony of a [Vocational
Stone v. Comm'r. of Soc. Sec. Admin., 596 F.
App'x, 878, 879 (11th Cir. 2015) (footnote added).
who was 55 years old when his DIB and SSI claims were denied,
alleges disability beginning October 1, 2010. Tr. 30, 39,
173. He completed three years of college and has past work
experience as a university coordinator, city parking service
officer, city recreational leader, and security guard. Tr.
44, 50, 220-30. After a hearing, the ALJ issued an
unfavorable decision. Tr. 30-39. He found that Bigglest's
degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, degenerative
joint disease of the left knee, and degenerative joint
disease of the right foot with a bunion constituted severe
impairments but did not meet or medically equal a Listing.
Tr. 33-34. The ALJ found that he retained the RFC for medium
except he could not engage in constant bilateral overhead
reaching. Tr. 34. Plaintiff, he determined, was capable of
performing his past work as a security guard, parking
enforcement officer, and recreation counselor and thus not
disabled through March 25, 2015 (the date of the decision).
appealed to the Appeals Council (tr. 17-19 & 26-27),
alleging disabling mental impairments precluded him from
working and providing additional records in support of his
claim from the Veterans Administration (VA). Tr. 2, 6, 7-23,
181, 271-72, 391-94. The records included (1) treating
records dated before the date of the decision, which did not
provide any basis for changing the ALJ's decision; and
(2) treating records dated after the date of the decision.
See Id. The Appeals Council considered the first set
of medical records but declined to consider the second, as
the “new information is about a later time” and
“does not affect the decision about whether [he was]
disabled beginning on or before March 25, 2015.” Tr. 2.
It then denied Bigglest's request for review, concluding
that there was no basis to review the ALJ's decision. Tr.
disagrees, arguing that (1) the Appeals Council erred by failing
to fully consider his VA records. Docs. 10 & 13.
“With a few exceptions, the claimant is allowed to
present new evidence at each stage of this administrative
process, ” including before the Appeals Council.
Ingram v. Comm'r, 496 F.3d 1253, 1261 (11th Cir.
Appeals Council has the discretion not to review the
ALJ's denial of benefits. See 20 C.F.R. §
416.1470(b). But it “must consider new, material, and
chronologically relevant evidence” that the claimant
submits. Ingram, 496 F.3d at 1261; Washington v.
Comm'r, 806 F.3d 1317, 1320 (11th Cir. 2015) (same);
see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.970(b),
416.1470(b). When the Appeals Council accepts and considers
additional evidence, then denies review, it is not
“required to provide a detailed rationale for denying
review.” Mitchell v. Comm'r, 771 F.3d 780,
784 (11th Cir. 2014). And when the Appeals Council
“erroneously refuses to consider evidence, it commits
legal error and remand is appropriate.”
Washington, 806 F.3d at 1320.
VA records from before the date of the ALJ's decision
were fully considered by the Appeals Council, entered into
the record, and ultimately found not material -- meaning,
they did not “provide a basis for changing the
[ALJ]'s decision.” Tr. 2; see also tr. 6,
191, 271-72, 391-94. The Appeals Council did not
have any duty to explain its finding, to reweigh the
evidence of record, or otherwise recapitulate the ALJ's
decision. M ...