United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division
FINAL REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
CATHERINE M. SALINAS, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
February 15, 2013, Plaintiff Donna McCommon
(“Plaintiff”) filed a Title II application for a
period of disability and disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”), alleging that she became disabled on
January 14, 2013. (Tr. 27, 76, 157-160, 234). The Social
Security Administration (“SSA”) denied
Plaintiff's application initially and on reconsideration.
(Tr. 76-102). On February 5, 2015, Plaintiff appeared and
testified at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). (Tr. 43-74). The ALJ issued an
unfavorable decision on July 6, 2015, denying Plaintiff's
claims. (Tr. 24-37). In the decision, the ALJ gave only
limited weight to the opinions of two of Plaintiff's
treating physicians. Plaintiff requested review of the
decision by the Appeals Council (“AC”). The AC
denied review on July 11, 2016, making the ALJ's decision
the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 3-10). This case
is now ripe for judicial review, under 42 U.S.C. §
raises three issues on appeal: (1) whether remand is
warranted because the ALJ failed to provide good reasons for
discounting medical opinions and ignored other opinions; (2)
whether the ALJ's physical RFC assessment is supported by
substantial evidence and, if not, whether the ALJ erred by
failing to order a physical consultative examination; and (3)
whether the Appeals Council erred by failing to consider
additional evidence submitted to the Appeals Council, namely
Dr. Hoeper's consultative psychological assessment dated
December 30, 2015, and by denying review. (Doc. 23, Pl.'s
reasons discussed below, I RECOMMEND that
the Commissioner's decision be REVERSED AND
REMANDED for further proceedings not inconsistent
with this Report and Recommendation.
SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS
the regulations promulgated by the Commissioner, a reviewer
must follow a five-step sequential analysis when evaluating a
disability claim. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). This analysis
is as follows:
1. The ALJ first determines whether the claimant is currently
working; if so, the claim is denied.
2. The ALJ determines solely on the basis of the medical
evidence whether the claimed impairment is severe; if it is
not, the claim is denied.
3. The ALJ decides, again, only using medical evidence,
whether the impairment equals or exceeds in severity certain
impairments described in the Commissioner's Listing of
Impairments; if it does, the claimant is automatically
entitled to disability benefits.
4. The ALJ considers whether the claimant has sufficient
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform
his past work; if so, the claim is denied.
5. The ALJ decides, on the basis of the claimant's age,
education, work experience, and RFC, whether the claimant can
perform any other gainful and substantial work within the
economy. If the claimant is able to do other work, the ALJ
finds that the claimant is not disabled. If the claimant
cannot make an adjustment to other work and meets the
duration requirement, the ALJ will find that the claimant is
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
court's role in reviewing the factual determinations of
the Commissioner is limited. Gibson v. Heckler, 779
F.2d 619, 622 (11th Cir. 1986). In reviewing the
Commissioner's decision, the court may not decide the
facts anew, re-weigh the evidence, or substitute its judgment
for that of the Commissioner. Barnes v. Sullivan,
932 F.2d 1356, 1358 (11th Cir. 1991). The court's only
role is to determine whether the Commissioner applied the
proper legal standards and whether substantial evidence
exists in the record to support the Commissioner's
findings. Walden v. Schweiker, 672 F.2d 835, 838
(11th Cir. 1982). “Substantial evidence” means
such “relevant evidence as a reasonable person might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
MacGregor v. Bowen, 786 F.2d 1050, 1053 (11th Cir.
1986). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, but
less than a preponderance. Bloodsworth v. Heckler,
703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983). However, substantial
evidence is not present if the ALJ “does not have
before him sufficient facts on which to make an informed
decision.” Ford v. Sec'y of Health and Human
Servs., 659 F.2d 66, 69 (5th Cir. 1981). Failure to
apply the correct legal standards or to provide the reviewing
court with a sufficient basis on which to determine that the
correct legal principles have been followed -- or that
substantial evidence exists -- mandates a reversal.
Wiggins v. Schweiker, 679 F.2d 1387, 1389 (11th Cir.
was 60 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. (Tr.
41, 157). Plaintiff stated in claim forms that she has a high
school education. (Tr. 197).
she testified at the hearing that she attended four years of
college and earned a degree in communications. (Tr. 49).
Plaintiff worked for Fulton County, Georgia, for thirteen
years as a medical records clerk and then for three years in
Human Resources as a personnel recruiter. (Tr. 50-51, 197).
Plaintiff is a veteran and receives 20% disability
compensation from the Veterans Administration
(“VA”) and disability retirement benefits from
Fulton County on a monthly basis. (Tr. 29, 47-50, 180-181).
Plaintiff alleges disability due to depression, post
traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), anxiety,
tinnitis, chronic pain, and high cholesterol. (Tr. 32, 194,
196). Plaintiff claims that she stopped working on January
14, 2013 “[b]ecause of [her] condition(s).” (Tr.