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Bell v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Dublin Division

June 25, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Rasheida Samone Bell appeals the decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security denying her application for Child Insurance Benefits (“CIB”) and 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), the Commissioner's final decision be REVERSED and the case be REMANDED to the Commissioner for further consideration in accordance with this opinion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff applied for CIB and SSI on April 11, 2013, alleging a disability onset date of January 1, 2000. Tr. (“R.”), pp. 86, 197. Plaintiff was six years old at her alleged disability onset date and twenty-three years old at the time the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) issued the decision currently under consideration. R. 94, 197.

         Plaintiff applied for benefits based on allegations of a learning disability. R. 201. Plaintiff graduated from high school in 2013 with a special education diploma. R. 322. Plaintiff has never worked. R. 93, 322.

         The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's application initially, R. 99-105, and on reconsideration, R. 110-15. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ, R. 121-24, and the ALJ held a hearing on September 11, 2015, R. 15-34. The ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff, who was not represented by counsel, as well as from Plaintiff's mother. Id. On March 2, 2016, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. R. 83-98.

         Applying the sequential process required by 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 and 416.920, the ALJ found:

1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 1, 2000, the alleged onset date (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1571 et seq. and 416.971 et seq.).
2. The claimant has the following severe impairment: borderline intellectual functioning (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c) and 416.920(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. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
4. The claimant has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following non-exertional limitations: the claimant is able to meet the basic mental demands of competitive, remunerative, unskilled work, including the abilities (on a sustained basis) to understand, carry out, and remember simple instructions; to respond appropriately to supervising, coworkers, and usual work situations; and to deal with changes in a routine work setting.
5. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1569, 404.1569(a), 416.969, and 416.969(a)). Therefore, the claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from January 1, 2000, through March 2, 2016 (the date of the ALJ's decision) (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g)).

         R. 88-94.

         When the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, R. 7-11, 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 the Commissioner's decision is not supported by substantial evidence because the ALJ failed to: (1) properly evaluate Plaintiff's credibility; (2) take testimony from a vocational expert instead of relying on the Medical-Vocational Guidelines; (3) find Plaintiff's impairment met or equaled Listing 12.05C; (4) and properly determine Plaintiff's RFC. Pl.'s Br., doc. no. 12. The Commissioner maintains the decision to deny Plaintiff benefits is supported by substantial evidence and should therefore be affirmed. Comm'r's Br., doc. no. 17.


         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. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158-59 (11th Cir. 2004). Finally, the Commissioner's findings of fact must be grounded ...

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