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McGill v. Saul

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

July 22, 2019

KAYLA DARLENE MCGILL, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security Administration, [1]Defendant.

          MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          BRIAN K. EPPS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Kayla Darlene McGill appeals the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security 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 the Commissioner's final decision be AFFIRMED, this civil action be CLOSED, and a final judgment be ENTERED in favor of the Commissioner.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff applied for SSI on September 5, 2014, alleging a disability onset date of December 18, 2009. Tr. (“R.”), pp. 32, 215. Plaintiff was twenty-one years old at her alleged disability onset date and twenty-seven years old when the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) issued the decision currently under consideration. R. 32, 43, 223. Plaintiff applied for benefits based on a combination of alleged impairments, including mental disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, manic depression, anxiety, and seizures. R. 247. Plaintiff has a limited seventh grade education, and prior to her alleged disability accrued no relevant work history. R. 43.

         The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's application initially and on reconsideration. R. 87-122. Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an ALJ, R. 137-139, and the ALJ held a hearing on November 8, 2016. R. 53-86. At the hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, and Roger McNeeley, a Vocational Expert (“VE”). Id. Following the hearing, the ALJ ordered a consultative psychological evaluation and proffered the report to Plaintiff and counsel, who did not object to the additional evidence being admitted. R. 32, 305-309. On May 10, 2017, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. R. 29-44. Applying the sequential process required by 20 C.F.R. § 416.920, the ALJ found:

1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 5, 2014, the alleged onset date (20 C.F.R. §§ 416.971 et seq.).
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: schizoaffective, bipolar, major depressive, and borderline personality disorders, anxiety, and borderline intellectual functioning. (20 C.F.R. § 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. §§ 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: She can have no more than rare contact with the general public and no more than occasional “team-type” interaction with co-workers. The claimant is limited to performing simple routine 1 to 2 step unskilled tasks. She must avoid fast-paced production rate work activities. The claimant has no past relevant work. (20 C.F.R. § 416.965.)
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, including linen room attendant, cleaner, housekeeping cleaner, routing clerk, document preparer, and final assembler (20 C.F.R. §§ 416.969, 416.969(a)). Therefore, the claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since September 5, 2014, the date the application was filed (20 C.F.R. § 416.920(g)).

R. 34-44.

         When the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, R. 12-14, the Commissioner's decision became “final” for the purpose of judicial review. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). On February 5, 2018, Plaintiff, through counsel, requested the Appeals Council to reopen and revise their determination based on their alleged failure to consider materials submitted for consideration prior to their initial decision. R. 2-3. Plaintiff then filed this civil action requesting reversal or remand of the adverse decision. Plaintiff argues the case should be remanded because (1) the Appeals Counsel failed to consider the supplemental evidence presented prior to issuing their opinion; (2) the supplemental evidence should be considered on remand pursuant to sentence six of § 405(g); (3) the hypothetical presented to the VE failed to include all of Plaintiff's limitations; and (4) the ALJ's determination of Plaintiff's RFC is not based on substantial evidence. See doc. no. 17 (“Pl.'s Br.”); doc. no. 22 (“Pl.'s Reply”). The Commissioner maintains the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence and there is no basis for remand pursuant to sentence six of § 405(g). See doc. no. 12 (“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. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158-59 (11th Cir. 2004). Finally, the Commissioner's findings of fact must be grounded in the entire record; a decision that focuses on one aspect of the evidence and disregards other contrary evidence is not based upon substantial evidence. McCruter v. Bowen, 791 F.2d 1544, 1548 (11th Cir. 1986).

         The deference accorded the Commissioner's findings of fact does not extend to his conclusions of law, which enjoy no presumption of validity. Brown v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d 1233, 1236 (11th Cir. 1991) (holding that judicial review of the Commissioner's legal conclusions are not subject to the substantial evidence standard). If the Commissioner fails either to apply correct legal standards or to provide the reviewing court with the means to determine whether correct legal standards were in fact applied, the Court must reverse the decision. Wiggins v. Schweiker, 679 F.2d 1387, 1389 (11th Cir. 1982).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff argues case should be remanded because (1) the Appeals Counsel failed to consider the supplemental evidence presented prior to issuing their opinion; (2) the supplemental evidence should be considered on remand pursuant to sentence six of § 405(g); (3) the hypothetical presented to the VE failed to include all of Plaintiff's limitations; and (4) the ALJ's determination of Plaintiff's RFC is not based on ...


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