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Hynson v. Saul

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

November 4, 2019

ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security Administration,[1] Defendant.



         Plaintiff appeals the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) 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 DIB on February 8, 2013, and SSI on February 22, 213, alleging a disability onset date of August 29, 2012. Tr. (“R.”), pp. 44, 209-218. Plaintiff was forty-seven years old at her alleged disability onset date and was fifty-one years old at the time the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) issued the decision under consideration. R. 276. Plaintiff initially applied for benefits based on allegations of chronic migraines and neck pain. R. 256. Plaintiff has a high school diploma, and prior to her alleged disability, Plaintiff had accrued relevant work history as a machine operator, feeder and spooler. R. 53, 69, 76-82, 247, 263.

         The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's applications initially and on reconsideration. R. 38-39, 153-56. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ, (R. 157-58), and the ALJ held a hearing on June 13, 2016. R. 59-101. At the hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff, who appeared with counsel Shani Franklin, as well as from Vocational Expert (“VE”) Robert E. Brabham. Id. On July 14, 2016, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. R. 44-54.

         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 August 29, 2012, the alleged onset date (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1571 et seq. and 416.971 et seq.).
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine; recurrent migraine headaches; and levoscoliosis (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 light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b)[2] except for the following limitations: no lifting or carrying over 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; no more than frequent stooping, crouching, kneeling, or climbing of stairs or ramps; no more than occasional crawling or climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; and no more than occasional overhead reaching with the bilateral upper extremities.
5. The claimant is capable of performing past relevant work as the following: (1) machine operator (feeder) (DOT section 699.686-010), which was unskilled work, with an SVP code of two, generally performed at the medium exertional level but performed by the claimant at the light exertional level; and (2) machine operator (spooler) (DOT section 681.685-114), which was unskilled work, with an SVP code of two, generally and actually performed by the claimant at the light exertional level. This work does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the claimant's residual functional capacity (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1565 and 416.965).

R. 17-26.

         Because the ALJ determined Plaintiff could perform her past relevant work, the sequential evaluation process stopped, and the ALJ concluded Plaintiff was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from August 29, 2012, through the date of the decision, July 14, 2016. R. 54. When the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision, R. 15-17, 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 ALJ erred by (1) failing to include any vocational limitations based on Plaintiff's severe impairment of recurrent migraine headaches, thus creating an RFC which is inconsistent with the ALJ's findings; (2) failing to find Plaintiff meets Listing 12.05(C); and (3) by not obtaining Plaintiff's childhood school records, which show Plaintiff's IQ score and related testing at the time, thereby failing to develop a full and fair record. See doc. no. 16 (“Pl.'s Br.”). Plaintiff also argues if the Court does not find remand proper for these reasons under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), then the Court should remand under sentence six of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) because Plaintiff's childhood school records were not a part of the record on administrative review. Id. The Commissioner maintains the decision to deny Plaintiff benefits is supported by substantial evidence and should therefore be affirmed. See doc. no. 19 (“Comm'r's Br.”).


         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'rof 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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