United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION and ORDER
TERRY F. MOORER, Magistrate Judge.
I. Procedural History
Plaintiff Wendy Shyanne Johnson ("Johnson") applied for disability insurance benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq., and supplemental security income benefits pursuant to Title XVI, 42 U.S.C. § 1381 et seq., alleging that she is unable to work because of a disability. Her application was denied at the initial administrative level. The plaintiff then requested and received a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). Following the hearing, the ALJ concluded that Johnson was not under a "disability" as defined in the Social Security Act. The ALJ, therefore, denied the plaintiff's claim for benefits.
Johnson sought review with the Appeals Council and submitted additional evidence. Johnson submitted: (1) medical records from Dr. Joseph H. Sewell dated September 19, 2012, (2) medical records from Southeast Alabama Medical Center dated September 27, 2012, (3) a mental impairment questionnaire from Dr. Sewell dated November 13, 2012, and (4) medical records from Southeast Alabama Medical Center dated October 25, 2012, through October 29, 2012. (R. 2). The Appeals Council found that the October 2012 records are "new information about a later time [and] [t]herefore do not affect the decision about whether [Johnson] was disabled beginning on or before September 27, 2012" and returned these records to the plaintiff. Id. The Appeals Council also stated that it had considered Johnson's reasons for disagreement with the ALJ's decision and her additional evidence, except the October 2012 medical records. The Appeals Council concluded that "this information does not provide a basis for changing the Administrative Law Judge's decision." Id. The Appeals Council rejected a subsequent request for review. Consequently, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"). See Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001); Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986).
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties have consented to entry of final judgment by the United States Magistrate Judge. The case is now before the court for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1631(c)(3). Based on the court's review of the record in this case and the parties' briefs, the court concludes that the Commissioner's decision should be REVERSED and this case should be REMANDED to the Commissioner for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.
II. Standard of Review
Under 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A), a person is entitled to disability benefits when the person is unable to
engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months...
To make this determination, the Commissioner employs a five-step, sequential evaluation process. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.
(1) Is the person presently unemployed?
(2) Is the person's impairment severe?
(3) Does the person's impairment meet or equal one of the specific impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1?
(4) Is the person unable to perform his or her former occupation?
(5) Is the person unable to perform any other work within the economy? An affirmative answer to any of the above questions leads either to the next question, or, on steps three and five, to a finding of disability. A negative answer to any question, ...