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Hartman v. Colvin

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division

July 7, 2014

ANGELLEE A. HARTMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

WILLIAM E. CASSADY, Magistrate Judge.

The Plaintiff brings this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her claim for supplemental security income ("SSI"). The parties have consented to the exercise of jurisdiction by the Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), for all proceedings in this Court. (Doc. 18 ("In accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, the parties in this case consent to have a United States Magistrate Judge conduct any and all proceedings in this case, ... order the entry of a final judgment, and conduct all post-judgment proceedings.").) Upon consideration of the administrative record ("R.") (doc. 12), the Plaintiff's brief (doc. 13), the Commissioner's brief (doc. 14), and the arguments presented at the August 21, 2013 hearing, it is determined that the Commissioner's decision denying benefits should be reversed and remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this decision.[1]

I. Procedural Background

On or around October 23, 2009, the Plaintiff filed an application for SSI (R. 128-131), alleging that she became disabled on February 11, 2009, when she sustained injuries to her left knee, neck and back in a motor vehicle accident, ( see R. 55, 161-68). Her application was initially denied on April 6, 2010, (R. 77-79). A hearing was then conducted before an Administrative Law Judge on June 8, 2011. (R. 49-67). On June 17, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision finding that the claimant was not disabled (R. 33-45), and, on July 25, 2011, the Plaintiff sought review from the Appeals Council, (R. 27-29). On November 14, 2012, the Appeals Council issued a decision declining to review the ALJ's decision. (R. 1-3.) Therefore, the ALJ's determination was the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of judicial review. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. The Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this Court on January 9, 2013. (Doc. 1.)

II. Standard of Review and Claims on Appeal

In all Social Security cases, the plaintiff bears the burden of proving that he or she is unable to perform his or her previous work. Jones v. Bowen, 810 F.2d 1001, 1005 (11th Cir. 1986). In evaluating whether the plaintiff has met this burden, the examiner must consider the following four factors: (1) objective medical facts and clinical findings; (2) diagnoses of examining physicians; (3) evidence of pain; and (4) the plaintiff's age, education, and work history. Id. Once the plaintiff meets this burden, it becomes the Commissioner's burden to prove that the plaintiff is capable-given his or her age, education, and work history-of engaging in another kind of substantial gainful employment that exists in the national economy. Sryock v. Heckler, 764 F.2d 834, 836 (11th Cir. 1985). Although at the fourth step "the [plaintiff] bears the burden of demonstrating an inability to return to his [or her] past relevant work, the [Commissioner of Social Security] has an obligation to develop a full and fair record." Shnorr v. Bowen, 816 F.2d 578, 581 (11th Cir. 1987) (citations omitted).

The task for this Court is to determine whether the ALJ's decision to deny Plaintiff benefits is supported by substantial evidence. Substantial evidence is defined as more than a scintilla, and means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). "In determining whether substantial evidence exists, [a court] must view the record as a whole, taking into account evidence favorable as well as unfavorable to the [Commissioner's] decision." Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986). Courts are precluded, however, from "deciding the facts anew or re-weighing the evidence." Davison v. Astrue, 370 Fed.App'x 995, 996 (11th Cir. Apr. 1, 2010) (per curiam) (citing Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005)). And, "[e]ven if the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's findings, [a court] must affirm if the decision reached is supported by substantial evidence." Id. (citing Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158-59 (11th Cir. 2004)).

On appeal to this Court, the Plaintiff asserts two claims:

1. The Commissioner erred in failing to find Ms. Hartman disabled based upon meeting the requirements for presumptive disability at ¶12.05C of the Listings[; and]
2. The Commissioner erred in basing her decision upon a hypothetical question which failed to fairly and accurately describe Ms. Hartman's vocational limitations.

(Doc. 13 at 2.) Because the Court determines that the decision of the Commissioner should be reversed and remanded for further proceedings based on the Plaintiff's first claim, regarding presumptive disability under ¶12.05C of the Listings, there is no need for the Court to consider the Plaintiff's second claim. See Robinson v. Massanari, 176 F.Supp.2d 1278, 1280 & n.2 (S.D. Ala. 2001); cf. Pendley v. Heckler, 767 F.2d 1561, 1563 (11th Cir. 1985) ("Because the misuse of the expert's testimony alone warrants reversal, ' we do not consider the appellant's other claims.").

III. Analysis

To establish presumptive disability under section 12.05(C), a claimant must present evidence of "[a] valid verbal, performance, or full scale IQ of 60 through 70 and a physical or other mental impairment imposing additional and significant work-related limitation of function." 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 § 12.05(C). In addition, while the plaintiff must "also satisfy the diagnostic description' of mental retardation in Listing 12.05[, ]"[2][3] Cooper v. Commissioner of Soc. Sec., 217 Fed.App'x 450, 452 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing Foster v. Halter, 279 F.3d 348, 354 (6th Cir. 2001)), the law in this Circuit is clear that where, as here, a claimant has presented a valid IQ score of 60 to 70, she is entitled to the presumption that she manifested deficits in adaptive functioning before the age of 22, see Hodges v. Barnhart, 276 F.3d 1265, 1266, 1268-1269 (11th Cir. 2001).

This presumption is rebuttable, but the Commissioner is charged with the task of determining whether there is sufficient evidence (relating to plaintiff's daily life) to rebut the presumption. See Grant v. Astrue, 255 Fed.App'x 374, 375 (11th Cir. 2007) (per curiam). For example, in Lowery v. Sullivan, 979 F.2d 835 (11th Cir. 1992), the Eleventh Circuit recognized that a valid IQ score is not necessarily conclusive of mental retardation where the score is inconsistent with other ...


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