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Waslin v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Eastern Division

August 19, 2014

ANNE KATHERINE WASLIN, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS, District Judge.

Plaintiff Anne Katherine Waslin ("Ms. Waslin") brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act. She seeks review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner"), who denied her application for child's Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). Ms. Waslin timely pursued and exhausted her administrative remedies available before the Commissioner. The case is thus ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

On July 2, 2014, the court ruled in favor of Ms. Waslin on her DIB claim. (Docs. 13, 14). Pending before the court is Commissioner's Motion Pursuant to Rule 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure To Alter Or Amend the Court's Order and Opinion (Doc. 15) (the "Motion") filed on July 2, 2014. Commissioner contends that the court incorrectly found the ALJ at fault for applying "the adult disability regulations... [instead of] the three-step child's evaluation process...." (Doc. 15 at 6). Commissioner maintains that the three-step framework "applies only to child's SSI disability claims." Id.

The court entered a show cause order (Doc. 16) on the Motion on July 31, 2014. Ms. Waslin responded (Doc. 18) on August 13, 2014, and "concede[s] that Defendant is correct that the claim is solely for child's disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act and, therefore, the children's listings do not apply." ( Id. at 1). "However [Ms. Waslin further points out that] this issue would not affect the second part of Her Honor's decision addressing the ALJ's failure to properly weigh the medical evidence, particularly the opinion of treating and examining physicians of record." Id.

Accordingly, the Motion is GRANTED as it pertains to reconsideration of the appropriate framework for the ALJ to use upon remand, the memorandum opinion (Doc. 13) is HEREBY VACATED, and the following memorandum opinion is HEREBY ENTERED in that prior opinion's place.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Ms. Waslin was nineteen-years old at the time of her hearing before the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (Tr. 60). She has completed the 12th grade. Id. She has worked for one week stocking and cleaning at a gas station and had a brief volunteer position at a veterinary clinic. (Tr. 258).

Ms. Waslin has a history of self-injurious behavior, including cutting herself and banging her head against walls. (Tr. 58). The record also indicates that Ms. Waslin has difficulties with personal hygiene ("She doesn't care how she looks... Refuses to bathe daily... must be reminded to brush teeth.") (Tr. 132), taking her medication ("Almost every dose I have to prompt her.") (Tr. 54), managing money ("[Without] supervision, she would have depleted [her] balance long ago.") (Tr. 134), and driving ("She can drive [the] golf cart but wrecked it because of distraction. Refuses to get permit or take driving lessons. She is really afraid because of poor concentration and inability to avoid distractions."). Id.

Ms. Waslin claims she became disabled on August 1, 2008, due to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder ("ADHD"), Oppositional Defiant Disorder ("ODD"), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Depression, and Reactive Attachment Disorder. (Tr. 121).

On October 21, 2010, Ms. Waslin protectively filed a Title II application for child's DIB. Id. On February 8, 2011, the Commissioner initially denied this claim. Id. Ms. Waslin timely filed a written request for a hearing before the ALJ on April 7, 2011. (Tr. 80). The ALJ conducted a hearing on the matter on July 2, 2012. (Tr. 41). On July 24, 2012, the ALJ issued her opinion concluding that Ms. Waslin was not disabled and denying her benefits. (Tr. 34). Ms. Waslin then timely petitioned the Appeals Council to review the decision on September 21, 2012. (Tr. 21). On July 24, 2013, the Appeals Council issued a denial of review on her claim. (Tr. 23).

Ms. Waslin filed a Complaint with this court on September 25, 2013, seeking review of the Commissioner's determination. (Doc. 1). The Commissioner answered on February 10, 2014. (Doc. 8). Ms. Waslin filed a supporting brief (Doc. 10) on March 27, 2014, and the Commissioner responded with her own (Doc. 12) on April 28, 2014. With the parties having fully briefed the matter, the court has carefully considered the record, and for the reasons stated below, reverses the Commissioner's denial of benefits, and remands the case for further development and consideration.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The court's review of the Commissioner's decision is narrowly circumscribed. The function of this court is to determine whether the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence and whether proper legal standards were applied. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971); Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002). This court must "scrutinize the record as a whole to determine if the decision reached is reasonable and supported by substantial evidence." Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. It is "more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance." Id.

This court must uphold factual findings that are supported by substantial evidence. However, it reviews the ALJ's legal conclusions de novo because no presumption of validity attaches to the ALJ's determination of the proper legal standards to be applied. Davis v. Shalala, 985 F.2d 528, 531 (11th Cir. 1993). If the court finds an error in the ALJ's application of the law, or if the ALJ fails to provide the court with sufficient reasoning for determining that the proper legal analysis has been conducted, it must reverse the ALJ's decision. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).

STATUTORY AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK

To qualify for disability benefits and establish his or her entitlement for a period of disability, a claimant must be disabled as defined by the Social Security Act and the Regulations promulgated thereunder.[1] The Regulations define "disabled" as "the inability to do 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 twelve (12) months." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a).

The Regulations provide a five-step process for determining whether an adult claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i-v). The Commissioner must determine in sequence:

(1) whether the claimant is currently employed;
(2) whether the claimant has a severe ...

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