United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA, District Judge.
Plaintiff Tracey Grimes brings this action pursuant to Title II of Section § 205(g) of the Social Security Act. Ms. Grimes seeks review of the decision by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying her claims for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). After careful review, the Court finds that the ALJ's decision is due to be remanded.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The scope of review in this matter is limited. "When, as in this case, the ALJ denies benefits and the Appeals Council denies review, " the Court "review[s] the ALJ's factual findings with deference' and [his] legal conclusions with close scrutiny.'" Riggs v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 522 Fed.Appx. 509, 510-11 (11th Cir. 2013) (quoting Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001)).
The Court must determine whether there is substantial evidence in the record to support the ALJ's findings. "Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004). In making this evaluation, the Court may not "reweigh the evidence or decide the facts anew, " and the Court must "defer to the ALJ's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence even if the evidence may preponderate against it." Gaskin v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 533 Fed.Appx. 929, 930 (11th Cir. 2013).
With respect to the ALJ's legal conclusions, the Court must determine whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards. If the Court finds an error in the ALJ's application of the law, or if the Court finds that the ALJ failed to provide sufficient reasoning to demonstrate that the ALJ conducted a proper legal analysis, then the Court must reverse the ALJ's decision. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).
PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND
On June 24, 2009, Ms. Grimes filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. She asserted that she became disabled on April 23, 2009. (R. 104). The Social Security Administration denied her claim on February 4, 2010. (R. 20, 107). Thereafter, Ms. Grimes filed a written request for a hearing. She appeared and testified at a video hearing on June 7, 2011. (R. 51-103; 112). Ms. Melissa Neel, a vocational expert, and Mr. Douglas Friedman, an attorney for the claimant, appeared at the hearing. (R. 51). At the time of her hearing, Ms. Grimes was 49 years old. Ms. Grimes has a high school education and is able to communicate in English. (R. 33). Her past relevant work experience is as a nurse assistant, inspector, dogcatcher, store laborer/stocker, and nursery school attendant. (R. 33).
On September 1, 2011, the ALJ denied Ms. Grimes's request for disability benefits, concluding that Ms. Grimes did not have an impairment or a combination of impairments listed in or medically equal to one listed in, 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, and 404.1526). (R. 35). The ALJ applied the Social Security Administration's "five-step sequential evaluation process for determining if an individual is disabled, " noting that "the evaluation would not go on to the next step" if "it is determined that the claimant is or is not disabled at a step of the evaluation process." (R. 21).
The ALJ found that Ms. Grimes had not "engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 23, 2009, the alleged onset date." (R. 22). The ALJ also found that Ms. Grimes has the following severe impairments: "history of thrombotic thrombocytopenic pepura (TTP), visual limitations, depression, and anxiety." (R. 23). The ALJ stated that these impairments "cause more than a minimal limitation in the claimant's ability to perform basic work activities." (R. 23). The ALJ determined that Ms. Grimes's obesity "has not in combination with [her] other impairments impacted on [her] musculoskeletal system or general health as to cause [Ms. Grime's] treating doctors to diagnose her with impairments, secondary to obesity or impairments in combination with obesity." (R. 23).
Based on the factual findings, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Grimes had the "residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b). (R. 28). The judge opined,
[Ms. Grimes] can occasionally lift and/or carry, to include upward pulling, up to 20 pounds, and frequently lift and/or carry to include upward pulling, up to 10 pounds... can stand and/or walk, with normal breaks, for a total of about 6 hours in an 8-hour workday, and sit, with normal breaks, for a total of about 6 hours in an 8-hour workday. There are no limitations on the claimant's upper extremities for gross or fine handling, or in the lower extremities for the operation of foot controls. The claimant should not climb ramps, stairs, ropes, or scaffolds. Claimant can frequently balance, stoop, kneel, and crouch, and she cannot work around hazardous machinery and unprotected heights. The claimant can understand and remember simple instructions and simple work procedures, but not detailed instructions. The claimant can concentrate for an 8-hour workday in 2-hour increments, with regular breaks, and she should have her own workstation. The claimant should work for an hourly pay with only occasional contact with the general public and any changes to the work environment should be infrequent and gradually introduced. The claimant cannot perform any travel jobs or commercial driving.
(R. 28, 1355-1362).
In reaching his conclusion, the ALJ gave great weight to the State Agency medical consultants' opinions regarding Ms. Grimes's physical and mental limitations. The ALJ relied especially on the August 2009 assessment of consultative examiner Dr. Rao R. Nadella. (R. 31-33). Dr. Nadella indicated clear bilateral retinas of normal color, contour, and cupping. The ALJ also gave considerable weight to Dr. Thomas W. Tenbrunsel's 2009 assessment. (R. 33). Dr. Tenbrunsel noted that Ms. Grimes was able to respond to long and short-term memory problems, recognize familiar objects and name them, and write, but she had difficulty reading due to vision problems. (R. 30, 1294). Dr. Tenbrunsel opined that Ms. Grimes's depression and anxiety would not preclude her from maintaining employment, understanding, remembering, and carrying out instructions, and responding appropriately to supervisors and coworkers. (R. 30, 1295). Dr. Tenbrunsel also diagnosed Ms. ...