United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Northern Division
SONJA F. BIVINS, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Tanesha Myers (hereinafter "Plaintiff") brings this action seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her claim for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq., and 1381, et seq. On April 10, 2014, the parties consented to have the undersigned conduct any and all proceedings in this case. (Doc. 20). Thus, the action was referred to the undersigned to conduct all proceedings and order the entry of judgment in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73. Upon careful consideration of the administrative record and the memoranda of the parties, it is hereby ORDERED that the decision of the Commissioner be REVERSED and REMANDED.
I. Procedural History
Plaintiff protectively filed an application for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income on November 9, 2009. (Tr. at 156). Plaintiff alleged that she had been disabled since August 31, 2009, due to sleep disorder, problems with knees, asthma, and poor vision. (Id. at 160). Plaintiff did not allege a mental impairment of any kind. (Id.). Plaintiff's applications were denied and upon timely request, she was granted an administrative hearing before Administrative Law Judge Vincent P. Intoccia (hereinafter "ALJ") on May 10, 2011. (Id. at 28). Plaintiff attended the hearing with her counsel and provided testimony related to her claims. (Id. at 30). A vocational expert ("VE") also appeared at the hearing and provided testimony. (Id. at 45). On June 13, 2011, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding that Plaintiff is not disabled. (Id. at 23). The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on January 8, 2013. (Id. at 1). The parties waived oral argument (Doc. 22), and agree that this case is now ripe for judicial review and is properly before this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).
II. Issue on Appeal
Whether the ALJ erred in finding that Plaintiff did not meet Listing 12.05C?
III. Factual Background
Plaintiff was born on December 1, 1988, and was twenty-two years of age at the time of her administrative hearing on May 10, 2011. (Tr. 31, 155). Plaintiff testified that she was in regular classes and completed the twelfth grade in high school, but she was not able to pass the reading portion of the Alabama High School Graduation Examination. Thus, she did not receive her diploma, and she has not obtained a GED. (Id. at 31-32). Plaintiff further testified that she received her driver's license in 2009, that she had to take the oral examination three times before passing it, and that someone generally drives her around. (Id. at 37-38, 43, 47).
In her Function Report provided to the Agency, as well as her hearing testimony, Plaintiff stated that she worked for little over a year operating a sewing machine for a cap company, and she also worked as a cashier in the fast food industry. (Id. at 32-33, 47, 176). In addition, Plaintiff reported that she no children, and that before a house fire, she lived alone. (Id. at 30-31, 37, 170-171). According to Plaintiff, she takes care of her personal needs; however, her mother performs her household chores. (Id.). Plaintiff also testified that she goes shopping with her mother and her sisters, that she pays her own bills, that she has never had a checking account, and that she goes to church a couple of times a month. (Id. at 37, 42-43, 171). Additionally, Plaintiff testified that she spends her time watching television and writing to herself. (Id. at 42).
Plaintiff testified that she stopped working in 2009 because she was laid off when the cap manufacturing company shut down. (Id. at 33). According to Plaintiff, the "biggest thing" that keeps her from working now is her leg pain. Plaintiff testified that she injured her left knee in gym class at school in 2007, and had to have arthroscopic surgery as a result. Later, in 2008, Plaintiff was diagnosed with a meniscus tear injury in her right knee. (Id. at 34, 39, 41, 259, 339). Plaintiff also testified that she has low back pain, and described the pain in her left and right knees as a seven or eight on a ten-point pain scale. (Id. at 36, 41). Plaintiff stated that she takes a muscle relaxer and uses pain gel for her knees and back. (Id. at 35-36, 190).
A. Standard of Review
In reviewing claims brought under the Act, this Court's role is a limited one. The Court's review is limited to determining 1) whether the decision of the Secretary is supported by substantial evidence and 2) whether the correct legal standards were applied. Martin v. Sullivan , 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990). A court may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Sewell v. Bowen , 792 F.2d 1065, 1067 (11th Cir. 1986). The Commissioner's findings of fact must be affirmed if they are based upon substantial evidence. Brown v. Sullivan , 921 F.2d 1233, 1235 (11th Cir. 1991); Bloodsworth v. Heckler , 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983) (holding substantial evidence is defined as "more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance" and consists of "such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion."). 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); Short v. Apfel , 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10163, *4 (S.D. Ala. June 14, 1999).
An individual who applies for Social Security disability benefits must prove his or her disability. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1512, 416.912. Disability is defined as the "inability 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." 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A); see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a), 416.905(a). The Social Security regulations provide a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining if a claimant has proven his disability. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.
In the case sub judice, the ALJ determined that while Plaintiff had engaged in work activity after August 31, 2009, he found that additional evidence was needed on this issue. (Id. at 10). In order to avoid delay, he elected to proceed with the remaining steps of the evaluation process because he determined that the record evidence established that Plaintiff is not disabled. (Id. at 10-11). To that end, the ALJ determined at step two that Plaintiff has the severe impairments of obesity, mechanical back pain, status post left lateral release and medial placation, hypertension, right torn meniscus, dysthymia, and borderline intellectual functioning. (Id. at 11). The ALJ further found that Plaintiff ...