United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
DWIGHT G. ADAMS, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA, District Judge.
Plaintiff Dwight G. Adams filed this action on December 17, 2013, pursuant to Title XVI of Section 1631(c)(3) of the Social Security Act. Mr. Adams seeks judicial review of the decision by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying his claims for a period of disability and supplemental security income (SSI). See 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c). After careful review, the Court remands the Commissioner's decision.
I. 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. Soc. Sec. Admin., Comm'r, 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 findings of the Commissioner. "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) (quoting Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.2d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005)). 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).
II. PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND
Mr. Adams alleges that his disability began on June 8, 2010. (Doc. 7-6, p. 2). Mr. Adams first applied for social security income benefits under Title XVI in August 2010. (Doc. 7-6, p. 2). The Social Security Administration denied Mr. Adams's application on November 12, 2010. (Doc. 7-4, pp. 2-3). At Mr. Adams's request, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) held a hearing on May 31, 2012. (Doc. 7-3, pp. 69-92). At the time of the hearing, Mr. Adams was 51 years old. (Doc. 7-6, p. 2). Mr. Adams has a high school education and past relevant work experience as a corrections officer, a security guard, and a van driver. (Doc. 7-7, pp. 4, 12).
On June 13, 2012 the ALJ denied Mr. Adams's request for disability benefits. The ALJ found that Mr. Adams is not disabled under sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act. (Doc. 7-3, p. 34). In his 14-page opinion, the ALJ described the "five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether an individual is disabled." (Doc. 7-3, pp. 21-23). The ALJ explained that "[i]f it is determined that the claimant is or is not disabled at a step of the evaluation process, the evaluation will not go on to the next step." (Doc. 7-3, pp. 21-22).
The ALJ found that Mr. Adams "has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 8, 2010, the alleged onset date." (Doc. 7-3, p. 23). Although Mr. Adams had worked since his alleged disability onset date, his earnings did not rise to substantial gainful activity levels. (Doc. 7-3, p. 24; Doc. 7-6, p. 10). The ALJ noted that Mr. Adams continued to work in spite of his alleged impairments and concluded that Mr. Adams was not unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity. (Doc. 7-3, p. 24). Still, because Mr. Adams's work was not performed above substantial gainful activity levels, the ALJ continued the analysis of Mr. Adams's impairments. (Doc. 7-3, p. 24).
The ALJ determined that Mr. Adams has "the following severe impairments: anxiety disorder, coronary artery disease post heart attack and degenerative joint disease of the knees." (Doc. 7-3, p. 24). He found these impairments to be severe because they have more than a minimal impact on Mr. Adams's ability to perform work on a regular and continuous basis at competitive levels of employment. (Doc. 7-3, p. 24). The ALJ considered Mr. Adams's diagnosed hypertension and his obesity but did not find them to be severe impairments. (Doc. 7-3, pp. 24, 25). The ALJ concluded that none of Mr. Adams's impairments meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments. (Doc. 7-3, p. 25).
The ALJ also determined that Mr. Adams's mental impairment did not meet or medically equal the criteria of listing 12.06. (Doc. 7-3, p. 25). The ALJ found that Mr. Adams had mild restriction in activities of daily living; moderate difficulties in social functioning; moderate difficulties with concentration, persistence, or pace; and no episodes of decompensation. (Doc. 7-3, pp. 25-26).
Next, the ALJ calculated Mr. Adams's residual functional capacity (RFC). (Doc. 7-3, p. 27). The ALJ determined that Mr. Adams has the RFC to perform light work except that he "can perform occasional push and pull operations with the lower extremities, should never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, should never work around hazards, would require a sit/stand option, would require to [sic] simple, routine tasks, infrequent contact with the public and only occasional changes in work setting. (Doc. 7-4, p. 27). In making this finding, the ALJ examined Mr. Adams's history of cardiac issues. (Doc. 7-3, p. 27). The ALJ indicated that Mr. Adams first suffered myocardial infarction in 2000, resulting in surgery. (Doc. 7-3, p. 27; Doc. 7-10, p. 46). Mr. Adams suffered another cardiac incident on June 8, 2010, which resulted in cardiac catheterization. (Doc. 7-3, p. 27; Doc. 7-14, p. 45). The ALJ noted Mr. Adams's testimony that this incident has resulted in ongoing physical issues such as shortness of breath, dizziness, and episodes of severe chest pain 2-3 times per week. (Doc. 7-3, p. 27). The ALJ determined that this evidence is consistent with Mr. Adams's ongoing cardiac issues. (Doc. 7-3, p. 27).
The ALJ stated that Mr. Adams received a CT scan in June 2010 after Mr. Adams's cardiac incident. (Doc. 3-7, p. 27; Doc. 7-9, p. 2). The scan showed that Mr. Adams's heart and vascular structures were unremarkable. (Doc. 3-7, p. 28; Doc. 7-9, p. 2). The ALJ also noted that Mr. Adams had a chest X-ray, which showed his heart and mediastinum were unremarkable and that Mr. Adams's heart exhibited no significant abnormality or interval change. (Doc. 3-7, p. 28; Doc. 7-9, p. 5). The ALJ concluded from these findings that Mr. Adams's heart issues were not as severe as alleged. (Doc. 3-7, p. 28).
The ALJ noted that Mr. Adams returned for a follow-up appointment two months after his myocardial infarction. (Doc. 3-7, p. 28; Doc. 7-9, p. 38). During this visit, Mr. Adams acknowledged that he had some dizziness and dyspnea on exertion along with chest pains and palpitations, (Doc. 3-7, p. 28; Doc. 7-9, p. 38); however, the ALJ indicated that Mr. Adams had not increased his medications as instructed by his physician, and he only rated his pain at 1 out of ...