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Belyeu v. Colvin

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

March 31, 2015

JASON BELYEU, Plaintiff,


JOHN E. OTT, Cheif Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Jason Belyeu ("Belyeu") seeks review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), § 205(g) of the Social Security Act, of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner"), denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). Belyeu timely pursued and exhausted his administrative remedies. The case is therefore ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). Additionally, Plaintiff moves to remand this action to require the Appeals Council to conduct a meaningful review of certain evidence. (Doc. 14). The undersigned has carefully considered the record and, for the reasons stated below, the motion to remand is GRANTED. The decision of the Commissioner is REVERSED and the action will be REMANDED.[2]

I. Factual and Procedural History

Belyeu was a thirty-eight year old male at the time of his hearing before the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on June 1, 2012, (R. 189, 61-70). He has a twelfth grade education. (R. 69). Belyeu previously worked as a line worker, police officer, deputy sheriff, and security officer. (R. 69).

Belyeu filed his application for DIB on June 21, 2010, alleging an initial onset date of March 1, 2010. (R. 61). The Commissioner denied Belyeu's application for DIB, (tr. 130-34), and Belyeu requested a hearing before an ALJ. (R. 138-39). After a hearing, the ALJ denied Belyeu's claim on June 1, 2012. (R. 61-70). Belyeu sought review by the Appeals Council, but it declined his request on January 3, 2013. (R. 1-4). On that date, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. On February 12, 2013, Belyeu initiated this action. ( See Doc. 1).

II. Standard of Review[3]

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has interpreted 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)'s federal district court's authority to review the "final decision" of the commissioner to include review of both the opinion of the ALJ and the decision of the Appeals Council to deny review. See Falge v. Apfel, 150 F.3d 1320, 1322 (11th Cir. 1998); Keeton v. Department of Health and Human Services, 21 F.3d 1064, 1066 (11th Cir. 1994). This review is limited to when the "Appeals Council refuses to consider new evidence submitted to it and denies review." Keeton, 21 F.3d at 1066.

The role of this Court, on a de novo review, is to decide whether the Appeals Council properly reviewed the new evidence in determining it does not have to be considered or it does not warrant their review of the ALJ's decision. Id., at 1067-68; See also Epps v. Harris, 624 F.2d 1267, 1272-73. This Court will determine whether evidence is new, material, and relates back to the time period on or before the date of the ALJ's decision. 20 C.F.R. § 404.970(b). This Court will then consider the entire record, including the evidence submitted to the AC, to determine whether the denial of benefits was erroneous. Barclay v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 274 F.Appx. 738, 743 (11th Cir. 2008).

III. Findings of the Administrative Law Judge

After consideration of the entire record and application of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ made the following findings:

At Step One, the ALJ found Belyeu met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2014, and that Belyeu had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 1, 2010, the alleged onset date of his disability. (R. 63). At Step Two, the ALJ found Belyeu has the following severe impairments: status post-cervical fusion secondary cervical disc disease, status post-surgery for bilateral plantar fibromatosis and status post ribs, neck and right rotator cuff injuries. ( Id. ) At Step Three, the ALJ found Belyeu does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (R. 65).

Before proceeding to Step Four, the ALJ determined Belyeu's residual functioning capacity ("RFC"), which is the most a claimant can do despite his impairments. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1). The ALJ determined Belyeu has the RFC to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b), with the restrictions that Belyeu must avoid all hazardous work conditions, is unable to use the right upper extremity for overhead reaching, can never climb ropes or scaffolds but can frequently balance, stoop, crouch, crawl and climb ladders. (R. 66).

At Step Four, the ALJ determined Belyeu is unable to perform any past relevant work. (R. 33). At Step Five, the ALJ determined, based on Belyeu's age, education, work experience, [4] and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy ...

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