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Gossett v. Colvin

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

May 11, 2015

LAURA GOSSETT, Claimant,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF REMAND

C. LYNWOOD SMITH, Jr., District Judge.

Claimant Laura Gossett commenced this action on September 2, 2014, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner, affirming the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), and thereby denying her claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. For the reasons stated herein, the court finds that the Commissioner's ruling is due to be reversed, and the case remanded to the Commissioner for further proceedings.

The court's role in reviewing claims brought under the Social Security Act is a narrow one. The scope of review is limited to determining whether there is substantial evidence in the record as a whole to support the findings of the Commissioner, and whether correct legal standards were applied. See Lamb v. Bowen, 847 F.2d 698, 701 (11th Cir. 1988); Tieniber v. Heckler, 720 F.2d 1251, 1253 (11th Cir. 1983).

Claimant contends that the Commissioner's decision is neither supported by substantial evidence nor in accordance with applicable legal standards. Specifically, claimant asserts that the ALJ: (1) improperly considered the opinion of her treating physician; (2) demonstrated an inappropriate bias against claimants; (3) failed to state adequate reasons for finding claimant not credible; (4) failed to find her disabled under Listing 11.02A; and (5) rendered a residual functional capacity finding that was not supported by substantial evidence. Upon consideration, the court finds merit in claimant's fourth argument, and concludes that the case should be remanded to the Commissioner for further proceedings.

Claimant argues that the ALJ should have found her to be disabled under Listing 11.02A, for epilepsy. Listing 11.02 mandates a finding of disability if the following conditions are met:

Epilepsy - convulsive epilepsy, (grand mal or psychomotor), documented by detailed description of a typical seizure pattern, including all associated phenomena; occurring more frequently than once a month in spite of at least 3 months of prescribed treatment.
A. Daytime episodes (loss of consciousness and convulsive seizures) or
B. Nocturnal episodes manifesting residuals which interfere significantly with activity during the day.

20 C.F.R. 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, § 11.02. The prefatory comments to that Listing also state:

In epilepsy, regardless of etiology, degree of impairment will be determined according to type, frequency, duration, and sequelae of seizures. At least one detailed description of a typical seizure is required. Such description includes the presence or absence of aura, tongue bites, sphincter control, injuries associated with the attack, and postictal phenomena. The reporting physician should indicate the extent to which description of seizures reflects his own observations and the source of ancillary information. Testimony of persons other than the claimant is essential for description of type and frequency of seizures if professional observation is not available.
Under 11.02 and 11.03, the criteria can be applied only if the impairment persists despite the fact that the individual is following prescribed antiepileptic treatment. Adherence to prescribed antiepileptic therapy can ordinarily be determined from objective clinical findings in the report of the physician currently providing treatment for epilepsy. Determination of blood levels of phenytoin sodium or other antiepileptic drugs may serve to indicate whether the prescribed medication is being taken.

20 C.F.R. 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, § 11.00A.

The ALJ found that

claimant's impairments did not meet the criteria of section 11.02 of Appendix 1, dealing with neurological disorders, as the evidence failed to show that the claimant had documented and detailed description of seizure pattern occurring at the required frequencies. Frederick O'Neal, M.D. diagnosed the claimant in 2009 with Vasopressor Syncope, with no evidence ...

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