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Williams v. Colvin

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division

June 16, 2015

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



Plaintiff David L. Williams (hereinafter “Plaintiff”), seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his claim for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381, et seq. On June 2, 2015, the parties consented to have the undersigned conduct any and all proceedings in this case. (Doc. 19). 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 for further proceedings not inconsistent with this decision.[1]

I. Procedural History

Plaintiff protectively filed an application for supplemental security income on April 5, 2011. (Tr. 130). Plaintiff alleged that he has been disabled since June 15, 1995 due to “learning disability with other mental problems.” (Id. at 130, 134).

Plaintiff’s applications were denied and upon timely request, he was granted an administrative hearing before Administrative Law Judge Marni McCaghren (hereinafter “ALJ”) on August 30, 2012. (Id. at 33). Plaintiff attended the hearing with his counsel and provided testimony related to his claims. (Id. at 36). A vocational expert (“VE”) also appeared at the hearing and provided testimony. (Id. at 50). On November 28, 2012, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding that Plaintiff is not disabled. (Id. at 29). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review on May 30, 2014. (Id. at 1). Thus, the ALJ’s decision dated November 28, 2012, became the final decision of the Commissioner.

Having exhausted his administrative remedies, Plaintiff timely filed the present civil action. (Doc. 1). Oral argument was conducted on June 2, 2015, and the parties 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

A. Whether the ALJ erred in failing to find that Plaintiff met Listing 12.05C?
B. Whether the ALJ erred in assigning more weight to the opinions of Dr. Joanna Koulianos, Ph.D., a State Agency reviewing psychologist, than the opinions of consultative, examining psychologist, Dr. Kenneth R. Starkey, Psy.D.?

III. Factual Background

Plaintiff was born on May 14, 1992, and was twenty years of age at the time of his administrative hearing on August 30, 2012. (Tr. 36). The record reflects that Plaintiff received social security disability benefits as a child based on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”) and that his benefits were discontinued in October 2010. (Id. at 38, 240). As noted, supra, in his instant application, Plaintiff seeks benefits based on “learning disability and other mental problems.” (Id. at 130, 134).

Plaintiff was enrolled in special education classes while in school, and he repeated the first and ninth grades.[2]Plaintiff reported that he completed the eleventh grade in high school, that his last report card had all “E’s” and that he has not obtained a GED.[3] (Id. at 37, 240). Plaintiff testified that he has trouble with math and reading, but he is able to read a grocery list, and he can make change if it is not a large sum of money. (Id.).

Plaintiff also testified that he lives with his uncle and accompanies his uncle to the grocery store and lifts things for him. (Id. at 36, 46). According to Plaintiff, he lived with his mother prior to her death and during that time, he cleaned the house for her and reminded her to take her medication. (Id. at 46, 48-49). Plaintiff testified that he can prepare simple meals for himself, but he has never lived alone, had a bank account, learned to drive, or taken public transportation.[4] (Id. at 44, 46-47, 50). Plaintiff stated that he enjoys fishing, going to the gym, playing basketball, playing basketball and football video games on the Play Station, watching football and basketball on television, and visiting with friends daily. (Id. at 42, 45, 263, 299). According to Plaintiff, he understands the steps necessary to play the video games, and the scoring utilized in basketball and football, but he does not understand the rules with respect to penalties. (Id. at 42-43).

Plaintiff testified that he has never worked because his back aches and his wrist hurts, [5] and he is learning disabled. (Id. at 38-40). He also testified that he has never received vocational rehabilitation because he does not have transportation to get there. (Id. at 47).

IV. Analysis

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.[6] 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).

B. Discussion

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.[7] 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.

In the case sub judice, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 5, 2011, the application date, and that he has the severe impairments of adjustment disorder with mixed emotion, oppositional defiant disorder, disruptive behavior disorder, conduct disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, personality disorder, learning disorder (borderline intellectual functioning), and eustachian tube dysfunction. (Tr. 22). The ALJ further found that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of ...

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