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Wait v. Saul

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

September 18, 2019

JULIE ANNE WAIT, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          P. BRADLEY MURRAY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE..

         Plaintiff Julie Anne Wait brings this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”) denying her claims for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), based on disability. The parties have consented to the exercise of jurisdiction by the Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), for all proceedings in this Court. (Doc. 17 (“In accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, the parties in this case consent to have a United States Magistrate Judge conduct any and all proceedings in this case, … order the entry of a final judgment, and conduct all post-judgment proceedings.”)). See Doc. 19. Upon consideration of the administrative record, Wait’s brief, and the Commissioner’s brief, [2] it is determined that the Commissioner’s decision denying benefits should be reversed and remanded under sentence four of § 405(g).[3]

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On or about September 4, 2013, Wait applied for DIB, under Title II of the Social Security Act, and for SSI, based on disability, under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383d, alleging disability beginning on January 30, 2007. (Tr. 394-407). Her applications were denied at the initial level of administrative review on October 4, 2013. (Tr. 243-47, 249-52). On October 18, 2013, Wait requested a hearing by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Tr. 309-10). After a hearing was held on December 3, 2014 (Tr. 159-80), the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding that Wait was not under a disability from the alleged onset date of her disability through the date of the decision, February 27, 2015. (Tr. 214-28). Wait appealed the ALJ’s decision to the Appeals Council, which granted the request for review, vacated the decision, and remanded her case to the ALJ for further proceedings on June 7, 2016. (Tr. 234-37). The ALJ conducted a second hearing on December 8, 2016. (Tr. 137-58). The ALJ again issued an unfavorable decision finding that Wait was not under a disability from the alleged onset date of her disability through the date of the decision, July 3, 2017. (Tr. 48-69). Wait appealed the ALJ’s decision to the Appeals Council, which denied her request for review on April 2, 2018. (Tr. 1-4).

         After exhausting her administrative remedies, Wait sought judicial review in this Court, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c). (Doc. 1). The Commissioner filed an answer and the social security transcript on August 17, 2018. (Docs. 8, 9). Both parties filed briefs setting forth their respective positions. (Docs. 12, 15). The case is now ripe for decision.

         II. CLAIMS ON APPEAL

         Wait alleges that the ALJ’s decision to deny her benefits is in error for the following reasons:

1. The ALJ erred in rejecting the opinion of treating physician Dr. Bruce Bode who opined that, due to her diabetes mellitus, she was not able to perform even sedentary work on an ongoing basis;
2. The ALJ erred in weighing the opinions of the treating psychiatrists David W. Hodo, M.D., David Hall, D.O., Barry Scanlon, M.D. and Atlanta Psychiatry Associates; and
3. The ALJ’s erred by conducting a flawed credibility examination by relying on the check-boxes rather than the narrative description of her functioning and testimony at two hearings.

(Doc. 12 at pp. 1-2).

         III. BACKGROUND FACTS

         Wait was born on January 19, 1967 and was 46 years old at the time she filed her claim for benefits. (Tr. 394, 401). Wait initially alleged disability due to Type 1 Diabetes, anxiety, depression, spotting in eyes, teeth problems, and memory loss. (Tr. 469). Wait completed college, earning a BA in fine arts and a BA in journalism. (Tr. 142). She has worked in the past as a reporter/journalist and storyteller/children’s librarian, but she has not worked since her alleged onset date. (Id.). She indicated that she generally engages in normal daily activities; such as, personal care, caring for her two elementary age sons, driving her sons to and from school, light housework, laundry, mowing, shopping, paying bills, reading, and painting, but she alleges there are periods when she is not able to perform these activities. (Tr. 141, 479, 481-83). She reported having infrequent social interactions due to feeling panicked and claustrophobic and having trouble with her memory, completing tasks, concentration, and understanding. (Tr. 483-84). Wait alleged that she is unable to work due to problems associated with her diabetes and because of chronic anxiety and depression. (Tr. 144-47).

         IV. ALJ’S DECISION

         After conducting a hearing on this matter, the ALJ made a determination that Wait had not been under a disability during the relevant time period, and thus, was not entitled to benefits. (Tr. 51-69). The ALJ findings set forth in her July 3, 2017 decision that are relevant to the claims on appeal are set forth below.

         V. DISCUSSION

         Eligibility for DIB and SSI benefits requires that the claimant be disabled. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(a)(1)(E), 1382(a)(1)-(2). A claimant is disabled if the claimant is unable “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), 1382c(a)(3)(A). The impairment must be severe, making the claimant unable to do the claimant’s previous work or any other substantial gainful activity that exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505-11. ...


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