Williams v. Astrue

Filing 26

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER directing that: 1) The Commissioner's 18 MOTION to Remand is GRANTED; 2) The decision of the Commissioner is REVERSED and REMANDED for further proceedings pursuant to sentence four of 42 USC § 405(g), for the reasons set forth in the Motion to Remand (Doc. # 18 ) and in this Order; 3) Upon receiving notice of any entitlement to past-due benefits, Plf shall have 60 days in which to seek attorney's fees under 42 USC § 405(b). Signed by Honorable Wallace Capel, Jr on 8/6/2010. Copies also mailed to SSA Chief Judge and SSA Office of Hearings and Appeals.(wcl, )

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Williams v. Astrue (CONSENT) Doc. 26 IN THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES F O R THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA E A S T E R N DIVISION D E L O IC E WILLIAMS, for D.K.A., P l a in tif f , v. M IC H A E L J. ASTRUE, Commissioner of Social Security, D e f e n d a n t. ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:09cv1024-WC M E M O R A N D U M OPINION AND ORDER D e f en d a n t has filed a Motion For Remand (Doc. #18) of this matter to the Social S e c u r ity Agency "for further development and evaluation" of the claimant's impairments. S p e c if ica lly, Defendant asserts that remand is necessary so that the ALJ may "obtain all a v a ila b le and updated evidence from treating and academic sources as well as evidence from a medical expert(s) to assist in such evaluation" and "weigh all opinion evidence as such o p in io n s relate to the issue of impairment severity." Def.'s Mot. (Doc. #18) at 2. Defendant f u rth e r contends that remand is necessary because "the ALJ did not explain in a meaningful w a y how he weighed all medical source opinions as they related to impairment severity." D e f .'s Reply (Doc. #24) at 2. Plaintiff has filed a Response (Doc. #22) in opposition to the Motion to Remand. P la in tif f contends that the Motion to Remand is intended "to avoid this Court ruling on the m erits of the appeal," and that the "interest of justice would be served" by this Court p ro c e e d in g to determine whether Plaintiff "is entitled to a favorable ruling on the record." Dockets.Justia.com P l.'s Response (Doc. #22) at 2. S e n te n c e four of 42 U.S.C. 405(g) authorizes the district court to "enter, upon the p le a d in g s and transcript of the record, a judgement affirming, modifying, or reversing the d e c is io n of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing." 42 U.S.C. 405(g). The district court may remand a case to the Commissioner f o r a rehearing if the court finds "either . . . the decision is not supported by substantial e v id e n c e, or . . . the Commissioner or the ALJ incorrectly applied the law relevant to the d is a b ility claim." Jackson v. Chater, 99 F.3d 1086, 1092 (11th Cir. 1996); see Carril v. B a r n h a r t, 201 F. Supp. 2d 1190, 1192 (N.D. Ala. 2002) (reversing the Commissioner's d e c is ion and remanding the case for further proceedings, where the Commissioner's decision w a s not supported by substantial evidence). "Generally, a reversal with remand to the [ C o m m is s io n e r] is warranted where the ALJ has failed to apply the correct legal standards." D a v is v. Shalala, 985 F.2d 528, 534 (11th Cir. 1993). This Court should reverse the C o m m is s io n e r and award benefits, or remand to the Commissioner "for entry of an order a w a rd in g disability benefits," only when the Commissioner "has already considered the e ss e n tia l evidence and it is clear that the cumulative effect of the evidence establishes d is a b ility without any doubt." Id. Based upon Plaintiff's brief, Defendant's representations, and the Court's own review o f the ALJ's decision, see Tr. 14-24, it is apparent that the ALJ did not properly weigh all o p in io n evidence in the record concerning the issue of whether the claimant's impairments 2 eq u al a listed impairment. Defendant's Motion is essentially a concession of such error. H o w e v e r, the mere fact of ALJ error does not always warrant remand, much less an i m m e d ia te award of benefits, as Plaintiff here seeks. Rather, as stated above, an award of b e n e fits should be made only upon a showing that the Commissioner "has already considered th e essential evidence and it is clear that the cumulative effect of the evidence establishes d is a b ility without any doubt." Davis, 985 F.2d at 534. While there is compelling, probative evidence of the severity of the claimant's im p a irm e n ts , see Tr. 186-190, the Court can not conclude on the record before it either that th e Commissioner has fully considered "the essential evidence," or that such evidence " e sta b lis h e s disability without any doubt." First, it is evident that the Commissioner requires a d d itio n a l evidence, as the Commissioner seeks remand for "further development" of the m ed ical evidence, including obtaining additional opinion from a "medical expert." Def.'s M o t. (Doc. #18) at 2. Likewise, the medical evidence in the record before the ALJ, and this C o u rt, does not "establish[] disability without any doubt." While Dr. DiFrancisco's d ia g n o s is of learning disorder and ADHD was accepted by the ALJ, see Tr. 17, it is n o te w o rth y that neither the report completed by Dr. DiFrancisco nor the "Children's Form" h e completed upon referral from Plaintiff's counsel, see Tr. 186-190, address the claimant's lim ita tio n s in the six discrete domains of functioning relevant to the ALJ's analysis. Also, the ALJ properly took note of the fact that Dr. DiFrancisco's notes reflect that the claimant's c o n d itio n s continued to improve with appropriate treatment and intervention. See Tr.19, 192. 3 F in a lly, other evidence in the record - which was properly discussed and relied upon by the A L J , see, e.g., Tr. 180-85 (Childhood Disability Evaluation Form completed by Dr. Simpson) - lends some support to a finding that the claimant is not disabled. A s an additional matter, and as alluded to by the Commissioner, the ALJ's analysis o f whether the claimant's impairments medically equal a listed impairment is fundamentally la c k in g in meaningful explanation of how the ALJ weighed the available medical source o p i n i o n s . Of course, the lack of such analysis does not dictate a finding of disability. H o w e v e r, such omission does restrict this Court's ability to review the ALJ's decision for c o m p l ia n c e with applicable regulations. F o r all of these reasons, the undersigned finds that remand to the ALJ is appropriate. A c c o r d in g ly, it is ORDERED that: 1. 2. The Commissioner's Motion to Remand (Doc. #18) is GRANTED. T h e decision of the Commissioner is REVERSED and REMANDED for f u rth e r proceedings pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. 405(g), for the rea so n s set forth in the Motion to Remand (Doc. #18) and in this Order. 3. U p o n receiving notice of any entitlement to past-due benefits, Plaintiff shall h a v e sixty (60) days in which to seek attorney's fees under 42 U.S.C. 4 0 6 (b).1 1 See Blitch v. Astrue, 261 Fed. App'x 241, 242 n.1 (11th Cir. 2008). 4 A separate judgment will issue. Done this 6th day of August, 2010. /s/ Wallace Capel, Jr. W A L L A C E CAPEL, JR. U N IT E D STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE 5

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