Gossett v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DISMISSING CASE that the decision of the Commissioner is REVERSED and this action is REMANDED to the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration for further proceedings consistent with this Memorandum Opinion and Order as more fully set out in order. Signed by Judge C Lynwood Smith, Jr on 5/11/2015. (AHI)
2015 May-11 AM 10:06
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting
Commissioner, Social Security
Case No. 4:14-cv-1696-CLS
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF REMAND
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
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
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 for underlying epilepsy. Dr. O’Neil reported in 2011 that
the claimant was doing well . . . .1
That finding was supported by substantial evidence. There is no indication in the
record that claimant ever received a diagnosis of epilepsy, or that she experienced any
convulsive seizures, much less seizures at the frequency required by the Listing.
Instead, that which claimant characterizes as “seizures” was instead frequently
referred to in her medical records as “syncopal episodes,” or fainting. Thus, claimant
did not satisfy the explicit criteria of Listing 11.02A.
The ALJ also made a conclusory finding that “claimant does not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the
severity of one of the listed impairments . . . .”2 Claimant asserts that the ALJ erred
because her condition medically equals Listing 11.02A.3 Social Security regulations
mandate the following considerations for medical equivalence:
§ 416.926 Medical equivalence for adults and children.
(a) How medical equivalence is determined. We will decide that
your impairment(s) is medically equivalent to a listed impairment in
appendix 1 of subpart P of part 404 of this chapter if the medical
findings are at least equal in severity and duration to the listed findings.
We will compare the symptoms, signs, and laboratory findings about
your impairment(s), as shown in the medical evidence we have about
your claim, with the corresponding medical criteria shown for any listed
impairment. When we make a finding regarding medical equivalence,
we will consider all relevant evidence in your case record. Medical
equivalence can be found in two ways:
Id. (emphasis supplied).
Claimant’s entire argument on this point consists of the following phrase: “A finding of
medical equivalence is substantial by the following records . . .,” followed by a summary of all of
claimant’s medical records that mentioned seizures or syncopal episodes. Doc. no. 10 (claimant’s
brief), at 29. That argument is seriously underdeveloped, and it is unsupported by any case law or
regulatory authority. Even so, the court will address the argument in order to avoid any unnecessary
prejudice to claimant as the result of her attorney’s briefing style.
(1)(i) If you have an impairment that is described in the Listing of
Impairments in appendix 1 of subpart P of part 404 of this chapter, but
(A) You do not exhibit one or more of the medical findings
specified in the particular listing, or
(B) You exhibit all of the medical findings, but one or more
of the findings is not as severe as specified in the listing;
(ii) We will nevertheless find that your impairment is medically
equivalent to that listing if you have other medical findings related to
your impairment that are at least of equal medical significance.
(2) If you have an impairment that is not described in the Listing
of Impairments in appendix 1, or you have a combination of
impairments, no one of which meets or is medically equivalent to a
listing, we will compare your medical findings with those for closely
analogous listed impairments. If the medical findings related to your
impairment(s) are at least of equal medical significance to those of a
listed impairment, we will find that your impairment(s) is medically
equivalent to the analogous listing.
20 C.F.R. § 416.926(a) (italics in original).
This court cannot discern the basis for the ALJ’s conclusory finding that
claimant’s impairments did not medically equal any of the listed impairments. The
record contains sufficient evidence of the frequency of claimant’s syncopal episodes
to at least warrant discussion about whether those episodes are “at least equal in
severity and duration to the listed findings” for seizure disorders. Remand is
warranted for further consideration of that topic.
Based on the foregoing, the decision of the Commissioner is REVERSED, and
this action is REMANDED to the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration for further proceedings consistent with this memorandum opinion and
The Clerk of Court is directed to close this file.
DONE this 11th day of May, 2015.
United States District Judge
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