Hendley v. Astrue et al
ORDER adopting 15 Report and Recommendations. The Commissioners decision is REVERSED and REMANDED for further proceedings in accordance with the Magistrate Judges Recommendation. Ordered by Judge C. Ashley Royal on 3/26/12 (lap)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF GEORGIA
MARY KATHERINE HENDLEY,
No. 5:10‐CV‐398 (CAR)
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE,
SOCIAL SECURITY APPEAL
ORDER ON THE RECOMMENDATION OF
THE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Before the Court is the United States Magistrate Judge’s Recommendation [Doc.
15] to reverse and remand the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
that Plaintiff Mary Katherine Hendley is not disabled. The Commissioner has filed a
timely Objection to the Recommendation. [Doc. 16]. The Court notes that the
Commissioner’s Objection largely restates the arguments that were presented to the
Magistrate Judge in the Commissioner’s original Memorandum. Nevertheless, the
Court has conducted a de novo review of the administrative record and the ALJ’s
decision and agrees with the Recommendation. For the reasons stated below, the
Recommendation [Doc. 15] is hereby ADOPTED and MADE THE ORDER OF THE
COURT. The Commissioner’s decision is REVERSED and REMANDED for further
proceedings in accordance with the Magistrate Judge’s Recommendation.
First, the Commissioner objects to the Magistrate Judge’s conclusion that the
ALJ failed to conduct a function‐by‐function assessment of Plaintiff’s limitations
before concluding that Plaintiff had the Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”) to
perform a full range of work at the medium exertional level. However, as the
Magistrate Judge noted, the Commissioner has already conceded this point. [Doc. 16,
p. 1, n.1; Doc. 13, p. 5].1 Thus, the Commissioner has conceded this argument for the
purposes of his Objection.
The Commissioner also argues that the findings of the state agency medical
consultants were not “adopted” by the ALJ. However, “adopted” is the exact
phrasing that the Commissioner used to describe the ALJ’s use of the consultants’
findings. See supra n.1, [Doc. 13, p. 5]. Moreover, even if the Commissioner had not
used this terminology and the Court were to accept that the ALJ attributed “great
weight” to the consultants’ findings, the Court nevertheless agrees with the
The Commissioner does not object to the Magistrate Judge’s conclusion that this point was
conceded. In his Memorandum, the Commissioner stated, “While the ALJ did not include a function by
function assessment of Plaintiff’s abilities in his written decision, it was not necessary to do so since he
adopted and incorporated the findings of two state agency medical consultants.” [Doc. 13, p. 5].
Recommendation that the findings adopted by the ALJ preclude a determination that
Plaintiff had the RFC to perform a full range of work at the medium exertional level.
Lastly, the Commissioner argues that even if Plaintiff could not perform a full
range of “medium” work, the ALJ’s decision was harmless error because Plaintiff
could still nevertheless perform a full range of light and sedentary work. However,
“when a claimant has a non‐exertional impairment that significantly limits basic work
skills,” as is the case here, “exclusive reliance on the grids is not appropriate.” Allen v.
Sullivan, 880 F.2d 1200, 1202 (11th Cir. 1989). In this case, the ALJ appears to have
exclusively relied on the grid in determining the fifth step of the sequential process,
despite the medical consultants’ finding that Plaintiff had non‐exertional impairments.
Additionally, the ALJ does not explain how it reached a finding in the exertional
category. Accordingly, because the ALJ’s findings appear contradictory, and because
the Court cannot discern a reasonable path for the ALJ’s decision, the Court cannot
conclude that the ALJ’s error was harmless. See Dixon v. Astrue, 312 F. App’x 226, 229
(11th Cir. 2009) (“While [an appellate court] may not supply a reasoned basis for [an]
agencyʹs action that the agency itself has not given, [the court] will uphold a decision
of less than ideal clarity if the agencyʹs path may reasonably be discerned.”).
Accordingly, for the foregoing reasons, the Recommendation [Doc. 15] is
therefore ADOPTED and MADE THE ORDER OF THE COURT. The final decision
of the Social Security Commissioner is hereby REVERSED and REMANDED for
further proceedings in accordance with the Magistrate Judge’s Recommendation.
SO ORDERED, this 26th day of March, 2012.
S/ C. Ashley Royal
C. ASHLEY ROYAL
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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