United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Oxford Division
S. ALLAN ALEXANDER, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Eric Henry seeks judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security granting his application for disability insurance benefits (DIB) under Section 223 of the Social Security Act as of November 29, 2009 and then terminating them as of January 1, 2011. Plaintiff protectively filed an application for DIB on July 14, 2010 alleging disability beginning on November 29, 2009. Docket 17, p. 129-133. His claim was denied initially on June 6, 2010, and upon reconsideration on October 25, 2010. Id. at 80-82, 84-85. He filed a request for hearing and was represented by counsel at the hearing held on March 1, 2012. Id. at 49-77. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued a partially favorable decision granting benefits for a brief period of time on August 24, 2012, (Docket 17, p. 27-45) and on December 26, 2013, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for a review. Id. at 1-4. Plaintiff timely filed the instant appeal from the ALJ's most recent decision, and it is now ripe for review.
Plaintiff was born on July 14, 1975 and completed the 12th grade. Docket 17, p. 133-37. He was thirty-six at the time of the hearing. Id. at 49. Plaintiff's past relevant work was as a carpenter and industrial truck operator. Id. at 70-71. Plaintiff contends that he became disabled before his application for benefits due to "injuries to both feet as a result of automobile accident." Id. at 137.
The ALJ granted plaintiff benefits from November 29, 2009 through December 31, 2010, but concluded that plaintiff experienced medical improvement as of January 1, 2011 and therefore was not entitled to benefits after December 31, 2010. Docket 17, p. 41-42. In reaching this decision, the ALJ concluded plaintiff still suffered from the same severe impairments and could not perform his past relevant work, but that by January 1, 2011, plaintiff's condition had improved to the point that he could perform jobs which existed in significant numbers in the national economy. Consequently, plaintiff was not disabled after December 31, 2010. The ALJ went on to explain his finding that plaintiff was less than fully credible in describing the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of his claimed symptoms after December 31, 2010 and that plaintiff's treating physician had previously noted that he expected plaintiff to be able to return to work on September 17, 2010. Id. at 42-45.
After evaluating all of the evidence in the record, including plaintiff's testimony, the ALJ held that plaintiff's physical and mental impairments, considered singly and in combination, did not significantly limit his ability to perform basic work activities after January 1, 2011. As a result, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act as of January 1, 2011. Id. at 45. Plaintiff claims that the ALJ committed multiple errors, but his complaint is that the ALJ improperly determined that his disability ended December 31, 2010. Because the errors plaintiff asserts concern the ALJ's determination that the disability did not continue, the below review will only address the eight step sequential evaluation process utilized to determine whether a disability continues.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
The Social Security Administration may terminate benefits if the agency concludes, after reviewing a claimant's case, that the claimant's impairment "has ceased, does not exist, or is not disabling...." 42 U.S.C.A. 423(f). In a typical social security case, where the issue is whether a claimant is disabled and should therefore be granted Social Security benefits in the first place, the Commissioner (through an ALJ) applies a five-step sequential evaluation process. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920 (2010). However, where the Commissioner is deciding whether to terminate existing benefits due to an alleged medical improvement, 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f) prescribes an eight-step evaluation process to determine
(1) whether claimant is engaging in substantial gainful activity;
(2) if not gainfully employed, whether the claimant has an impairment or combination of impairments which meets or equals a listing;
(3) if impairments do not meet a listing, whether there has been medical improvement;
(4) if there has been medical improvement, whether the improvement is related to the claimant's ability to do work;
(5) if there is improvement related to claimant's ability to do work, whether an exception to medical improvement applies;
(6) if medical improvement is related to the claimant's ability to do work or if one of the first groups of exceptions to medical improvement applies, ...