United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division
PERCY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
China Nicole Dalton, under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeks
judicial review of the decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security denying her applications for a period of disability
(POD) and disability insurance benefits (DIB) under Sections
216(I) and 223 of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff
protectively filed her application for a POD and DIB on
February 8, 2013 alleging disability beginning November 17,
2012. Her claim was denied initially on June 3, 2013, and
upon reconsideration on September 12, 2013. She filed a
request for hearing and was represented by counsel at the
hearing held on April 1, 2015. The Administrative Law Judge
(ALJ) issued an unfavorable decision on May 21, 2015, and the
Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for a review
on July 15, 2016. Plaintiff timely filed the instant appeal
from the ALJ's most recent decision, and it is now ripe
both parties have consented to have a magistrate judge
conduct all the proceedings in this case as provided in 28
U.S.C. § 636(c), the undersigned has the authority to
issue this opinion and the accompanying final judgment.
Having considered the record, the briefs and the oral
arguments of counsel, the court finds this case should be
remanded to the Social Security Administration.
was born on November 8, 1973 and was 41 years old at the time
of the hearing. She has a college education and previously
worked as a secondary school teacher. Docket 8 at 32, 49.
Plaintiff contends that she became disabled before her
application for benefits due to “severe clinical
depression, seizures, fatigue, anxiety, thyroid problems and
metabolic syndrome.” Docket 8 at 168.
determined plaintiff suffered from “severe”
impairments including an anxiety disorder and major
depressive/affective disorder but found that these
impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment in 20
C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d),
404.1525 and 404.1526). Docket 8 at 15-16. Based upon
testimony by the vocational expert (VE) at the hearing and
considering the record as a whole, the ALJ determined that
plaintiff retains the Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) to
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b) except she can never climb ladders or scaffolds,
can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, and can occasionally
balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. She is limited to
simple, routine, and repetitive tasks but not at a production
rate pace (e.g., assembly line work). The claimant is limited
to simple work-related decisions and is able to respond
appropriately to co-workers, supervisors, and the public on
an occasional basis. Finally, the claimant would be absent
one day a month from work.
8 at 17. The ALJ then found plaintiff to be less than fully
credible in that the intensity, persistence and limiting
effects she claimed due to her symptoms were “not
entirely credible and would not preclude light work as
described above.” Id. at 18. After evaluating
all of the evidence in the record, including testimony of a
VE, the ALJ held that plaintiff could perform jobs that exist
in the national economy such as a sorter, a checker and a
sampler. Id. at 19. As a result, the ALJ concluded
that plaintiff is not disabled under the Social Security Act.
Id. at 20.
contends the ALJ erred in formulating her Residual Functional
Capacity (“RFC”) and in failing to properly
evaluate the opinion of Dr. Clyde Sheehan. Docket 11 at 1.
Following a review of the briefs, the transcript and oral
argument, the court agrees.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
determining disability, the Commissioner, through the ALJ,
works through a five-step sequential evaluation
process. The burden rests upon plaintiff throughout
the first four steps of this five-step process to prove
disability, and if plaintiff is successful in sustaining her
burden at each of the first four levels, then the burden
shifts to the Commissioner at step five. First, plaintiff
must prove she is not currently engaged in substantial
gainful activity. Second, plaintiff must prove her
impairment is “severe” in that it
“significantly limits [his] physical or mental ability
to do basic work activities . . . .” At step three the
ALJ must conclude plaintiff is disabled if she proves that
her impairments meet or are medically equivalent to one of
the impairments listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App.
1, §§ 1.00-114.09 (2010). If plaintiff does not meet
this burden, at step four she must prove that she is
incapable of meeting the physical and mental demands of her
past relevant work. At step five, the burden shifts to the
Commissioner to prove, considering plaintiff's residual
functional capacity, age, education and past work experience,
that she is capable of performing other work. If the
Commissioner proves other work exists which plaintiff can
perform, plaintiff is given the chance to prove that she
cannot, in fact, perform that work.
court considers on appeal whether the Commissioner's
final decision is supported by substantial evidence and
whether the Commissioner used the correct legal standard.
Crowley v. Apfel, 197 F.3d 194, 196 (5th
Cir. 1999), citing Austin v. Shalala, 994 F.2d 1170
(5th Cir. 1993); Villa v. Sullivan, 895
F.2d 1019, 1021 (5th Cir. 1990). The court has the
responsibility to scrutinize the entire record to determine
whether the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial
evidence and whether the proper legal standards were applied
in reviewing the claim. Ransom v. Heckler, 715 F.2d
989, 992 (5th Cir. 1983). The court has limited
power of review and may not reweigh the evidence or
substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner,
even if it finds that the evidence leans against the
Commissioner's decision. The Fifth Circuit has held
that substantial evidence is “more than a scintilla,
less than a preponderance, and is such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Crowley v. Apfel, 197 F.3d 194,
197 (5th Cir. 1999) (citation omitted). Conflicts
in the evidence are for the Commissioner to decide, and if
there is substantial evidence to support the decision, it
must be affirmed even if there is evidence on the other side.
Selders v. Sullivan, 914 F.2d 614, 617
(5th Cir. 1990). The court's inquiry is
whether the record, as a whole, provides sufficient evidence
that would allow a reasonable mind to accept the conclusions
of the ALJ. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401
(1971). “If supported by substantial evidence, the
decision of the [Commissioner] is conclusive and must be
affirmed.” Paul v. Shalala, 29 F.3d 208, 210
(5th Cir. 1994), citing Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971).
two assignments of error are based on the ALJ's failure
to include in the RFC the limitations of Dr. Savell, the
ALJ's own consultative examiner, and the opinion of her
treating physician, Dr. Sheehan, resulting in a flawed RFC.
The second assignment of error, that the ALJ did not perform
the requisite analysis of Dr. Sheehan's opinion, ...