United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Oxford Division
PERCY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Timothy David Smith seeks judicial review of the
administrative law judge's (“ALJ”)
termination of benefits as of September 30, 2012. Plaintiff
was found disabled as of February 1, 2006, and on September
20, 2012, the Commissioner determined he was no longer
disabled. The termination of benefits was upheld on
reconsideration and plaintiff requested a hearing before an
ALJ. The hearing was held on February 5, 2015 and the ALJ
issued an unfavorable opinion on March 25, 2015. On July 20,
2016, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for
review and affirmed the prior decision.
timely filed the instant appeal from the ALJ's most
recent decision, and it is now ripe for review. Because 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 June 7, 1972 and completed the seventh grade.
Docket 8 at 149. He was forty-two years old at the time of
the hearing. Id. at 20. Plaintiff did not have any
past relevant work during the period of time at issue.
Id. Plaintiff contends that his disability continues
and that he suffers from chronic depression, social anxiety,
panic attacks, irregular heart beat, asthma, hypertension,
diabetes mellitus, and obesity. Id. at 12. The ALJ
determined that, as of August 17, 2006, at the time of the
comparison point decision or “CPD”, plaintiff
suffered from affective mood disorder and anxiety disorder
which were found to meet listings 12.04 and 12.06.
Id. at 11-12. However, as of September 30, 2012, the
ALJ found that plaintiff experienced the following medically
determinable impairments: “tachycardia, asthma,
diabetes mellitus, dysthymia, anxiety, hypertension and
obesity.” Id. The ALJ further concluded that
none of the impairments experienced by plaintiff on September
30, 2012 met a listing on their own or when combined.
Id. at 14. As such, the ALJ determined that
plaintiff had experienced medical improvement and had the
residual functional capacity to perform light work with
limitations. Id. at 17. Considering the testimony of
a vocational expert, the ALJ determined that plaintiff could
perform the jobs of a bakery raker, a garment sorter and a
ticketer. Because the ALJ determined that jobs exist in the
national economy that plaintiff can perform, the ALJ
concluded that he was no longer disabled as of September 30,
2012. Docket 8 at 21.
claims the ALJ committed multiple errors. Having reviewed the
record and having considered the briefs and the oral
arguments of counsel, the court finds reversible error in the
manner in which the ALJ determined that medical improvement
occurred. The ALJ failed to review plaintiff's prior
medical evidence as is required for a finding of medical
improvement, without which finding, in the absence of certain
exceptional circumstances that do not exist here, there can
be no termination of disability benefits. This case should be
remanded for the ALJ to obtain and review the file upon which
plaintiff's most recent favorable determination was
STANDARD OF REVIEW
well settled that this court's review of the
Commissioner's decision is limited to two inquiries:
“(1) whether the decision is supported by substantial
evidence on the record as a whole, and (2) whether the
Commissioner applied the proper legal standard.”
Perez v. Barnhart, 415 F.3d 457, 461 (5th
Cir. 2005); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Ransom v. Heckler, 715 F.2d 989, 992 (5th
Cir. 1983). 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); see also
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420,
28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971).
Fifth Circuit has explicitly addressed the scope of this
court's review of the termination of a person's
benefits. See Taylor v. Heckler, 742 F.2d 253, 256
(5th Cir. 1984) (citing Buckley v.
Heckler, 739 F.2d 1047, 1048-49 (5th Cir.
1984)). Even though the burden of proving disability is on a
Social Security claimant, “once evidence has been
presented which supports a finding that a given condition
exists it is presumed in the absence of proof to the contrary
that the condition has remained unchanged.”
Buckley, 739 F.2d at 1049 (quoting Rivas v.
Weinberger, 475 F.2d 255, 258 (5th Cir.
1973)). In other words, once benefits have been awarded, the
claimant is afforded a “presumption of continuing
disability that requires the Secretary to provide
evidence” that the claimant's condition has
improved. Taylor, 742 F.2d at 255. In addition, the
Commissioner must weigh the facts which formed the basis for
the prior determination of disability with the
Commissioner's new evidence and any additional evidence
submitted by the claimant. Id.
Social Security Act explicitly states that, absent exceptions
that are not relevant here, a finding that a recipient is no
longer entitled to disability benefits must be supported by
substantial evidence both that “there has been
any medical improvement” and that “the
individual is now able to engage in substantial gainful
activity.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(f). This plain language
dictates that benefits may not be terminated without a
finding of medical improvement. According to Social Security
Administration regulations, medical improvement is determined
Medical improvement is any decrease in the medical severity
of impairment(s) present at the time of the most recent
favorable medical decision that you were disabled or
continued to be disabled and is determined by a
comparison of prior and current medical evidence which
must show that there have been changes (improvement) in the
symptoms, signs or laboratory findings associated with that
20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(c)(1) (emphasis added)..
the Commissioner is deciding whether to terminate existing
benefits due to an alleged medical improvement, Social
Security Administration regulations ...